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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why is Half the Road Named "Wolfs Lane" While the Other Half is Named "Fifth Avenue"?

As Historian of the Town of Pelham, I have been asked on countless occasions why half of the main commercial thoroughfare in the Town of Pelham is named Wolfs Lane while the other half of the same street is named Fifth Avenue.  A related question I have been asked is why is there only a single building (the Pelham National Bank Building) designated as "One Wolfs Lane" on the north side of the New Haven Line railroad tracks while all the other buildings on the north side of the New Haven Line tracks on the same street have Fifth Avenue addresses.  

As with all such mysteries, the answers to these two questions shed interesting light on the histories of two of the three villages that once formed the Town of Pelham.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog will shed light on these mysteries.

Even as the New Haven Line opened for service in late December, 1848, land speculators already were jockeying for real estate in the area north of the railroad tracks.  Speculators believed that the coming of the railroad would lead to land development and real estate profits.  Hoping to capitalize on this railroad real estate fever, a man named John R. Coppinger sought to profit from his land holdings in the area.  Coppinger hired William Bryson, an architect and civil engineer in New Rochelle, to survey and lay out development lots for sale in a new development on Coppinger's lands that Coppinger named "Pelhamville."  On August 11, 1852, Bryson filed a "Map of Building Lots Being a Continuation of Pelhamville Westchester County, N. Y. The Property of John R. Coppinger Scale 1 Inch to One Foot."  The map provided for development and sale of lots north of the New Haven Line railroad tracks (with only a tiny extension into the area that later became known as Pelham Heights). 

Plans for Pelhamville included a numbering scheme for Avenues that extended north and south, crossed by streets that traveled east and west.  The Avenues extended, generally speaking and with a northern exception named River Avenue, from what then was First Avenue along the Hutchinson River to Ninth Avenue at the New Rochelle Border.  The avenue designated "Fifth Avenue" followed that portion of the pathway known as "Wolfs Lane" on the north side of the railroad tracks.  The avenue designated "Fifth Avenue" began at the railroad tracks because that portion of the roadway south of the railroad tracks was in an unincorporated part of the Town of Pelham that was not part of the Pelhamville development that was based on lands once owned by John R. Coppinger.

Soon lots were sold and meager development began in Pelhamville.  It was not, however, until the the population of Pelhamville began to mushroom in the late nineteenth century that there came a need to number buildings with addresses.  The tiny little lot on the north side -- and immediately adjacent to the New Haven Line railroad tracks where the old Pelhamville Train Depot once had stood was so small and so close to the railroad tracks that it was thought that no building of substance could be built on the plot.  Thus, when numbering buildings on the street, local authorities gave the address of One Fifth Avenue to the building on the northwest corner of First Street and Fifth Avenue (the building that now houses Pelham Manor Florist on the corner, among other businesses).  

Since the southern boundary of the Village of North Pelham (previously Pelhamville) extended along the New Haven Line railroad tracks, authorities numbered buildings along the roadway beginning at One Fifth Avenue and extending northward in ascending order.

In the meantime, in 1896, the area known as "The Heights" incorporated as the "Village of Pelham."  The Village of Pelham continued to accept the name of that part of the roadway that was known as Fifth Avenue within Pelhamville (and within the Village of North Pelham also incorporated in 1896) as "Wolfs Lane."  Such an arrangement made sense, of course, particularly because Fifth Avenue "began" on the north side of the railroad tracks with ascending numeric addresses that began with One Fifth Avenue.  

More than two decades later, with the Roaring Twenties well underway, Pelham land values soared and real estate development was nearly out of control.  A man named John T. Brook built a grand three-story bank building with plans to expand the building to the height of a nine-story skyscraper as the bank grew.  The bank moved to its new location on September 14, 1929, only weeks before the stock market crash of 1929 followed by the onset of the Great Depression.  The new building was located on that sliver of a lot that once was thought too small to develop.  Since the roadway known as Fifth Avenue began across the street (i.e., across First Street), the building was assigned the number of One Wolfs Lane, with the remainder of the roadway to the south remaining as originally named:  "Wolfs Lane."  

Although the Pelham National Bank failed during the Depression and John T. Brooks subsequently was jailed for fraud, the long, narrow and tall building built immediately adjacent to the railroad tracks -- the only one designated with a Wolfs Lane address on the north side of the railroad tracks -- remains standing today as a silent reminder of an unusual aspect of Pelham's history.

Lockwood Barr wrote briefly of this unusual set of circumstances in his history of the Town of Pelham published in 1946.  There he wrote:

"Early maps of the Town of Pelham show a trail parallel to the Hutchinson River, established by the Indians, running north and south. It became a country road, taking its name from Anthony Wolf, who owned a farm and had a house which stood not far from 3rd Street and Fifth Avenue, Village of North Pelham. The Wolf house was moved in 1909 to 210 South 6th Avenue, where it still stands. That section of this old "trail, now in North Pelham, is Fifth Avenue; while that part of the old road in the Village of Pelham and Pelham Manor is still called Wolf Lane. 

The Post Office in the building between 1st Street and the New Haven, in North Pelham, is Number One Wolf Lane. The explanation is that the plot on which the building stands was so close to the railroad that it was not believed it would be built upon. When the street numbering system was devised by the Post Office to expedite mail deliveries the buildings on Fifth Avenue, north of First Street, were allotted numbers, the northwest corner of First Street and Fifth Avenue being logically Number One, Fifth Avenue. Consequently, when the Bank Building was erected (now occupied by the Post Office) the only solution then was to give the new building the designation of One Wolf Lane, or renumber the houses on Fifth Avenue."

Source:  Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, p. 134 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946) (Library of Congress Control Number 47003441, Library of Congress Call Number F129.P38B3).

Map of Pelhamville Published in 1868.
Source: Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity
from Actual Surveys By and Under the Direction of
F.W. Beers, Assisted By A.B. Prindle & Others,
pg. 36 (NY, NY: Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1868) (Detail from
Page 36 Map Entitled "Town of New Rochelle,
Westchester Co., N.Y. (With) Pelhamville).

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home