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, April 08, 2015

Peter Jay Munro Van Cortlandt and His Nineteenth Century Estate in Pelham

Peter Jay Munro Van Cortlandt was a lineal descendant of Chief Justice John Jay of New York and once owned a summer estate on Shore Road in the Town of Pelham.  Born into wealth in August, 1828 in Yonkers, P.J.M. Van Cortlandt became a well-known nineteenth century sportsman.  Of independent means, Van Cortlandt traveled the United States hunting and fishing and even set several national fishing records.

P.J.M. Van Cortlandt married Miss Ann Hunter of Hunter's Island in 1860.  She was a daughter of Elias Desbrosses Hunter and Anna Maria Munro Hunter.  At about the time of the couple's marriage, Van Cortlandt built a summer retreat along Shore Road on the mainland across the water from Hunter's Island (see map detail below).  Van Cortlandt called the estate "Hermitage."  The Van Cortlandt estate known as "Hermitage" should not be confused with the estate of William B. Randall and his wife built in Pelham Manor many years later also called the "Hermitage."  That home once stood on today's Park Lane near the New York City border covering land from Park Lane to Beech Tree Lane that is now covered with a cluster of homes.

It is likely no accident that Van Cortlandt built the "Hermitage" near Hunter's Island.  The area offered excellent fishing.  Moreover, it was then still possible to hunt in the area successfully, particularly for wildfowl.  P.J.M. Van Cortlandt and his wife had a son, Jessie Munro Van Cortlandt.  P.J.M. Van Cortlandt suffered tragedy several years later when his son died in 1863, followed by his wife who died in 1865.  Peter Jay Munro Van Cortlandt never remarried.  

Van Cortlandt became an active member of the Union Club.  Additionally, he served for a period of time in the early 1870s as President of Fleetwood Park, a trotting track used by the New York Driving Club.  Fleetwood Park once stood in Morrisania in today's Bronx in an area surrounding today's Clay Avenue between East 165th and 166th Streets.

For much of the last thirty years of his life, Van Cortlandt traveled the United States on hunting and fishing expeditions.  He favored the east and the south of the United States, and particularly enjoyed tarpon fishing in Florida.  There seems to have been a period when P. J. M. Van Cortlandt used the home as his primary residencs.  In John Thomas Scharf's History of Westchester County published in 1886, Scharf describes Van Cortlandt as "now living at Pelham, without children."  Scharf, John Thomas, History of Westchester County,  New York, Including Morrisania, Kings Bridge, and West Farms Which Have Been Annexed to New York City, Vol. I, p. 827 (Philadelphia, PA:  L. E. Preston & Co., 1886).

On Saturday, August 7, 1897, while visiting a friend in Spokane, Washington, Peter Jay Munro Van Cortlandt died.  According to his obituary, he died "due to exhaustion after an attack of gout, from which trouble he had suffered for thirty years."  He is buried in John Jay Cemetery in Rye, New York.

Although many photographs exist of the Van Cortlandt mansion that once stood in today's Van Cortlandt Park, no images yet have been located by this author of the Van Cortlandt summer retreat that once stood on today's Shore Road overlooking Hunter's Island in the Town of Pelham.

Detail from 1867 Map Showing Location of Summer
Home of Peter Jay Munro Van Cortlandt Near Today's
Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum.  Source:  Beers, F. W.,
"Plan of East Chester, Pelham and New Rochelle,
Westchester Co., N.Y." in Atlas of New York and Vicinity
From Actual Surveys by and Under the Direction of F. W.
Beers, A. D. Ellis & G. G. Soule, Assistants F. S. Fulmer
& Others, p. 7 (NY, NY:  Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1867).
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Detail from 1868 Map Showing Location of the "Hermitage," the Summer
Home of Peter Jay Munro Van Cortlandt Near Today's Bartow-Pell
Mansion Museum.  Source:  Beers, F. W., "City Island, Pelham Township,
Westchester Co., N. Y. (with) Town of Pelham, Westchester Co., N.Y." in
Atlas of New York and Vicinity from Actual Surveys By and Under the
Direction of F. W. Beers, Assisted by A. B. Prindle & Others, p. 35
(Philadelphia, PA:  James McGuigan, 1868).
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Detail from 1881 Map Showing Van Cortlandt's Lands,
But Erroneously Listing Them as the Lands of "J. Munro"
Rather than the Lands of P.J. Munro Van Cortlandt.
in Atlas of Westchester County, New York, From Actual Surveys
and Official Records by G. W. Bromley & Co., Civil Engineers,
pp. 56-57 (Philadelphia, PA:  F. Bourquin, 1881).

A Lineal Descendant of Chief Justice Jay of New York Passes Away in Spokane, Washington.

Peter Jay Munro Van Cortlandt, a lineal descendant of Chief Justice Jay, a sportsman of note and a gentleman of the old school, died on Saturday at the home of Mr. Richards, in Spokane, Washington, who is President of the Trust Company there.  His death was due to exhaustion after an attack of gout, from which trouble he had suffered for thirty years.

Mr. Van Cortlandt was born in August, 1828, in Yonkers, and was the son of Augustus Van Cortlandt of old Dutch blood.  His mother was Harriet Munro, and his grandmother was the daughter of Chief Justice Jay and sister of ex-Gov. Jay of New York.  He was educated at Dr. Muhlenberg's school in this city, then the most prominent in the State, and lived on his means afterward, traveling all over America.  Shooting and fishing, in both of which he was an expert, were almost his sole occupations.  He married Miss Ann Hunter of Hunter's Island, in 1860.  She died a few years later, as did their baby boy, and Mr. Van Cortlandt never married again.  

He used to spend his Summers in Spokane and his Winters in the South.  Iamonia, Interlachen, and Punta Rassa were favorite Florida resorts of his for hunting and fishing.  He shot all through the East and South.  This year, in spite of his age,, he caught thirteen tarpon.  One tarpon that he caught in the Caloosahatchee, Fla., on April 27 ,1895, measured 6 feet 4 inches and weighed 144 pounds.  

Mr. Van Cortlandt was a Union Club man of thirty years' standing and very popular.  His cousin, Augustus Van Cortlandt of Tuxedo, inherited Van Cortlandt Park.  His body will be brought East and vuried in the family plot at Rye, N. Y."

Source:  P. J. M. CORTLANDT DEAD, N.Y. Times, Aug. 10, 1897.  See also Death of P. J. M. Van Cortlandt, Troy Daily Times [Troy, NY], Aug. 10, 1897, p. 2, col. 7 (same text).

"Died. . . . VAN CORTLANDT. -- At Spokane, Wash. Aug. 7, 1897, PETER JAY MUNRO VAN CORTLANDT, son of the late Augustus F. Van Cortlandt, in the 69th year of his age.

Funeral services at Christ Church, Rye, on Monday, Interment, Jay Cemetery, Rye."

Source:  Died . . .. VAN CORTLANDT, The Yonkers Statesman, Aug. 14, 1897, Vol. XIV, No. 4215, p. 1, col. 7.  

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