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, February 27, 2015

Brief History of the 19th Century "Country Club at Pelham" Published in 1889

In the Autumn of 1883, a group of Pelham Manor residents led by James M. Waterbury joined with a group of New York City “club men” and organized a new “Country Club” dedicated to the enjoyment of all “legitimate sports.”  By 1884, the Club commenced operations in the nearly-34-acre area encompassed by the Suydam / Morris Estate adjacent to the Bartow property (the site of today's Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum and carriage house.

The group converted a mansion on the property known as “Oakshade” built by artist James Augustus Suydam between 1846 and 1848 and later owned by Richard Lewis Morris into a clubhouse.  The group was unable to buy the property, so it leased the property for five years.  The property was adjacent to and just northeast of today's Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum property, but straddled today's Shore Road with most of the property on the Long Island Sound side and about one-third of the acreage on the opposite side of Shore Road.  

The map immediately below shows the property leased by the club in 1883.  The roadway that bisects the property is today's Shore Road.  The smaller portion of the property "above" the roadway in this map is where the club located its steeplechase course.  Adjacent and to the "left" of the property as shown on the survey was the property of Robert Bartow (the site of today's Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum).

"Map of Land Sold by R. Bartow Esq To James
A. Suydam Esq. & Letitia J. Suydam Situated in
the Township of Pelham W. C. County N. Y.
D. B. Taylor, Surveyor May 1st 1846."  Sourc:
Westchester County Archives.
NOTE:  Click to Enlarge.

Diagram of the Pelham Steeplechase Course for the Race Run on
October 18, 1884. Note the Reference to "Pelham Road"
(Today's Shore Road) at the Bottom of the Map. Source:
Pelham's Gay Pastime - A Day of Glorious Steeplechasing
Provided by the Country Club, N.Y. Herald, Oct. 17, 1884, p. 6, cols. 3-4.
NOTE:  Click to Enlarge.

The Club was not a predecessor to today's Pelham Country Club.  To make matters more confusing, the Club was known by many different names including the Pelham Country Club, the Country Club at Pelham, the Country Club, the Country Club at Westchester, and more.  

Members of the Country Club at Pelham rode to the hounds, sponsored and competed in steeplechase races, held grand polo matches, played baseball, tennis, billiards and more at their Club.  The Club's great steeplechase races became nationally-renowned and attracted gamblers and spectators from all over the northeast.  As the Club grew in fame and stature, it contributed to the cachet of "Pelham Manor" and the notion that the area was a country playground for the wealthy of New York City and the surrounding region.  I have written extensively about the Pelham Country Club and, particularly, the baseball games and steeplechase races that the Country Club at Pelham sponsored. (See the lengthy list of links at the end of this posting.)

Grand balls were held inside Oakshade, the Club's headquarters.  During the country club years it was the scene of many dances, parties and celebrations.  The grounds of the estate were particularly busy during the summer months when the weather was fair.  For nearly five years the Club entertained 250-300 members, their families, and guests. Many of the links at the end of this posting describe the grand scenes of steeplechase races and the pageantry of early “base-ball” games held at the Country Club. 

Undated Post Card View (Ca. 1918-1923) of "Oakshade"
Once Used as the Clubhouse of the Country Club
at Pelham After Conversion of the Structure to a Roadhouse.

As New York City intensified its efforts to purchase the entire area for inclusion within the new Pelham Bay Park, however, the Club was forced to search for a new site. In early 1889, the Club settled on a new site on Throgg’s Neck (about two and a half miles away) and arranged to move to a new clubhouse and grounds in the fall of that year.  

Early in 1889, however, the Club began its preparations to move.  An article appeared in the January 26, 1889 issue of The Evening Post published in New York City.  It described the early history of the Club, its plans to move, and the construction of its new clubhouse on Throgg's Neck.  The article is transcribed in its entirety below, followed by a citation to its source.

A Description of the Building as It Will Be -- The Club's Origin and Growth -- Why the Old House is to be Abandoned.

Pleasantly situated in Pelham township, amid grounds which slope gently down to the waters of Long Island Sound, is the old Morris homestead, or, as it has been known during the last six years, the house of the Country Club of Westchester County.  This Club, although not so old as some of the similar organizations in the neighborhood of New York, ranks among the first in the wealth and social position of its members, and is about to begin a new and important era in its history.  The old club-house is to be torn down, as the grounds upon which it stands are almost in the centre of the tract recently purchased by the city for park purposes.  The necessity of removal, known for some time to the members of the Club, led them to take measures for the purchase of a new site upon which to erect a more commodious house.  Resulting from this was the formation of the Country Club Association, an incorporated body, and the purchase of a desirable tract of land on Pelham Bay, upon which a large and beautiful club-house is now in process of erection.  Before a description of this house or of the property recently acquired by the Association is given, a brief account of the steps leading to the formation of the Country Club may be of interest.

In the autumn of 1883 it occurred to Mr. James M. Waterbury, whose country residence is at Pelham, that a club of this description would be an excellent thing.  The more he thought the matter over, the more favorably impressed he was with the idea.  Then he discussed it with some of his friends in the neighborhood, and finally invited fourteen gentlemen to a supper, after which the subject was broached.  Every one present received the suggestion enthusiastically, and the Country Club was then and there started.  The names of the gentlemen who thus became the founders of the organization were:  H. A. Coster, J. M. Waterbury, J. S. Ellis, J. C. Furman, Edward Haight, jr., C. O. Iselin, F. W. Jackson, Delancey A. Kane, William Kent, Alfred Seton, jr., Alexander Taylor, jr., F. A. Watson, W. S. Hoyt, Pierre Lorillard, jr., and Lorillard Spencer, jr.  J. M. Waterbury was chosen President; W. S. Hoyt, Vice-President; H. A. Coster, Treasurer; and William Kent, Secretary.  Mr. Waterbury immediately proceeded to look for desirable quarters for the new club, and finally decided that the Morris house and grounds, formerly known as the Suydam property, were best suited for the purpose.  An effort was made to buy this property, but was unsuccessful, and accordingly a lease of it for five years was secured.  From the start the Club was successful, and its membership is now filled to the limit.

A reporter of THE EVENING POST recently called upon J. C. Furman, Chairman of the Building Committee which has in charge the erection of the new club-house, to obtain from him a description of the structure and its surroundings.  'When the necessity of seeking new quarters was forced upon us,' said Mr. Furman, 'by the acquisition by the city of the 1,750 acres now known as Pelham Bay Park, in which our old club-house stood, it was decided, as the original club was not an incorporated body, to form an organization to be known as the Country Club Association.  This was done, and there were purchased by the Association about 120 acres of beautifully wooded and rolling land on Pelham Bay, two miles nearer the city than our former site.  The tract purchased is known as the Van Antwerp property, and is situated on Throgg's Neck, in the township of West Chester, Westchester County.  It is bounded on the north by the Lorillard Spencer estate and on the south by the William Laytin estate.  The Eastern Boulevard forms the western boundary, and on the east the land is washed by the waters of Pelham Bay.  Naturally,' continued Mr. Furman, '120 acres have been reserved for its purposes, the remainder being divided into villa sites, many of which have already been sold.  Among those who have purchased sites are:  J. M. Waterbury, John S. Ellis, C. H. Leland, C. P. Marsh, F. Pearson, Howard Gallup, George B. French, Paul Thebaud, Moses Taylor Campbell, S. A. Read, Renwick Aspinwall Russell, and Edward Clarkson Potter.  Mr. Potter has already begun the erection of a beautiful stone and brick villa near the new club-house.  The association has issued bonds, and from the money accruing from the sale of these has advanced to the Club a certain sum for the erection of the new house, the purchase of grounds, and the laying out of the same.  These bonds the club has the privilege of redeeming.  The site for the club-house is on a natural terrace, or elevation, seventeen feet above the waters of the bay, and we think can scarcely be excelled.  Digging for the foundation was begun in September, and the contract calls for the completion of the house by the first of next May.  The building is to be of the colonial style of architecture and will have a length of about 300 feet, with an average depth of 50.  The foundation will be of pressed brick, and the sides will be shingled.  The roof will be shingled and painted red, and all of the trimmings are to be plain white.  The idea is to combine beauty of general effect with extreme simplicity and convenience.  

'As you enter the house you pass into a wide hall extending across the entire width, at the further extremity of which will be a billiard table more especially devoted to the use of the ladies who may wish to play.  Branching off on each side of the main entrance which is on the side of the house away from the bay, are corridors, leading on the right to the large club-room, in which there are to be three billiard tables.  The corridor on the left leads directly to the servants' room, and on the sides of this corridor are the large dining room and a small private dining-room.  At the rear of the house, facing the bay, the hall opens on a broad veranda, which extends the full length of the building, and is seventeen feet broad.  From the veranda a magnificent view may be obtained, four miles across the water to Long Island, through the uninterrupted space between Throggs Neck and City Island Point.  The two upper stories are to be devoted to the members of the Club and their wives (no children), who are permitted to occupy rooms for two weeks at a time only, providing the rooms are called for at the expiration of that period.  If occupied rooms are not called for, they may be retained indefinitely.

'The initerior will be finished very simply.  The colors of the Club are red and white, and they will be made, so far as possible, predominant.  The servants will wear black liveries trimmed with red and white cord.  The wood principally to be used for the interior finish will be pine, painted white, the whole idea being to carry out, so far as it may be done, the effect of the colonial style.  The whole house -- two stories and attic -- will contain in the neighborhood of fity rooms, and the estimated cost of the building alone is $35,000.

'As I have said already, the house will stand on a sort of natural terrace seventeen feet above the water level.  From the upper terrace the descent to the water will be broken by two other terraces, the lower one of which will be occupied as the shooting-ground.  Mr. Oliver Iselin, during a recent trip abroad, has visited the principal pigeon-shooting grounds of the Continent, and will have charge of the construction of these.  Above the shooting ground on the second terrace are to be four tennis courts.  A little to the rear and right of the house are to be the baseball grounds, and still further to the right the polo grounds.  These latter, when completed, will, I believe, be the finest of their kind in the country, as they are to be laid out after the most approved plans, and will be absolutely level.  The dimensions of the polo grounds will be 750x500 feet.  Surrounding them is to be a twenty-foot roadway, which in turn will be flanked on each side by grass walks each fifteen feet in width.  The roadway will be macadamized and dressed down with blue stone.  The steeplechase course will be flagged out when needed, starting with the polo grounds, which will form a part of it.  The stables, the site for which has not as yet been definitely determined, will be enclosed in a courtyard.

'Below the house, a little to the left, there is to be a dock 250 feet in length.  It is proposed to build a fast steamer, which would be used, should the arrangement be made, in connection with the other clubs further up,, the New York Athletic and the American Yacht Club, for instance.  We think an arrangement of that kind can be made, in which case the boat will make regular trips to and from the city, stopping at the several docks at stated intervals.  Even should the proposed arrangement with the other clubs fall through, a boat will probably be provided by some of our members.  The distance by water to the city is about ten miles, though of course it depends in what part of the city the landing is made, and the trip would be a very pleasant one.'

'What are the condition and prospects of the Club to-day?' was inquired.

'The Club is in an excellent condition every way, and its prospects are very bright.  Three hundred and fifty is the limit of our membership, and the limit is now reached, a number of new members having recently been elected.  There are, besides, a number of names of proposed members on the list for admission.  While nothing has been decided in regard to an increase of membership, I think it quite probable that we may increase the present limit somewhat when we move into our new house.  At a recent meeting, the governors of the Club decided to raise the initiation fee from $50 to $100, to go into effect the first of March next, the yearly dues remaining the same as now, namely, $50.  This new rule will not affect those whose names are proposed for membership before March 1.  

'In speaking of the house there were a few things I forgot to mention.  One is that it will be lighted by gas, and there will be running water on the first floor.  Heat will be supplied by three furnaces, and there will also be fireplaces in nearly all the rooms.  We propose to have an impressive entrance to the grounds from the avenue, probably a large gateway, with high and elaborately carved stone posts.  The walks will be covered with the white, pebbly Long Island gravel.'"

Source:  THE COUNTRY CLUB -- ITS NEW HOUSE AND GROUNDS ON PELHAM BAY, The Evening Post [NY, NY], Jan. 26, 1889, p. 12, cols. 1-2.  

*     *     *     *     *

I have written extensively about the Country Club of Pelham and events that were held on its grounds in the 1880s.  Below are a few examples of such postings.

Bell, Blake A., The Pelham Steeplechase Races of the 1880s, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIV, Issue 12, March 25, 2005, p. 10, col. 2.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home