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, May 06, 2015

Another Interesting History of City Island Published in 1901

City Island once was part of the Town of Pelham before its annexation by New York City in the mid-1890's.  Indeed, for much of Pelham's history, City Island was the Town's center of population.  Thus, the much of the island's early history is important to understanding the history of the Town of Pelham.

I have written so often about the history of City Island and its citizens that it would be counter-productive to list all such articles in a single posting.  I have, however, included numerous examples of such items at the end of today's posting.

In 1901, The New York Times published a brief but entertaining history of City Island as the opening of the new steel City Island Bridge that still connects the island to the mainland neared.  Immediately below I have transcribed the text of the article, followed by a citation and link to its source.  Although the article provides a fascinating overview of a rather complex history, great care should be taken regarding the various deeds and dates of deeds referenced in the story since some of the facts cited are not borne out by the historic record.

Map of Town of Pelham with Inset of City Island, 1868.
Source: Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity,
p. 35 (NY, NY: Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1868).


Opening of the New Steel Bridge May Stimulate Interest in a Section Long Neglected.

THOUGH probably the only suburb better known to the lovers of outdoor life than City Island is Coney Island, little is known historically by the average New Yorker about this delightful spot.  In former years it was a typical fishing village, but the old farmhouses and dwellings have almost entirely been replaced by hotels, clubhouses, and cottages, and in place of the fishing smacks and oyster boats that once anchored in East chester Bay is the fleet of the Harlem Yacht Club.  But the final blow to the antiquity of the spot will be the opening of the new steel bridge connecting City Island with the mainland, which will probably take place with appropriate exercises on July 4.  This structure will replace the old wooden bridge that for years has done service.  The draw of the old bridge was formerly used on the old Harlem River bridge at Third Avenue, and was removed to City Island when the first steel structure was built across the Harlem River at this point.

On one occasion this wooden draw was swept from its pivot pier and went floating down the Harlem with several people and a horse and carriage upon it.  Capt. John N. Munson was in charge of the bridge at that time, and he rescued the draw and its passengers as it was nearing the mouth of the Harlem Kills, one of the most dangerous points in the Harlem River.  Since that time two bridges have been built over the Harem at Third Avenue, but the old wooden draw is still doing service at City Island.

To tell the bicyclist, the angler, the horseman or the yachtsman of to-day that those who were conspicuous in the creation of the Republic planned to make of City Island a great commercial metropolis would undoubtedly provoke expressions of incredulity, and yet such is the fact, for nearly a century and a half ago the little territory was laid out into city lots and a system of piers and warehouses was projected for the accommodation of the great trade of the Indies, which the men of that tiime reasoned was certain to come to that ideal location for a trading, manufacturing, and maritime city.

In 1666 Mr. Thomas Pell is recorded as having applied for letters patent from the Crown, creating the manor of Pelham, embracing the territory vaguely described as between the Bronx and the Connecticut Rivers, and covering a strip of land some miles back from the shore and the islands lying upon the tract before the mainland.

These included the island of Minnefords or Minifers, or Minnewit, names variously given to the Indians who had peopled the place [sic] before the advent of the white man.  The official records of New York State and of Westchester County say that this island, of Minnefords was the present City Island, and the term Great Minnefords is occasionally used now in legal documents relating to the island.  Thomas Pell and his nephew, John Pell, secured the royal patent or title to the territory claimed and for some time were owners of the entire tract.  On Dec. 11, 1687 John Pell sold the island to John Smith of the town of Ducklands, and though William Pate and Robert Godfrey made some pretensions of having prior claim, their title seems to have melted away in haze.  In 1700 the island passed into the possession of William Euerdon [i.e., Everdon] and Gabriel Umbriel [sic], who disposed of it to Samuel Dodge [sic], who in turn sold it to Samuel Rodman, the owner of Rodman's Neck, as the mainland adjoining it was then and is now known.  Rodman is recorded as having paid £2,300 for the island.

On June 1, 1755, he leased the Island of Minnefords to John Jones of Jamaica [sic], 'for an annual payment of Five Shillings and one pepper corn if the same shall be lawfully demanded.'

In 1761 the island passed into the possession of Joseph and Benjamin Palmer, and in May, 1763, Gov. Cadwalader [sic, should be Governor Robert Monckton], Captain General and Governor General in Chief of the Province of New York, conveyed to Benjamin Palmer letters patent 'for 400 feet of land under water from high water mark round Minnefords Island, which patent recognizes the plan of the island, and that it was made by the Surveyor General.'

It is recorded that Palmer paid £2,730 for his rights, and having an eye to business he promptly divided the island into thirty equal parts, selling twenty-six parts to a company.  The company then divided their property into 4,500 building lots, 25x1000, for the purpose of creating a trading centre to be known as City Island, and fixed the price of the lots at £10 each.  When this plan was devised a ferry 'for man or men' was established between Rodman's Neck and the island at the point where the new steel bridge is being built.

After the Revolution the islanders did not seem to prosper, and it is only within the last few years that they have shown signs of activity and improvement, which is mainly due to the discovery of the spot by bicyclists and yachtsmen.  The old wooden bridge, which will soon be torn away, was opened Dec. 1, 1873, much of the material used in its construction being taken from the wreck of the frigate North Carolina.

The one relic of former days that now remains on the island, and which proves a great drawback, is the little one-track, one horse road, with its tiny bob-tailed cars that runs through the main street of the island and carries passengers to and from Bartow Station on the Suburban Branch of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, about two miles from the island.  This railroad has probably stood more ridicule than any other line of cars in the United States.  Nevertheless, it is a money maker, and so crowded are the four cars that comprise the rolling stock of the system that the fishermen who frequent the islands by the hundreds on Sunday mornings are frequently seen riding on the roof.  In Summer the cars rarely miss a train, but in Winter the line is blocked about half the time.  An effort has been made to obtain a franchise to run a trolley road along the present route, but the Park Commissioners have refused to grant it on the ground that it would traverse a public park."

Source:  HISTORIC CITY ISLAND -- Opening of the New Steel Bridge May Stimulate Interest in a Section Long Neglected, N.Y. Times Magazine Supplement, Jun. 9, 1901, p. 7, cols. 3-4.

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I have written about various aspects of the history of City Island, once part of the Town of Pelham.  For merely a few such examples, see:

Tue., Dec. 16, 2014:  "Fifty Years Behind the Times" - City Island After its Annexation by New York City.

Mon., Dec. 15, 2014:  Brief History of City Island Including the Legend of the Macedonia Hotel with Photographs Published in 1906.

Tue., Nov. 07, 2006:  Tour of City Island and Portions of Pelham Published in 1909.

Wed., Jul. 12, 2006:  A Brief History of City Island Published in a Book by Stephen Jenkins in 1912.

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