Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, September 15, 2014

1884 Gunfight in Pelham Manor Pits Local Residents Against Pelham Manor Depot Burglars

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Pelham Manor Depot stood at the end of the Esplanade where I-95 now passes. The Depot served passengers on the Branch Line, most of whom commuted to work in New York City. Inside the Depot was the Village Post Office.

The area was sparsely populated.  Consequently, so-called "tramps" roamed the area, hopping on and off the branch line trains.  Increasingly, crime was a problem in the area.  Indeed, crime was so bad that in 1881, local residents established the "Pelham Manor Protective Club" as a "Vigilance Committee" to oversee the health and welfare of Pelham Manor residents a decade before the incorporation of the Village of Pelham Manor.

The Pelham Manor Depot was a particular target of the many burglars who roamed the sparsely-populated area.  Indeed, the depot was burglarized so many times, that the Pelham Manor Protective Club funded the installation of an electric burglar alarm that ran from the Pelham Manor Depot to the nearby residence of the Depot station master, Joseph English.  

On Tuesday, January 8, 1884, the Pelham Manor Depot was burglarized yet again.  The burglar alarm, however, was tripped and alerted the station master who awoke a member of the Pelham Manor Protective Club, Thomas D. De Witt.  The pair grabbed their revolvers and raced to the depot where they confronted the robbers and a gunfight erupted.

I have written about this event before.  See Mon., Jan. 28, 2008:  1884 Burglary and Gun Fight at the Pelham Manor Depot.  Various accounts of the burglary and gunfight differ slightly, but the general story is quite clear.

The night was cold, but peaceful.  Joseph English was asleep when the newly-installed burglar alarm woke him rudely.  He awoke his neighbor, Thomas DeWitt, and another unidentified neighbor.  The three grabbed their revolvers and took off for the Depot.  

When they arrived, a window on the side of the depot away from the residences and facing the railroad tracks had been broken to gain entry.  As the men approached, two burglars burst out of the depot and began to scramble across nearby lots in a bid to escape.

Thomas DeWitt, a member of the Pelham Manor Protective Club, raised his revolver and shouted for the pair to stop.  When they failed to stop he fired several shots.  In return, the armed burglars released a fusillade of shots, discouraging pursuit.  They escaped.

Reports stated, with glee, that the burglars "only succeeded in getting a few cents" in the burglary.  

Detail from 1881 Map Showing Pelham Manor Depot
and Surrounding Area Not Long Before the January, 1882 Burglary.
Source:  "Town of Pelham.  (With)  Pelham-Manor.  (From Actual
Surveys and Official Records by G. W. Bromley & Co., Civil
Engineers" in Bromley, George W., Atlas of Westchester County,
New York from Actual Surveys and Official Records by G. W.
Bromley & Co., Civil Engineers, Pp. 56-57 (Washington,
D.C., G. W. Bromley & Co., 1881).

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Below is the text of an excerpt of one article describing the gunfight at the Pelham Manor Depot in January, 1884.  It is followed by a citation to its source.  


On Tuesday night last, the station at Pelham Manor was broken into by thieves, entrance being gained by breaking out a window on the side facing the railroad track.  The depot is supplied with a burglar alarm, the wire of which runs to the residence of the station agent, Mr. Joseph English.  When he was aroused by the ringing, he notified Thomas D. DeWitt and another gentleman, and the three went to the depot.  On their approach, the burglars, of whom there were two, ran out and across the lots.  Mr. DeWitt called to them to stop, and fired several shots from a revolver, but the burglars returned the fire with compound interest, and made good their escape.  They only succeeded in getting a few cents from the depot.  On the same night, Hollweg's store, at New Rochelle, was broken open, but nothing was stolen, and the night before, Ware & Sheffield's store and the Presbyterian Church were robbed."  

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mt. Vernon, NY], Jan. 11, 1884, Vol. XV, No. 747, cols. 3-4.  

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