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, May 01, 2015

After Secret Service Detective Was Nearly Beaten to Death There, the White Hotel of Pelhamville Was Closed, Moved, and Split Into Two Buildings That Still Stand in Pelham

There once stood on the southwest corner of Wolfs Lane and Third Street (which becomes Boulevard after crossing Wolfs Lane) the notorious White Hotel that was finally shut down in about 1900.  The building later was split in two and moved into their current positions in order to create two adjacent "cottages" facing Wolfs Lane.  The north half of the hotel became 307 Wolfs Lane.  The south half became 303 Wolfs Lane. 

303 Wolfs Lane (Stiefvater Real Estate) on Top
and 307 Wolfs Lane on Bottom.  Photographs
by the Author.

Detail from 1899 Map by John F. Fairchild Showing Location
of White Hotel.  Source:  Fairchild, John F., Atlas of Mount Vernon
and Pelham, Plate 21 (John F. Fairchild, 1899) (Lionel Pincus
and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library).

In 1899, some of the most alarming events involving the hotel took place, ensuring its eventual shut down.  In one instance, a U.S. Secret Service agent investigating a "green goods scam" at the hotel was nearly beaten to death by "green goods men".  

The "green goods scam" was popular in the 19th century.  Con men would claim to have high quality counterfeit U.S. currency that they were willing to sell for pennies on the dollar based on the face value.  A victim would be shown a bag containing large sums of genuine currency and would be told that the money was counterfeit.  Once distracted, the con men would switch the bag containing the currency with an identical bag containing green paper, sawdust or the like and would "sell" the worthless bag to the victim for a substantial sum.  Victims reportedly would rarely go to authorities because purchasing counterfeit currency was a crime.  In a second instance, a merchant from Texas visiting the New York City area to purchase goods, was robbed of $1,000 at the hotel by a bunco man he met on a train. A lengthy pair of articles about the events appeared in the August 24, 1899 issue of the Mount Vernon News.  I have transcribed those articles and have written about the notorious White Hotel before.  See:

Wed., Aug. 26, 2009:  Fed Up with the Notorious White Hotel, Pelham Authorities Took Action in 1899.

Tue., Aug. 25, 2009:  Crimes Committed at the Notorious White Hotel in Pelham in 1899.

Thu., Mar. 12, 2009:  The Reason the White Hotel was Shut Down and Split from One Building Into Two Cottages.

Wed., Mar. 18, 2009:  A Little More Information About the Closure of the White Hotel.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of an entertaining and, perhaps, partially apocryphal account of the beating of the Secret Service Detective in the White Hotel that led to the loss of the hotel's Excise License and, subsequently, its closure.

"Old White Hotel a Colorful Spot In The Early Days Of The Pelhams
Confidence Game Exposed After Farmer Had Been Fleeced Of $2,000.  Hostelry Which Formerly Stood at Wolf's Lane and Third Street of Questionable Character

Whenever old residents of Pelham get together for an extensive talk, there is sure to be some mention of the White Hotel; but it is doubtful if one-half of one per cent of the present residents of the town are familiar with the history of the rather infamous building.  It was a three-story, frame square building painted white, situated on the southwest corner of Wolf's Lane and third street,, and was the headquarters of a rather unsavory group of men and women.  Rooms could be engaged at any time of the day or night; there was no registering; no baggage requirements and no questions asked.  The few residents of the little village of Pelham tried desperately to wipe out the blot but the proprietor seemed to be above the law.  In the summer of 1900, however, he overstepped the bounds and was forced to close.  Here is the story.

There lived in the middle west a young properous farmer who one day received a letter from a man in Chicago requesting an appointment to discuss an attractive proposition.  The appointment was made and the farmer, Whittaker by name, was warmly greeted by a very genial gentleman who took a roll of $5 bills from his pocket and handing him one, asked his opinion of it.  Whittaker examined it and pronounced it genuine.  The stranger laughed and said it was a counterfeit and, taking him to a secluded spot, told him how a trusted employee of the Government bureau of engraving and printing decided as an experiment to smuggle out the plates for a five dollar bill.  He succeeded, and then secreted a bundle of the paper on which the bills wee printed and carried this out under his coat.  He intended to bring them back, but the loss was discovered and he became frightened and gave them to him to be destroyed.  Instead of doing this, he went to a friend who conducted a printing office and the latter agreed to run the risk for half the money turned out.  This amounted to $100,000 and the printer took one-half and he had spent all the remainder except $10,000.  He feared capture and would sell the whole business for $2,000.  He then took from his pocket what purported to be a clipping from a newspaper telling of the theft and the great alarm felt by the government, as the counterfeits could not be uncovered until redeemed by the government and the duplicate numbers found.

He told Whittaker to take it to his bank and change it as a test and if the bargain was agreeable, to get the $2,000 and meet him at a given spot.  Whittaker did as told and the next day with his money in his pocket kept the appointment.  The stranger hailed a carriage and they drove some distance, after which they got out and the stranger paid the driver with one of the $5 bills and received his change.  He called Whittaker's attention to this and the latter was satisfied the bills could be easily passed.  He insisted upon blindfolding Whittaker before leading him to his home, for 'protection.'  Another long walk and they entered a house and once inside the room, the bandage was removed and Whittaker told to sit at a table opposite the stranger.  The latter then opened a drawer and took from it a package which he opened and handed to Whittaker, telling him to count it.  It contained 2,000 $5 bills.  Whittaker produced his $2,000 and the stranger insisted upon wrapping up the bundle again, meanwhile ringing a bell for a waiter and ordering drinks.  The package tied up, he handed it to Whittaker, who pocketed it and, after again being blindfolded and led some distance, he was cautioned to tell no one, not even his wife, about the transaction.

Upon arriving home, he went to the barn and opened the package and discovered he had a bundle of plain sheets of paper with a good bill on each end.  He notified the secret service and two operatives were sent to Chicago.  They listened to his story and gave him scant sympathy, telling him that the department has been spending generations warning farmers against just this same trick.  No plates or paper had been stolen from the government printing plant and none could as frequent checkings made it impossible and the newspaper clipping was a fake.  He vowed to dedicate his life and money to running the crooks down and asked to be appointed a secret service man for that purpose.  Chief Wilkie appointed him but warned him in the event of getting on their trail to notify the nearest branch and two experienced men would be sent to assist hiim.  Whittaker traveled all over the states visiting farmers, telling the story and requesting them to send a telegram collect to his home where his wife would relay it to him, should they receive a similar offer.  In July, 1900, he received word from a farmer in the central part of New York that he had received such a letter.  Whittaker hurried there and instructed the farmer to reply saying he had no money to invest, but his brother-in-law had $2,000 to invest and would meet him.  The appointment was made for the Mount Vernon station.

Here is where Whittaker made a mistake.  He disregarded the instructions to notify headquarters and obtain aid, instead deciding to go it alone.  A dapper little man met him at the station and, after cordial greetings, hailed a strange hack and drove off.  There was the same long drive and getting off and walking blindfolded to the house and finding himself in a room with a table and two chairs in a corner.  The stranger remarked that Whittaker was carrying a gun and as evidence of his own sincerity, asked Whittaker to search him and see he was unarmed.  He then waved him to a seat in the corner with the wall behind him and the stranger sat opposite as usual.  He then opened the drawer and produced the bundle of good bills.  At the sight of the money, Whittaker made a grab for it and at the same time reached for his gun, but just then a blackjack crashed down on his head.  When he awoke he was in a large field.  He called for help and a driver on a delivery wagon heard and came to his rescue, taking him on the wagon.  Whittaker hurried to the New York office with his story and was again berated for trying to work alone.  Two agents came with him to Mount Vernon and, getting into a hack, instructed Whittaker to take the front seat and follow the road over which he had traveled.  He stopped at east Sixth street, near the Pelham boundary line and said he was where the driver was dismissed.  The agent informed him that the driver was a confederate.  He knew he must have crossed a small stream and passed through a cornfield close to the building into which they went.  Crossing the water would bring them into Pelham and the next step was easy.  There was but one cornfield in sight and that was in the rear of the White Hotel.  The agents followed Wolf's Lane to midway between Sixth and Third streets and came to the old brook that flowed through.  They followed this and found where the crossing had been made.  The tell-tale tracks showed through the cornfield  as well as the wide swath when the employees of the hotel carried the unconscious man away.  Going to the hotel they were met by the proprietor, who denied anything had happened there or having seen Whittaker.  The agents were insistent upon searching the building and, after awhile Whittaker identified the room.  He was asked to point out the spot where he sat and the agent examined the wall and after tapping it, smiled and instructed Whittaker to take the same seat while he went out of the room.  Whittaker did as told and in a few moments the second agent told him to look behind him.  There framed in the moulding of the missing panel was the other agent holding a blackjack over his head.  It was the old sliding panel game.  The agents then gave the proprietor the choice of closing up or going to jail and he chose the former.  This ended the infamous hostelry."

Source:  Minard, J. Gardner, Old White Hotel a Colorful Spot In The Early Days Of The Pelhhams, The Pelham Sun, March 15, 1929, p. 16, cols. 3-5.  

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