Why Is Boulevard in the Village of Pelham Closed Each Night?
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The history behind the nightly closings of Boulevard is fascinating. Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog details a little of that history.
According to early reports, the origins of the practice seem to have arisen when the area known as Pelham Heights was being developed during the mid-1890's. Certain roadways including Boulevard were deeded as private parkways rather than being dedicated as public streets. With the incorporation of Pelham Heights as the "Village of Pelham," the area began to grow and development continued. For decades, there seemed to be no effort by Pelham Heights to treat roadways deeded as private parkways as anything other than public roadways.
During the first two decades of the Twentieth Century, however, the use of the roadways in Pelham Heights and elsewhere in Pelham was changing. The horse was being displaced. Automobile, bus, truck and trolley transportation was growing and, by the 1920's, ruled the streets of Pelham including Pelham Heights.
Such progress, of course, came with a price. . . . .
With the rise of automobiles and trucks, those who lived in Pelham Heights were growing increasingly unhappy. There were two principal routes near The Heights through Pelham between the City of New Rochelle and the City of Mount Vernon: the ancient and winding roadway known today as Colonial Avenue (Kings Highway or the original Boston Post Road) or the more direct and comparatively straight roadway known as Boulevard. Most motorists chose Boulevard to cut through Pelham Heights between the two cities.
Moreover, nightly truck deliveries and truck transports were becoming a particular problem due to the long hill extending along Boulevard between Pelhamdale Avenue and Corona Avenue. The inefficient, heavy and lumbering trucks of the day had difficulty negotiating the long hill. According to one account, the "clattering of transmissions and discordant rumble of racing engines made sleep almost impossible" for residents along Boulevard.
By 1923, Boulevard residents were mad as Hell and were not going to take it any longer. They petitioned local Village leaders to solve the problem.
During the fall of 1923, signs unexpectedly popped up on the Boulevard at Pelhamdale Avenue indicating that the road was under construction and mandating detours to prevent traffic from entering the roadway. Boulevard residents, it seemed, might get a little sleep. . . .
The response from the adjacent Village of Pelham Manor was swift. Officials and residents of the Village of Pelham Manor felt that motorists attempting to cut through Pelham to move between the cities of Mount Vernon and New Rochelle were being diverted to Pelham Manor streets. They were unhappy that Pelham Manor streets were being forced to bear an unnecessary additional traffic volume with all the concomitant noise and annoyance.
The President of the Village of Pelham Manor at the time, Newton M. Argabrite, protested the closing. The Village of Pelham Manor Engineer, Edward Campbell, likewise complained that the detour signs were less than honest. He howled that "The signs are not right. . . . They state that the road is under construction. No road is under construction at Pelhamdale Avenue and the Boulevard and the sign is a subterfuge to divert traffic from going to New Rochelle over the Boulevard. . . . I doubt whether Pelham is acting within its rights in placing a notice directing a detour on account of road construction when there is no road construction going on at Pelhamdale Avenue and the Boulevard."
Village Engineer Campbell also fired the first salvo of what would become a "battle royale." He argued that the closing was improper because, regardless of whether the thoroughfare had been deeded as a private parkway, it had been used as a public roadway open to all for more than thirty years, thereby converting its status from a private parkway to a public road.
A few months later, in 1924, Pelham Heights undertook a bolder move. The little village suddenly began closing the entirety of Boulevard by hanging red lanterns across the roadway at Wolf's Lane and at Ancon Avenue from 11:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. each night. Village of Pelham Police officers closed the roadway and hung the lanterns each night. They opened the roadway and removed the lanterns each morning. Many in Pelham were unhappy with the move.
According to one account, "Pelham Heights village trustees determined that the Boulevard had not yet been fully dedicated to the village, and could therefore be closed at will." Objectors argued, like the Pelham Manor Village Engineer, that the roadway had been open and in use for the previous thirty years and, thus, was a public roadway.
Officials of the Village of Pelham (today's Pelham Heights) had an Ace up their sleeve. They argued that investigation had revealed that the Village had indeed closed the roadway at least once a year for each of the previous thirty years to permit "coasting" on the roadway after significant snowfalls. ("Coasting" was a term used at the time for snow sledding.) Thus, according to the Village, the roadway had not been open and in constant public use for the previous thirty years but, rather, had been closed each year by the Village as was its right since it was deeded as a private parkway rather than a public road.
Pelham resident Charles A. Hollister didn't buy it. He took legal action. Represented by Mount Vernon attorney, Elmer S. Davis, Hollister filed a lawsuit against the Village of Pelham and successfully obtained injunctive relief against the Village to prevent it from closing Boulevard each night.
Pelham Heights and its attorneys reportedly came up with an ingenious solution to the inconvenient lawsuit brought by Hollister. They granted Mr. Hollister the right of access through the Boulevard at night. According to one account: "with this personal redress, the injunction order was cancelled by court order on October 1, 1924. By this token, the village authorities granted the same right to all residents of Pelham." Each night, Village of Pelham authorities continued to close the Boulevard.
In early 1927, the Village of Pelham President, George Lahey, heard again from Mount Vernon attorney Elmer S. Davis. President Lahey received a letter in which Davis claimed to represent a non-resident of Pelham named J. Edward Quinn (of Mt. Vernon) who had been inconvenienced by the closing of the public roadway in Pelham known as "Boulevard." On behalf of Quinn (who was also an attorney in Mount Vernon), the letter from Elmer S. Davis threatened "if in the future I am deprived of that right (going through the Boulevard) I shall take such proper action as will insure me that right to lawful usage of the street at any time I may desire."
The Trustees of the Village of Pelham were quick to take up the matter at their next meeting. They disposed of the complaint dismissively. They decided to take no action. Village President George Lahey sniffed that the "writer was evidently unfamiliar with the status of the Boulevard as a private parkway and not a public highway." No evidence yet has been located to suggest that any lawsuit ever was filed by J. Edward Quinn. Although it is not free from doubt, for now, it appears that the threat reflected in the letter never materialized after the Village Trustees chose to ignore it.
Tensions, however, continued to run high. One letter to the editor of The Pelham Sun published in 1927 read, in part: "Undoubtedly it is pleasant for the Boulevardiers to be free of automotive night noises, but then we must consider the unpleasant fact that each car diverted from the natural artery must traverse other streets of the village on which other residents would also like to slumber undisturbed."
Although the debate over the propriety of the nightly closing of Boulevard slowly seemed to subside, there occasionally were what appeared to be outbursts of dissatisfaction. On one occasion in 1939, for example, all the red lanterns used to close the roadway were stolen one night and later turned up smashed along the Hutchinson River Parkway where they were found by Parkway Police. Despite what may have been a silent protest to the nightly closings (or, perhaps, a simple act of vandalism), the roadway continued to be closed nightly.
Today, few motorists give any thought to the chains used to close Boulevard nightly, simply avoiding the closed roadway. Indeed, Boulevard has been closed nightly for so long that most have forgotten the history behind the closing. . . . . . . .
* * * * *
Below are transcriptions of the text of a number of news articles about the events surrounding the nightly closing of Boulevard. Each is followed by a citation to its source.
"DETOUR SIGNS AROUSE PROTEST FROM MANORITES
Village Engineer Campbell Believes Pelham Has No Right to Divert Traffic
Pelham Manor Streets Forced to Bear Unnecessary Addition to Traffic Volume
The posting of detour signs on the Boulevard at Pelhamdale Avenue has aroused a protest from Village President Newton M. Argabrite and Engineer Edward Campbell of Pelham Manor, the claim being made that the signs should not be erected at that point, as traffic headed for New Rochelle is being sent a long way out of its journey unnecessarily.
Village Engineer Edward Campbell expressed himself emphatically on the matter during the week. 'The signs are not right,' he said. 'They state that the road is under construction. No road is under construction at Pelhamdale Avenue and the Boulevard and the sign is a subterfuge to divert traffic from going to New Rochelle over the Boulevard. The result is that a large volume of traffic comes down Pelhamdale Avenue to Pelham Manor streets and motorists are sent a long way out of their way in an unnecessary manner, with Pelham Manor having to bear the brunt of the increased traffic on the Boston Road already having burdened. Wolf's Lane is impassable by reason of the construction work going on there and trucks have to proceed over the Boulevard parkway to Pelhamdale Avenue where they are detoured, and get sent on to Pelham Manor streets. This traffic belongs to Pelham. I doubt whether Pelham is acting within its rights in placing a notice directing a detour on account of road construction when there is no road construction going on at Pelhamdale Avenue and the Boulevard.'
Engineer Campbell further expressed his belief that the Boulevard is a public highway by reason of its existence in public use for a period of over thirty years. An official protest may be made to the village authorities of Pelham."
Source: DETOUR SIGNS AROUSE PROTEST FROM MANORITES, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 26, 1923, p. 1, cols. 1-2.
"Hills Are Closed To Traffic When Santa's Sled Is Tested Out
Youngsters Enjoy Coasting Soon After Christmas. Police Detailed For Safety of Skaters
Jack Frost did not wait long after Christmas to allow youthful Pelhamites to test out Christmas sleds. The snow of Sunday saw the coasting hills in the town dotted with juvenile speed kings whose fleet sleds ruled the road. The village officials made haste to aid the fun and ensure the safety by blocking off the hills for coasters use. In Pelham Manor, Carol Place was turned over to the coasters. In Pelham Heights the Boulevard was blocked off from Monterey avenue to Highbrook avenue a distance of nearly a half mile. In Pelhamwood the Washington avenue hill was closed off. Police were detailed for the protection of the coasters.
In many instances motorists were put to little difficulty in making detours around the coasting hills, but they soon realized the element of safety desired, and commended the plan."
Source: Hills Are Closed To Traffic When Santa's Sled Is Tested Out, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 31, 1926, Vol. 17, No. 44, p. 2, col. 4.
"Seeks Removal Of Chain Barriers On Boulevard At Night
Attorney Davis Acting For Mount Vernon Resident Who Was Forced to Detour Several Blocks
Village President George Lahey of Pelham, has received a communication from Elmer Davis, attorney representing J. Edward Quinn of Mt. Vernon, requesting that erection of the chain barriers which are nightly used to prevent traffic through the Boulevard after 11 o'clock, be discontinued. Mr. Quinn was forced to detour several blocks one night last week when his automobile was barred by the chains.
Attorney Davis contends that the Boulevard is a public highway and cannot legally be closed to traffic at any time.
The chain barricades were first erected in 1924 after residents had complained of the noisy traffic of joy-riding parties along the Boulevard at night. The trustees' action was based on the belief that the streets of Pelham Heights are private parkways, made so by special legislation."
Source: Seeks Removal Of Chain Barriers On Boulevard At Night, The Pelham Sun, Jan. 14, 1927, p. 8, col. 5.
"PELHAM FACES COURT ACTION
Attorney J. Edward Quinn Threatens Proceedings On Closing of Boulevard
FILES FORMAL NOTICE
Street Is Closed at 11 P. M. Each Night and Remains Until 7 A. M. Next Day
Pelham, Jan. 14.--As the result of action taken by a Mount Vernon lawyer, the village authorities of Pelham today faced the possibility of being taken to court, for the practice in Pelham of turning the Boulevard, a public highway which forms the connecting link between Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, into a private thoroughfare between the hours of 11 o'clock at night and 7 in the morning. Each night, a string of red lanterns is hung across the two entrances to the Boulevard, and during the hours above stated, traffic is closed on that street, except to such residents of Pelham as are allowed by the police to pass through.
The Mount Vernonite making the complaint is J. Edward Quinn, well known attorney, who through attorney Elmer S. Davis, also of Mount Vernon, has notified the officials of Pelham that 'if in the future I am deprived of that right (going through the Boulevard) I shall take such proper action as will insure me that right to lawful usage of the street at any time I may desire.'
Although this is not the first time that Pelham officials have faced court action because of their closing of the boulevard to outside traffic at night, it is the first time that a non-resident of Pelham has threatened such action.
In 1924, similar action was brought by Charles A. Hollister, a resident of Pelham and well known in Mount Vernon. Mr. Hollister also through Attorney Elmer Davis, brought injunction proceedings against the village. The village authorities then granted Mr. Hollister the right of access through the Boulevard at night, and with this personal redress, the injunction order was cancelled by court order on October 1, 1924. By this token, the village authorities granted the same right to all residents of Pelham.
The chains with their string of lanterns were nevertheless still raised across the boulevard entrances at Wolf's Lane [and] Ancon avenue. Each night it has been the task of the Pelham police to close the street, and each morning to take down the barriers again.
The complaint made by Mr. Quinn is regarded as of more importance, because it is made by a non-resident of Pelham, and may result in the opening of the boulevard to all motorists, whether residents of Pelham or non. The boulevard is the main artery between New Rochelle and Mount Vernon, and is not lawfully a private street. It is believed that the action of the village authorities in closing this street followed the request of residents on that street, who complained of motorists parking on or driving through the Boulevard at late hours. It is probable that the Pelham officials will settle Mr. Quinn's demand amicably, on the claim of the Mount Vernonite that the Boulevard is a public highway.
Mr. Quinn's communication has been forwarded to the village trustees of Pelham by Attorney Davis, who asks that attention be given to the matter to the satisfaction of Mr. Quinn. The board of trustees of Pelham will hold their regular monthly meeting next Tuesday evening, when full consideration will probably be given to Mr. Quinn's communication, which is as follows:
'During the last few days I have had occasion to drive through the village of Pelham, at about or shortly after 11 p.m., and have used or attempted to use the public street or thoroughfare known as 'Boulevard,' Pelham.
'One evening after entering the street at its easterly end and proceeding westerly to Wolf's lane, I was stopped at Wolf's lane by a police official and a string of red lanterns on the ground and compelled to retrack by way around several streets before getting back to the road to Mount Vernon.
'This action on the part of some person seems to me to be an unlawful and illegal act in shutting off the use of a public highway to a citizen and taxpayer of this state and county. As a taxpayer, I am writing to you that if I desire to use the street known as Boulevard for a lawful purpose at any time of the day or night, I desire your community to recognize the right. If in the future I am deprived of that right, I shall take such proper action as will insure me the right to lawful usage of the street at any time I may desire.'"
Source: PELHAM FACES COURT ACTION, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 14, 1927, p. 3, col. 3.
"No Action Taken On Protest Against Boulevard Closing
Village President Says Boulevard is Not Public Highway and Closing Is Within Law
No action was taken Tuesday night by the Board of Trustees of the village of Pelham, on the protest of J. Edward Quinn, Mt. Vernon attorney against the barricading of the Boulevard after 11 o'clock at night. In a communication to the Board, addressed through Elmer Davis, North Pelham attorney, Mr. Quinn demanded that the barricade be removed and traffic be allowed unimpeded access and egress to the highway which connects Third street, Mt. Vernon, with Kings Highway, New Rochelle. If the Board would not take such action, Mr. Quinn stated that he would at once take the matter into court to force the removal of the nightly barricade.
After reading the communication President George Lahey stated that the writer was evidently unfamiliar with the status of the Boulevard as a private parkway and not a public highway. The communication was laid on the table.
The barriers which are erected nightly at Wolf's Lane and the Boulevard and at Ancon avenue and the Boulevard first made their appearance in the fall of 1924, after petition of residents of the Boulevard requesting that night traffic on the Boulevard be stopped. As the Boulevard has never been dedicated to the village as a public highway the State law provides for its being closed off."
Source: No Action Taken On Protest Against Boulevard Closing, The Pelham Sun, Jan. 21, 1927, p. 1, col. 5.
"Letters To The Editor
To the Editor 'Pelham Sun' --
Closing the Boulevard to automobile traffic after eleven at night is rather convenient for the residents of that thoroughfare, but in my opinion it is also extremely impolite. Undoubtedly it is pleasant for the Boulevardiers to be free of automotive night noises, but then we must consider the unpleasant fact that each car diverted from the natural artery must traverse other streets of the village on which other residents would also like to slumber undisturbed. Colonial avenue cars, we believe, are every whit as sensitive as the auditory nerves of the Boulevard.
And then there are the motorists of New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and other communities (with whom we are apparently at peace) that must be considered. It does not seem quite the courteous thing to force even a fleeting visitor to grope his way through unfamiliar lanes and byways with consequent loss of time and temper.
It is very legal, of course, to close the Boulevard. But it is too haughty to be nice.
A TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY INDIGNANT CITIZEN.
Pelham, N. Y. Sept. 15th, 1927."
Source: Letters To The Editor -- INDIGNANT HUH?, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 16, 1927, p. 2, col. 5.
"Lanterns Stolen From Boulevard Barricade
Eighteen red lanterns, stolen from the barricades on the Boulevard, Pelham Heights, early this morning, were found a short time later strewn along the Hutchinson River Parkway between Pelham Heights and North Pelham. Chief George Duff of the Pelham Heights Police Department said that the lanterns were smashed beyond repair.
Patrolmen James Mullins and Frank McHugh noticed the lanterns stolen shortly before 1:00 a.m. as they cruised along Wolf's Lane in the patrol car. An alarm was sent out from headquarters and a short time later, Parkway Police reported finding the lanterns."
Source: Lanterns Stolen From Boulevard Barricade, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 21, 1939, p. 5, col. 4.
"PELHAM 'INSTITUTIONS' ARE DEAR TO THE HEARTS OF THE OLD TIMERS
'Street They Take in at Night,' . . .
Residential communities such as the Pelhams are seldom without their 'institutions,' the novel features which contribute greatly to the homeliness of the villages. Perhaps they mark us as 'small towners' but they are the items that make the Pelhams distinctive suburban communities, countryside of gentlefolk, one of our enterprising sloganeers once deftly termed the three villages, and it is the residential features to which the villages cling that certainly establish this fact.
'Where else in this part of the world will you find them taking the streets in at night?' one of our critics was heard to ask not so long ago. He was a disgruntled motorist seeking a short route from Mount Vernon to New Rochelle after midnight. Of course, he chose the Boulevard, only to find that the thoroughfare had been barricaded at Wolf's Lane to prevent the passage of noisy trucks through the residential district while the citizens of the villages were sleeping.
This unique procedure was instituted in 1924 when the Pelham Heights village trustees determined that the Boulevard had not yet been fully dedicated to the village, and could therefore be closed at will. The passage of trucks through this avenue was extremely bothersome late at night. The long hill from Pelhamdale to Corona avenues was too steep for heavy lumbering vehicles to negotiate in high speed and the clattering of transmissions and discordant rumble of racing engines made sleep almost impossible.
Proponents of the street closing were met with objections on the ground that the highway had been a public thoroughfare for a period of years.
'It had never been closed,' said the objectors, 'and therefore could not be barricaded at night.'
Investigation, however, showed that the street had been closed at least once every year, to permit coasting on winter days, so the village fathers took advantage of this and consequently Pelham Heights sleeps peacefully at night. . . . . "
Source: PELHAM "INSTITUTIONS" ARE DEAR TO THE HEARTS OF THE OLD TIMERS, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 24, 1931, p. 5, cols. 1-2.
"Street No Longer 'Taken In' At Night.
Motorists who frequently pass through the Pelhams at night driving between Mount Vernon and New Rochelle have expressed surprise that the Boulevard is open to traffic after eleven p.m. Since 1926 the thoroughfare has been 'taken in at night' to quote a phrase common to local motorists, and traffic detoured through Wolf's Lane and Colonial avenue. The action was taken at the insistence of Pelham Heights residents who objected to the noise of trucks passing through the residential district during the night. The action was possible because the Boulevard was deeded as a private parkway and not a public street.
However, with paving work on Colonial avenue from Pelhamdale to Highbrook avenue, the Board of Trustees has temporarily discontinued the practice of closing the Boulevard at night."
Source: Street No Longer "Taken In" At Night, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 21, 1936, p. 2, cols. 3-4.