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.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Van Cott's Grove: Once a Famed Picnic Destination in 19th Century Pelham

Over the years I repeatedly have run across references to "Van Cott's Grove" in the Town of Pelham.  I have puzzled over the references and have tried to determine precisely where Van Cott's Grove was located to no avail.  

Recently I mustered the energy to collect all the references I could find to "Van Cott's Grove" in an effort to pinpoint its location.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes many of the references I have collected and theorizes as to the location of Van Cott's Grove.

Van Cott's Grove was a major picnic destination for many in and around Pelham.  It seems to have been located near the water on a point located on Pelham Neck on the Rapelje estate.  It was known as a major picnic destination at least between the 1870s and the mid-1890s (and likely for a much longer period).

Many of the picnics at Van Cott's Grove were large and grand affairs sponsored by local Churches, Sunday Schools, and organizations including fraternal organizations.  Picnickers gathered a central locations and boarded horse drawn "excursion wagons" that were festively decorated.  Indeed, a local Mount Vernon business built a massive excursion wagon to ferry excursionists.  It named the wagon "The Pride of Westchester."  The picnics began with wagon departures in wagon trains of ten to thirteen wagons leaving at 9 a.m.  At Van Cott's Grove, excursionists put up hammocks, swings, and arranged row boats and sail boats to enjoy the adjacent waters.  The events often lasted all day, with the excursion wagons departing for home by about 6 p.m.

The Area Known as Van Cott's Grove Was a Popular Picnic Destination

The references to Van Cott's Grove as a popular picnic destination, particularly for churches, are legion.  Below are a few of the many, many examples I have located.

"LOCAL NEWS. . . . 

Perseverance Lodge, L. O. G. T., will hold their annual picnic at Van Cott's Grove, August 4. . . . 

The annual picnic of the Universalist Church and Sunday School, was held at Van Cott's Grove, on Thursday of this week. . . . 

The M. E. Sunday School picnic will be held at Van Cott's grove, on the 21st inst., and the M. E. Mission Sunday School picnic, at the same place, on the 28th inst."

Source:  LOCAL NEWS, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 9, 1880, Vol. XI, No. 564, p. 2, col. 6.  

"LOCAL NEWS. . . . 

The Reformed Church Sunday Scholo [sic] were the first in the field, or rather off for the grove, this year with their annual picnic.  It was held on Wednesday last at Van Cott's Grove near City Island.  It took ten excursion wagons to convey the picnickers to the grove; once there, those of the adults who had been previously delegated, swung hammocks and put up the swings.  Ten row boats were engaged and two sail boats were in attendance independently and with this amount of floating material there was no need for any one to return home without having had plenty of pleasure on the water.  The time was all industriously taken up.  At six o'clock the excursionists re-embarked in the wagons and the word having been given, they were headed for home where they arrived tired with a day's enjoyment."

Source:  LOCAL NEWS, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 14, 1882, Vol. XIII, No. 669, p. 3, col. 2.  

"LOCAL NEWS. . . . 

The annual picnic of the Seventh Avenue Lutheran Sunday-school will be held next Wednesday, in Van Cott's grove. . . . 

The annual excursion and picnic of the M. E. Sunday-school of this village will take place on Tuesday next, at Van Cott's grove, Pelham.  Tickets entitling the holder to transportation to and from the grove, are for sale by members of the school, at 50 cents each."

Source:  LOCAL NEWS, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 21, 1882, Vol. XIII, No. 670, p. 3, col. 1.  

"PRESBYTERIAN PICNIC.--The picnic of the Presbyterian Sunday School of this village at Van Cott's Grove, near City Island, on Wednesday last, was nicely gotten up and the programme fully carried out.  It was a highly entertaining affair to the children of the school and interesting to all who attended, old or young.  The day was all that could be desired, and at such a lovely spot as the one chosen, with a bountiful supply of refreshments at hand, it is no wonder the children and all were delighted.  This Sunday School at present numbers considerably over one hundred children and is in a very flourishing condition, reflecting much credit on both superintendent and teachers.  We certainly wish them the greatest prosperity."

Source:  PRESBYTERIAN PICNIC, The Pioneer [New Rochelle, NY], Jul. 22, 1882, Vol. XXIII, No. 15, p. 3, col. 3.  

"LOCAL NEWS. . . . 

Last Tuesday, the M. E. Sunday school of this village, held their annual picnic, at Van Cott's grove.  The day, although oppressively warm, was otherwise fine.  There was plenty of rowing and sailing, with the usual amount of land sports, so the children's cup of pleasure was well full."

Source:  LOCAL NEWSThe Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 28, 1882, Vol. XIII, No. 671, p. 3, col. 1.

"LOCAL NEWS. . . . 

The M. E. Mission Sunday School will have their annual picnic this year on the 27th inst.  They will go to Van Cott's grove."

Source:  LOCAL NEWS, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Aug. 15, 1884, Vol. XV, No. 778, p. 3, col. 1.

The Area Known as Van Cott's Grove Seems to Have Been on Pelham Neck

The area known as Van Cott's Grove seems to have been on Pelham Neck and encompassed, at least in part, a point of the neck with an old home on a "point" of the Neck located within the Rapelje estate.  In 1886, a brief reference to Van Cott's Grove shed some light on its location.  A much later reference addressing events that occurred during 1897 seemed to confirm the 1886 reference to the location of Van Cott's Grove.

The references are quoted immediately below.


Mrs. Holcombe hires the property on Pelham Neck, belonging to the Rapelye Estate, and known as Van Cott's Grove.  For about a year past, the old house on the point has been occupied by an old man named Richard Kinsella.  The building, until he went to it was utterly untenantable, but he fixed it up and made it habitable, and it is said expended, what was to him, considerable money.  Recently Mrs. Holcombe has wanted the house, and notified Kinsella to vacate, but failing to comply, on Tuesday last, he was ejected and his household effects set out on the street."

Source: PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], May 28, 1886, Vol. XVII, No. 884, p. 1, col. 4.  

Only about eight years later, it seems, the area became known as "Jack's Rock."  A reference published in 1895 reads as follows:

"Congregational Church. . . . 

The annual picnic of the First Congregational Church Sunday School will be held at Jack's Rock (old Van Cott's Grove) next Saturday, June 30th.  The School will assemble at 8.45 A.M., the stages to leave the church, Ninth avenue and Valentine street, at 9 o'clock.  Returning, the departure will be made from the grove at 5.30 P.M."

Source:  Congregational Church, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jun. 28, 1894, p. 3, col. 1.  

"Silver Anniversaries Came Fast.  In 1897, A Year Of Celebrations . . . 

During the months of July and August of this year (1897) there were a number of picnics of the different Sunday Schools and other organizations that were held mostly in Van Cott's Grove between Bartow and City Island, now a portion of Pelham Bay Park.  Transportation in those days was by picnic wagons and on one of these occasions there were 13 of them taking the M. E. Sunday School led by the newly designed vehicle built especially for Burr Davis & Son called the Pride of Westchester, which many of the old residents will doubtless remember as it became very popular for private picnics, etc."

Source:  Silver Anniversaries Came Fast.  In 1897, A Year Of Celebrations, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 18, 1930, p. 6, cols. 1-2.   

1881 Map Detail That Shows a Point Off the "Rapelyea" Estate

Immediately below is a detail from Bromley's 1881 map of Pelham and Pelham Manor focused on Pelham Neck.  On the upper part of the Neck is an area designated "Rapelyea Homestead."  There seems to be a pronounced point visible on the estate, likely the area once known as Van Cott's Grove and, later, Jack's Rock.  

Detail of 1881 Map of the Town of Pelham Showing Pelham Neck
and the "Rapelyea Estate."  Source: Bromley, George Washington
& Bromley, Walter Scott, "Town of Pelham, (With) Pelham-Manor. 
(From Actual Surveys and Official Records by G.W. Bromley & Co., 
Civil Engineers, Published by Geo. W. & Walter S. Bromley, 1881)"
in Atlas of Westchester County, New York, From Actual Surveys and
Official Records, pp. 56-57 (Washington, D.C.: G.W. Bromley & Co. 1881).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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