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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Another Account of Gold and Silver Treasure Found in a Pelham Manor Backyard in 1889

Gold!  Silver!  Treasure!  For almost as long as youngsters have let their imaginations run wild, words such as these have prompted them to dig in their backyards in search of riches.  Some parents may smile and shake their heads at the naivete of youth.  Others may angrily instruct their offspring to fill their trenches.  Perhaps Pelham parents, however, should listen to their youngsters and let them explore, for treasure actually has been found in the backyard of a Pelham Manor home before.

I have written before about the cache of silver found in an old safe in the backyard of Pelham Manor resident Robert C. Black, a principal of Fifth Avenue jeweler Black, Starr & Frost.  See Mon., May 16, 2005:  The Discovery of a Gold and Silver Treasure in the Backyard of a Pelham Home in 1889.  My earlier posting was based on a New York Times article about discovery of the treasure.  The story of the treasure, however, was recounted far and wide.  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of an article that appeared in the Cumberland Daily Times published in Cumberland, Maryland on April 17, 1889.  It describes in detail how the treasure was found and recounts a couple of the many theories regarding the origins of the treasure.  The text of the article appears immediately below, followed by a citation to its source.

A New York Boy's Rich Find -- Probably Burglars' Booty.

NEW YORK, April 17. -- Robert Black, of Pelham manor, a member of the firm of Black, Starr & Frost, of this city, recently gave an old iron safe on his premises to Peter Berger, who cares for the grounds of the manor.  Mr. Berger took the safe away, and tried on his way home to sell it to a traveling junk man, and would have succeeded had the man been able to take it away.

He then gave it to his son Robert, who broke it open and found inside a lot of old silver, handsomely engraved and lined with gold.  He took the set to Mr. Black, who valued it at $500.  The name, 'C. Stephens,' was engraved on most of the pieces, while one bore the letter 'E,' and several others were engraved 'Napoleon III.'

Supposed to Be 'Swag.'

It is thought that part of the silver was taken by the masked burglars who robbed the Emmet place on the Pelham road in 1874.  The safe had stood in Mr. Black's grounds since 1873.  C. Stephens lived in Pelham in 1870 and 1871, and had a real estate office in lower Broadway, but has since disappeared.  The silver has been placed in the New Rochelle bank vaults to await the owners' identification."

Source:  SILVER IN AN OLD SAFE, Cumberland Daily Times [Cumberland, MD], Apr. 17, 1889, Vol. II, No. 217, p. 1, col. 5 (paid subscription required).

In 1889, Robert C. Black and his family lived in The Dogwoods where the safe stood in the backyard.  I have written about The Dogwoods before.  See Thu., Feb. 05, 2015:  "The Dogwoods," Known as the Old Black Mansion on Esplanade, Was Razed for Property Development in 1931; Wed., Apr. 13, 2005:  "The Dogwoods" - The Estate of Robert Clifford Black of Pelham Manor.

"Residence of Mr. Robert C. Black (From photograph before completion.)"
NOTE:  "before completion" means before completion of the addition
of two wings to the original house in 1892.
in Real Estate Record and Builders Guide Supplement, Dec. 17, 1892,
Vol. L, No. 1292, p. 3 (Click Image to Enlarge).  

Research has never revealed whether the owners of the silver were ever located.  Obviously, the fact that "C. Stephens" was engraved on most of the pieces was significant.  Charles J. Stephens and his brother, Henry C. Stephens, were nephews of the principal financial backer of the Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association, Silas H. Witherbee.  The Stephens Brothers lived in Pelham Manor and, by 1872, were working as real estate agents in New York City.  Their firm, Stephens Brothers & Company, described itself as "conveyancers and commission dealers in real property" with "especial attention given to Westchester County, N. Y.'  The firm served as 'Managing Agents' for the Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association.  During the early 1870s, the Stephens Brothers were heavily involved in efforts to market lots in the new suburban development known as "Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights."  To learn more about Charles J. Stephens and Henry C. Stephens, see Mon., Mar. 20, 2006:  Charles J. Stephens and Henry C. Stephens of the Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association.  

Although no one in Pelham knew how to locate Charles J. Stephens in 1889, his obituary indicates that at about that time he lived with his family at 163 West 12th Street in New York City.  During many of the intervening years, however, he had traveled extensively throughout South America, Central America, and Cuba.  He died August 9, 1891 in Mexico City while collecting material for an illustrated text on Central America.  See Obituary . . . Charles J. Stephens, The Sun [NY, NY], Aug. 12, 1891, p. 2, col. 6.  See also  Wed., May 19, 2010:  Obituary of Charles J. Stephens of the Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association; Thu., Apr. 9, 2009:  The Death of Charles J. Stephens in City of Mexico in 1891.  Additionally, Charles J. Stephens seems to have had some involvement with renting at least one property in Pelham Manor as late as 1884, only five years before the "treasure" was found.  See Mon., Mar. 2, 2009:  1884 Advertisement Placed by Charles J. Stephens of the Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association Offering Home for Rent.    

Since most of the silver found in the safe taken from the backyard of Robert C. Black's home was engraved "C. Stephens," it seems unlikely that the items were part of what was stolen from the home of Richard J. Emmett on December 22, 1873 as noted in the article quoted above.  The Emmett home still stands at 145 Shore Road and is one of the most historic homes in all of Pelham since a portion of the house pre-dates the Revolutionary War.  

The Emmett robbery was one of the most notorious crimes in Pelham history.  On December 22, 1873, a band of robbers broke into the Emmett home, placed handcuffs and gags on all of the occupants, ransacked the residence and escaped with many valuables including material taken from a safe in the home.  No expense was spared in bringing the robbers to justice.  The robbers were identified, captured, tried and convicted.  I have written about the notorious crime on several occasions.  See:

Tue., May 17, 2005:  The Masked Burglar Robbery of the Emmett Home in Pelham on December 22, 1873 (Part I).

Wed., May 18, 2005:  The Masked Burglar Robbery of the Emmett Home in Pelham on December 22, 1873 (Part II).

Fri., Jun. 06, 2014:  More on an Infamous Crime:  The Masked Bandit Robbery of the Kemble House on Shore Road in 1873.

The Kemble House, 145 Shore Road, in 2005.
Photograph by the Author.

*          *          *          *          *

Like ghost stories, treasure stories involving the Town of Pelham abound.  I have written about a number of such treasure stories, some real and some apocryphal.  See:

Mon., Jan. 26, 2015:  Hidden Treasure that Once Belonged to the Father of John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham Found in a Discarded Chest in the 19th Century.

Mon., May 16, 2005: The Discovery of a Gold and Silver Treasure in the Backyard of a Pelham Home in 1889

Wed., Jun. 11, 2014:  Buried Treasure Off the Shores of Pelham: The Legend of Pirate's Treasure

Mon., May 01, 2006:  The Legend of the Recovery of Pirate's Treasure on an Island Off Pelham.

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