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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Old Stone House That Stood on Hunter's Island Near John Hunter's Mansioin

The history of Hunter's Island, once part of the Town of Pelham, is overshadowed by the towering figure of John Hunter and the mansion he built on the island beginning in about 1812.  Most writings about Hunter's Island focus on John Hunter and his mansion.  For many examples, see the list of my previous postings at the end of this article.

Far less attention is given to the Old Stone House that once stood on Hunter's Island near Hunter's Mansion.  A portion of the Old Stone House is believed to have been buit long before the construction of Hunter's Mansion and is said to have stood on the island as early as the seventeenth century.  

In the hopes of prompting my treasured brethren from the East Bronx History Forum to consider and debate some of the traditions that have arisen regarding the old stone house on Hunter's Island (and, hopefully, to add to the knowledge base regarding the Old Stone House), I have included below an undated photograph of the Old Stone House.  The photograph is maintained in the collections of The Office of The Historian of the Town of Pelham.

Undated Photograph of the Old Stone House on Hunter's Island.
Photograph Courtesy of The Office of The Historian
of the Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

A notation on the back of the photographic print depicted in the image above indicates that it shows what is "probably" the oldest structure still standing in what once was the Manor of Pelham.  

According to local tradition, a portion of the Old Stone House may have been built as early as the seventeenth century.  Also according to tradition, the Old Stone House (or at least a portion of it) served as the residence of successive owners of the island including John Pugsley, Alexander Henderson, William Henderson and even John Hunter who reportedly lived in it while his famous mansion was being built only steps away in the early nineteenth century.

It appears that the Old Stone House stood near the site where John Hunter built his mansion.  Hunter's Mansion stood at the very top of the knoll near the center of the island.  The Old Stone House seems to have stood near, but not on, the top of the same knoll.  The map detail below, from a topographical map prepared in about 1905, appears to show the Old Stone House near Hunter's Mansion.

Detail from 1905 Map of Pelham Bay Park.
Source: Office of the President of the Borough of the Bronx
Topographical Bureau, Topographical Survey Sheets of
the Borough of the Bronx Easterly of the Bronx River,
East of the Bronx River" (1905) (Lionel Pincus and
Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library).
NOTE: Click Image to Enlarge.

A different map published in 1868 also seems to show the Old Stone House.  It is difficult to decipher the reference on the map which may be a reference to "Farm H." (perhaps Farm House?) or Farm II (as in Roman Numeral "II"?).  In any event, the map detail below seems clearly to show the structure not far from John Hunter's Mansion.

Detail of 1868 Map of Pelham Showing Hunter's Island.
Source:  Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity
pg. 35 (NY, NY: Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1868) (Detail from
Page 35 Map Entitled "Town of Pelham, Westchester Co., N.Y.
(With) City Island"). NOTE: Click Image to Enlarge.  

Reliable references to the Old Stone House seem to be few and far between.  Indeed, references to any sort of outbuildings on Hunter's Island are rare.  This author would welcome any information about such outbuildings, particularly references to anything believed to be the Old Stone House.  Undocumented (and likely unverifiable) references to the structure indicate that it was built by an unidentified "Huguenot" prior to 1700 and was later occupied by members of the Pell family, the Pugsley family, the Henderson family, and John Hunter and his family.  The structure later was used as a barn and was portrayed in the 1920s by William R. Montgomery, Historian of the Town of Pelham, as the oldest stone house standing in what once was Westchester County.  A fire eventually destroyed the interior and roof of the building.  The remnants of the building were razed in the 1930s, likely at the same time that Hunter's Mansion was razed.

The photograph of the Old Stone House that appears above was published in the October 15, 1926 issue of The Pelham Sun with the following caption:  "OLDEST HOUSE IN WESTCHESTER COUNTY Now standing on Hunter Island.  At one time the residence of the Pells."  (See below.)  The article published with the photograph stated, in part:

"Mr. Montgomery's collection of photographs of both the modern Pelham and the Pelham of years past is remarkable.  Several of the pictures are here reproduced.  One of them shows the Old Huguenot Homestead on Hunter's Island.  It was probably built by a Huguenot prior to 1700 and was later occupied by the Pells, the Pugsleyes and the Hunters.  This house was later used as a barn and is the oldest stone house standing in Westchester County.  The interior and roof were destroyed many years ago by fire.  The building now belongs to New York City. . . ."

Source:  Pictures of Past Give Heritage Of Pride To Pelham -- W. R. Montgomery's Rare Historical Collection of Deeds, Maps and Indian Relics Makes Old Pelham Live, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 15, 1926, p. 18, cols. 1-7.

The Pelham Sun, Oct. 15, 1926, p. 18, cols. 1-2.  NOTE:
Click Image To Enlarge.

Another interesting reference appeared in the November 1, 1933 issue of The Daily News published in Tarrytown, New York.  The reference makes clear that a painting of the Old Stone House on Hunter's Island once existed and was displayed during an exhibition at the County Center in White Plains on November 1, 1933.  Although the reference does not indicate the artist who created the painting, this author is virtually certain that the painting was created by John M. Shinn of Pelham who created a large number of oil paintings of significant historic sites in Pelham and the surrounding region during the late 1920s and the early 1930s, many of which are displayed on the walls of the Town Board room in Pelham's 
Town Hall and some of which are referenced as on display during the same exhibition in 1933.  The reference states that the exhibition at the County Center included "dozens of oil paintings of such historic sites as Split Rock Road, where the thickest fighting too place at the Battle of Pell's Point, in October, 1776, of the stone building on Hunter's Island reputed, at one time, to be the oldest house in Westchester County, of the Bolton Priory soon after its erection, of 'Sunnyside,' where Washington Irving lived."

Source:  Exhibit Opens Tonight At 8 At County Center, The Daily News [Tarrytown, NY], Nov. 1, 1933, p. 16, cols. 6-8.  

In addition, clearly there was a barn on Hunter's Island in the late 19th century.  There is a reference to a fire in that structure that destroyed hay stored within but, apparently, not the entire structure.  The reference is consistent with the statement published in 1926 that "many years" before 1926, the roof and interior of the structure were destroyed by fire.  Below is the published reference to the fire:

"Fire Matters. . . . 

The alarm of fire on Friday night was caused by a conflagration even further off than Prospect Hill, where we had placed it.  The blaze was that of a large barn on Hunter's Island.  It is supposed that it was caused by spontaneous combustion.  A large quantity of hay, stored in the building, is a total loss"

Source:  Fire Matters, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 14, 1890, Vol. XXII, No. 1341, p. 3, col. 1.  

An advertisement for the sale of Hunter's Island published in 1880 makes reference to a couple of outbuildings on the property.  The advertisement stated:

""Magnificent Suburban Property ON THE SOUND, Never Before Offered.

Hunter's Island and connecting Twin Islands at New Rochelle, fronting on Long Island Sound.  Most beautiful and complete suburban residence in America.  Ancient and lordly mansion of stone, built by Gov. John Hunter, recently repaired at large expense, gas, water, &c.  Located in park of 300 acres of beautifully diversified woodland, meadow and water front.  All laid out and designed with the intention of having a finer country seat in America than in England, as its natural advantages are unsurpassed.  Views from house most varied, both seaward and over surrounding country.  Location most prominent on the sound.  Buildings are very compete and include Lodge, Stables, Green Houses, &c.  Place is connected to mainland by stone causeway, and handsome and imposing entrance.  Two miles from New Rochelle, 8 mies from Harlem Bridge, 40 minutes from Grand Central Depot, very accessible, 16 trains daily by New Haven RR, also branch from Fulton Ferry, 1 mile from depot.

HOMER MORGAN, 2 Pine street.
RICHARD V. HARNETT, 111 Broadway."

Source:  Magnificent Suburban Property on the Sound, Never Before Offered, The Evening Post [NY, NY], Mar. 4, 1880, p. 3, col. 5.  

*          *          *          *          *

I have written about John Hunter, his mansion, and Hunter's Island on many occasions.  Below are a few examples.

Fri., Dec. 2, 2005:  John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham, New York.

Wed., Dec. 14, 2005:  New Information About John Hunter's Acquisition of Hunter's Island in the Manor of Pelham.

Thu., Apr. 27, 2006:  Burial Place of John Hunter (1778 - 1852) of Hunter's Island.

Mon., Aug. 14, 2006:  An Early Account of a Visit to Hunter's Island and John Hunter's Mansion in Pelham.

Mon., Aug. 28, 2006:  John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham Obtained Special Tax Relief in 1826.

Tue., Nov. 21, 2006:  John Hunter Loses a Debate in the State Senate During the Winter of 1841.

Fri., Dec. 15, 2006:  References to John Hunter of Pelham Manor in the Papers of President Martin Van Buren.  

Thu., Jan. 17, 2008:  A Little More Information About John Hunter of Hunter's Island.

Mon., Nov. 10, 2014:  Obituaries And Notice of Art Auction Published Upon the Death of John Hunter of Hunter's Island in 1852.

Wed., Jan. 28, 2015:  Pelham Manor Resident Pushed for Removal of the Causeway from Shore Road to Hunter's Island in 1902.

Friday, April 17, 2015:  Lawsuit Over the Will of John Hunter of Hunter's Island.

Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak." 

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