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.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Pelham Proposed To Build A Town Hall and Post Office in 1857

During the early nineteenth century, most of Pelham’s population lived on City Island, Pelham Neck or along the mainland on Long Island Sound.  There were few homes on Boston Post Road or in the areas that later came to be known as Prospect Hill and Pelhamville.  

The Town of Pelham decided in 1857 to build its first Town Hall.  Construction began a year later on today’s Shore Road near today’s Pelham Bit Stables / Bronx Equestrian Center in Pelham Bay Park.  Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting provides some early history of the Town's original Town Hall that was razed during the 1950's and transcribes an article published in 1857 announcing a decision by the Town to build the structure to serve as its Town Hall and Post-Office.  

The Town of Pelham was incorporated on March 7, 1788.  The 1790 census, conducted barely two years later, found that 199 residents lived in Pelham:  45 free white males 16 and older, 31 free white males younger than 16, 84 free white females, 1 person in the “all other free persons” category and 38 slaves.  Most of these residents lived on (or near) City Island.

As a consequence, meetings of the Town Board were held on City Island.  Annual Town meetings were held in a private home on the island.  For example, early records reflect that the Town Board paid Benjamin Horton of City Island $5.00 “for the use of his home for the annual Town meeting”.

With the advent in 1848 of what became the New Haven Line railroad, however, the mainland population of Pelham began to grow.  The political center of the Town began to shift ever so slowly.  At this time, Pelham had neither a Town Hall nor a post office.  By the 1850's, there was a post office known as the "Pelham" post office, but it was located in New Rochelle.  Residents of City Island and Pelham Neck were forced to travel to New Rochelle or to the Village of Westchester for their postal needs.  The Town responded in 1857 by applying for its own post office and proposing to build a "substantial" brick building on Shore Road to serve as its post office and its Town Hall.

The one-room brick building had a two-story brick tower at its front and a date stone inscribed “1858” above its front entry.  The structure was located where it would be easily accessible from City Island via City Island Road, from Prospect Hill, and even from Pelhamville (via Wolf’s Lane to Split Rock Road and then to Shore Road).  As odd as it may seem today, the little Town Hall was built roughly near the geographic center of what then was a very large Town of Pelham.

The Town Hall building served as a town meeting center and even as a school when necessary.  It served its purpose until the City of New York annexed the area known today as City Island and Pelham Bay Park in the mid-1890's.  

Shamefully, the City of New York took virtually no steps to protect the many historic structures located in Pelham Bay Park after annexation.  Ultimately, there was a scandal played out in the press when The New York Times disclosed that a City official and his cronies “squatted” in some of the structures – paying little or no rent – while many of the structures suffered the ravages of vandalism and thievery.  

Despite New York City’s shameful neglect of the historic assets in Pelham Bay Park, the little Town Hall building survived for many years.  It may have survived only because, for years, the City allowed it to be used as a tool shed.  By 1954, however, vandals had taken their toll on the little building and the Parks Department boarded it up to prevent further damage.

Once the City Parks Department boarded the building up, its sad fate was assured.  The little Town Hall building never reached its one-hundredth birthday.  In 1955, the structure was razed by the City of New York. 

Undated Photograph Showing Pelham Town Hall on Shore Road.

Detail from 1868 Beers Map of Town of Pelham with Red
Circle Indicating Location of Pelham Town Hall.  Note:
Click Image to Enlarge.

Undated Photograph of Pelham Town Hall on
Shore Road Not Long Before it Was Razed.

Today's Seal of the Town of Pelham with an
Artist's Rendering of the Original Pelham Town
Hall in its Center.

Below is a brief article published in 1857 describing the decision of the Town of Pelham to apply for its own post office and to build a "substantial" building to serve as its Town Hall and post office.

"A TOWN HALL AND POST-OFFICE FOR PELHAM -- It is probably known to but very few that the early settled township of Pelham, Westchester County, cannot boast of a single Post-Office within its boundaries.  It is true there is a Post-Office known as Pelham, but that is located in the south-western section of New-Rochelle, where it accommodates only a limited portion of the inhabitants of Pelham, for not more than a dozen families reside within a mile of this office, and some of these are in the habit of visiting the Village of New-Rochelle almost daily, and receive their letters and newspapers through the Post-Office at that place, while the inhabitants of City Island, numbering about 400, as well as those residing on Pelham Point and vicinity, are without Post-Office facilities, and are compelled to travel to New-Rochelle or Westchester, from three to four miles, to insure the dispatch or receipt of a letter by mail.  It may, therefore, prove interesting to those who have friends or business correspondents residing on that little out-of-the-way spot called City Island to learn that the good people are waking up to their own rights and taking the necessary steps for the establishment of a Post-Office in the vicinity of the old turnpike [NOTE:  today's Shore Road] and the road leading to Pelham Point and City Island; and in case of succeeding with their application they purpose [sic] erecting a substantial building to answer the double purpose of a Town Hall and Post-Office; and as the location indicated is understood to be satisfactory to the residents of City Island, comprising about two-thirds of the entire population of the township it cannot reasonably fail to meet the approval of those residing immediately surrounding the proposed site; in fact, it is believed that the gentlemen whose country seats are situated on the shore of Long Island Sound in that neighborhood will contribute liberally toward the erection of a public building that will do credit to the town of Pelham."

Source:  A TOWN HALL AND POST-OFFICE FOR PEHAM, New-York Daily Tribune, Mar. 20, 1857, p. 7, cols. 4-5.  

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I have written before about the old Pelham Town Hall that once stood on today's Shore Road.  See:  

Tue., May 11, 2010:  Mystery Solved - Pelham Town Hall That Once Stood On Shore Road Was Used as a School.

Mon., Mar. 13, 2006:  Two Photographs of Pelham's Town Hall That Once Stood On Shore Road.

Bell, Blake A., Pelham's First Town Hall on Shore Road in Pelham Manor, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 35, Sept. 3, 2004, p. 8, col. 1.

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