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, December 23, 2014

The Original Summer Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club in 1889, Shortly After it Was Built

The new summer clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club opened, unofficially, on June 1, 1889.  One week later on June 8, 1889, a wonderful article with fascinating images appeared in The Daily Graphic published in New York City.  

 The article detailed the interior of the new clubhouse and even included a photograph of what may be the most famous dog that ever lived in Pelham:  Turk.  Turk was a "water dog" whose heroic deeds became the stuff of legends.  Not only did Turk save foundering swimmers off the shores of Travers Island on several occasions, in 1888 he awakened a man to warn him of a fire in a building on the island.  The New York Athletic Club was so proud of Turk, its unofficial mascot, that it reportedly planned to "exclude dogs as residents" except Turk so that "No canine usurper will disturb the noble life of 'Turk'."  According to the article, transcribed below, Turk "will deserve a monument on Travers Island for the lives he has rescued."

The text of the article is transcribed below, followed by a citation to its source.  Also included are all of the images that appeared with the article.


Probably the athletic and poetic qualities are allied in natural intimacy in the organization of man.  Something of a test on the subject is presented in selections and arrangements for a course of living in which bodily strength and activity will be held at full value.  As a summer abode the insular estate secured about a year and a half ago by the New York Athletic Club, is of a character to delight the finest senses while providing an outdoor athletic arena.  This was formerly the joint possession of two gentlemen, whose country houses were disposed within its area of about twelve acres.  Its quality of picturesque beauty has lost nothing through unceasing winter labors preparing for its extensive occupation.  With the new club houses complete, Travers Island becomes the ideal of an association of four hundred by whom girth and brawn are considered somewhat as in their ancient relations, when an aspirant for participation in the Olympic or other public games was examined in regard to birth, social position and moral character.

The new house was ready for occupancy of members on June 1, without formal opening, but with the club's steward, John Ulber, at his newly established post in charge of the cuisine.  

For the premier reunion of the year, arranged for the 8th instant as an informal opening of the club house for inspection, the invitations have been recently distributed among the members.  The course of this entertainment will be continued on the day following that specified.

The little island gem between the main shore and Glen Island retains its features of rock and wood in chiefly a natural state.  Its sunny shores are approached by three different routes.  The trains from Grand Central Depot, on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, are met regularly at Pelhamville by stages running between Travers Island and that station, tickets being procured at special rates only by club members.  On a circuit starting from the depot on the upper side of the Harlem River by the New York, New Haven and Hartford branch, visitors to Travers Island may stop at Pelham Manor, which is a half mile from their destination.  They have then the choice between a walk of that distance and the stages meeting all the trains.  On the opening of Glen Island for the summer the boats to that resort will furnish direct passage to Travers Island by water.

Throughout the winter men have been at work on the roads of this little island and on the causeway across the mainland.  The running track has been made as perfect as possible.  Fast running has been practiced every day on this track since it has been worked all over and put in such fine condition.  The tennis courts and the boathouse have been put in order and the stabling has been thoroughly improved.  The ruins of the house which was burned -- formerly belonging to the Edgar family and last year used for the club house -- have been cleared away and the ground levelled [sic] with the expectation of another structure being erected on this site for the increasing uses of the club.  The other house which was on the estate when purchased continues in use.  This will probably be arranged in the new order as a group of offices for club employees.  The building is known both as the Emmett and the Potter house, in reference to early and later proprietors.  While the island has not been really open, as many as one hundred and fifty men have been sometimes accommodated temporarily, the rowing men and athletes having been in training for some time past and needing the use of the place, as well as the bicycling and equestrian parties.

The new club-house is erected with some slight modification of the original design by Mr. Douglas Smyth, the changes being chiefly in details of the tower and in a substitution of square openings for arches in the base.  The stonework carried through the basement and the tower is peculiar, with a surface resembling old natural fence stone, not treated with hammer or chisel, but being covered with its green lichens and with dirt.  In other parts the building is shingled.  Its dimensions are 184 by 40 feet.  

An important feature of the construction is shown in the verandas running almost entirely around the house, with an extent of about 300 feet in length and an average width of 15 feet.  This arrangement well provides for outdoor life, with the expectation that the dinners, breakfasts and luncheons, except in unpleasant weather, will generally by choice be taken facing the regal sun.

The first story is entirely devoted to public uses, with the addition of the service, kitchen pantries and storerooms.  The principal division of this floor is the hall or cafe, with which nearly all the other rooms, as well as the verandas, are connected, this feature in reality extending through the house, and being open to the roof through a gallery providing light and air.  As a somewhat new arrangement of the country house, the separation of the cafe and the veranda is formed by rolling shutters.  All the service, kitchen and refrigerator equipment is extremely complete, being superior to that of the greater number of city club houses.  A fine supply of fresh water is received from the New Rochelle water works with pressure of eighty pounds to the square inch.  By this means a good head is furnished, as is unusual in like situations, and with fire-hose on every floor.  The water supply is sufficient to throw a stream over the house at any time.

The accommodations of the house for sleeping are sufficient for 100 men.  The chambers are divided into single and double bedrooms and dormitories.  All the plumbing throughout the house has been carefully arranged.  From the basement up to the third floor the bath rooms and wash rooms are liberally distributed.  With the rest is a shower room, and a barber shop is on the second floor.  The whole is finished in plain cottage style, all the furniture, matting, carpets, &c., being in corresponding character, fitted for summer use.  

The Island Committee of the club, with Mr. E. C. Potter as Chairman and Messrs. S. T. Knapp, Jr., Arthur Moore, Douglas Smyth and Eugene H. Pomeroy associates, have issued a preliminary bulletin of information giving points already decided for regulating the house.  One of the prohibitory rules will exclude dogs dogs as residents on the island.  No canine usurper will disturb the noble life of 'Turk,' the famous water dog, who will deserve a monument on Travers Island for the lives he has rescued.  One of the latest reports of his good deeds is about his awakening a man when the Edgar House was on fire.

Between ten A.M. and five P.M. each day except Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays lady visitors and families will be received at the island, and Thursday in each week is specially designated 'ladies day' from ten A.M. to ten P.M.  A ladies' room is arranged in the house with a competent maid to be in charge.  On Saturday evenings a table d'hote dinner will be served, as well as on Sunday at half-past one P.M., and table d'hote breakfast on Sunday and Monday mornings.  If attendance warrants, regular dinners and breakfasts will be served during the week.  The diet will not be rigorously prescribed by a public functionary like the Aleiptes, who had also to salve the bodies of the Greek athletes.  This also will cost more than the fresh cheese, dried figs and wheaten bread, at one time forming the principal food of that illustrious class.

The Club House will be open at six A.M., and close at midnight, with the electric lights turned off at the latter hour.  The electric plant is supplied from the New Rochelle works, the house with the verandas being fully illuminated.  The members frequently own small yachts which are kept in the channel, and a number of new boats have been added to the fleet of last year.  The balcony of the tower affords a fine view of the rowing course.  From this angle the outlook extends over Glen Island, David's Island (Government station) and to Execution Rock and Sand's Point, across the Sound.  In all the aspects the beautiful little island is fitted for sacred games or for a habitation of the gods."

Source:  ON TRAVERS ISLAND -- SUMMER HOME OF THE NEW YORK ATHLETIC CLUB, The Daily Graphic [NY, NY], Jun. 8, 1889, p. 7, cols. 1-5.  

Jun. 8, 1889, p. 7, cols. 1-5.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Jun. 8, 1889, p. 7, cols. 1-5.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Jun. 8, 1889, p. 7, cols. 1-5.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Jun. 8, 1889, p. 7, cols. 1-5.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Jun. 8, 1889, p. 7, cols. 1-5.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

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I previously have written about the New York Athletic Club facilities on Travers Island. Below is a linked listing of such writings.

Mon., Jun. 16, 2014 1892:  Images of Travers Island NYAC with an Important Description of the Clubhouse and Facilities.

Thu., Jan. 23, 2014:  Another Account of the Devastating Fire that Destroyed the Travers Island Clubhouse of New York Athletic Club in 1901

Fri., Sep. 4, 2009:  1901 Newspaper Article About Fire That Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island.

Thu., Apr. 28, 2005:  Ladies' Day on Travers Island in the 19th Century.

Thu., May 26, 2005:  The New York Athletic Club's Opening of the 'New Summer Home' on Travers Island in 1889.

Tue., Jun. 21, 2005:  Life at Travers Island in the 1890s.

Thu., Aug. 11, 2005:  How Dry I Am:  Pelham Goes Dry in the 1890s and Travers Island Is At the Center of a Storm.

Wed., Dec. 21, 2005:  An Early Sketch of the First Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in Pelham.

Thu., Jul. 19, 2007:  Members of the New York Athletic Club Were Duped Into Believing the Club Created a Small Nine-Hole Golf Course in Pelham Manor in 1897.

Fri., Jul. 20, 2007:  Account of Early Baseball in Pelham:  Pelham vs. the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in 1897.

Wed., Nov. 21, 2007:  Baseball on Travers Island During the Summer of 1897.

Thu., Nov. 22, 2007:  August 1896 Description of Cycle Route to Travers Island in Pelham Manor.

Fri., Nov. 23, 2007:  The Festivities of the Huckleberry Indians of the New York Athletic Club Off the Shore of Pelham Manor on July 12, 1896.

Mon., Nov. 26, 2007:  Box Score of a Baseball Game Played on Travers Island in Pelham Manor in July 1896.

Thu., Feb. 7, 2008:  Village Elections in Pelham in 1900 - New York Athletic Club Members Campaign Against the Prohibition Ticket in Pelham Manor.

Mon., Jan. 19, 2009:  Photograph of Members of the New York Athletic Club Shooting Traps on Travers Island in 1911.

Tue., Feb. 17, 2009:  The New York Athletic Club Opens Its New Clubhouse on Travers Island in Pelham in 1888.

Wed., Feb. 18, 2009:  The New York Athletic Club Opens Its New Travers Island Boathouse in 1888.

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009:  The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.

Wed., Mar. 4, 2009:  "Ladies' Day" on Travers Island in Pelham Manor in 1894.

Tue., Mar. 24, 2009:  1897 Photograph of Visitors Streaming to Athletic Outing on Travers Island in Pelham Manor.

Wed., Oct. 28, 2009:  Article About the June 10, 1888 Opening of Travers Island Facility of the New York Athletic Club.

Tue., Aug. 18, 2009:  New York Athletic Club Board of Governors Decided to Mortgage Travers Island in 1895.

Mon., Apr. 12, 2010:  New York Athletic Club Stage Coach Accident Leads to Death of Pelham Manor Man.

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