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.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Recollections of Manor Circle and Pelham Manor in the Late 19th Century

Until 1886, there had been virtually no development of any of the area east of the Branch Line railroad tracks all the way to Christ Church, Bolton Priory and Shore Road.  Indeed, for much of the nineteenth century, that pristine, undeveloped area was known as a local picnic ground filled with primeval forrest trees including ancient chestnut trees, beech trees, white oaks and more.  

In September, 1886, the very first efforts to develop the area began.  A brief news account published on October 1, 1886 stated:

"Extensive improvements at Pelham Manor, east of the railroad track, are in progress.  Streets are being laid out and graded, and much of the low land is being filled in.  The improvement will be very decided.  The work is being done by the association."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 1, 1886, Vol. XVIII, No. 920,  p. 4, col. 2.  

The first neighborhood to be populated was the area immediately adjacent to the Branch Line railroad tracks known today as Manor Circle.  Real estate interests led by Robert C. Black sold lots to individuals who began to build homes on the circle.  The first five families to build homes and reside on Manor Circle were the Coupier, Rathbone, Heath, Beach, and Wahn families.  Mr. and Mrs. H. G. K. Heath bought a lot on Manor Circle in 1889 and built their home the following year, but the home promptly burned to the ground without local firefighting equipment readily available.  The Heaths rebuilt their home and resided there for many years.

In 1938, Mrs. Heath provided her recollections of Pelham Manor and the Manor Circle neighborhood in the 1890s to a reporter from The Pelham Sun.  The resulting article provides an idealistic description of a simpler time when all local homes had horse teams, open and closed carriages, sleighs with sleigh bells for winter travel, and when it was not unusual to wake up in the morning to discover a stray horse or cow munching on the vegetable garden behind the house.  

Such published recollections and reminiscences have provided a rich source of descriptive narratives of the early days of the Town of Pelham.  Mrs. Heath's recollections are transcribed below followed by a citation and link to its source.  For only two of the many, many examples of such reminiscences that I previously have published, see:

Thu., Feb. 20, 2014:  Pelham Manor in 1883 and in its Early Years - Recollections of An Early Pelham Manor Resident. 

Mon., May 05, 2014:  Reminiscences of Pelham Manor in 1910, Published in 1931.

Detail from 1899 Map Showing Manor Circle Area of
Pelham Manor and Locations of Homes of the Earliest
Residents of the Area Including Mr. and Mrs. H. G. K. Heath.
Source:  Fairchild, John F., Atlas of City of Mount Vernon
(Mt. Vernon, NY:  1899)  NOTE:  Click Image To Enlarge.

"Mrs. Heath Recalls Horses and Cows As Garden Visitors In The Old Manor
Mrs. H. G. K. Heath Who Came to Manor Circle in 1890 Remembers With Delight More Bucolic Days In Pelham Manor.  Old Resident Recovers After Serious Fall.


A slim blade of a woman, with something if the blade's exquisite pliability and its hidden strength concealed in its suppleness; old as the world reckons such things in un-subtle fashion, but young as humanity knows youth for a clear-eyed view of reality and interest in each passing moment, Mrs. H. G. K. Heath who spent 45 years in the Manor as a resident of Manor Circle takes her place among Pelham's oldest residents, with an easy grace that is characteristic of the woman.

Well on the way to a fine recovery after a serious fall in June 1937 that kept her in the hospital until the following September, Mrs. Heath, now in the 'crutches' stage looks forward from moment to moment to graduation to the more simple support of a cane and those who know her best, would not be surprised to see her navigating gailly, one of these days down Wolf's Lane.  Much of the character of the woman is implicit in that courageous expectation.

Mrs. Heath who makes her home now in Pelham Heights at No. 8 Parkway Drive with her daughter, Mrs. Louis Albert, is easily reckoned among the Manor's oldest residents -- that small group which knew the village when much of it was a pleasant wooded section and when the houses in the neighborhood of Manor Circle could be counted on one's fingers.  'I'm like one of the old chestnut trees,' Mrs. Heath blithely describes herself, referring to the staunch old trees that are mingled with her earliest recollections of the Manor.

Mrs. Heath and her husband, the late Henry G. K. Heath, a prominent lawyer, bought their land for their home on Manor Circle in 1889 from the late Robert C. Black.  On their property of more than an acre, they built their home the following year.  Mrs. Heath recalls her first visit to the Manor.  'We came up and sat on the old stone fence and brought a picnic lunch -- I promptly fell in love with the trees.'  This new home of theirs caught fire and with the inadequate fire apparatus of those long gone days, it burned right down.  They built another home, however, and began their long residence in the Manor on the same site.  Mrs. Heath recalls two other young married women also residents on the Circle in those days, Mrs. Robert Beach, and the late Mrs. Wahn.  The Coupier and Rathbone families were already Circle residents. 

This, the reader must remember was before the days of the late lamented 'Toonerville Trolley' which ended its career in a blaze of glory only last Summer.  Mrs. Heath well remembers when the 'Toonerville' came to the Manor.  She still sighs to think of the beautiful willow trees that had to be sacrificed to make way for 'progress.'  Apparently there was considerable feeling on the subject.

Like other residents of the Manor in those bucolic, non-automotive days, Mrs. Heath had a stunning team of horses and had both a closed and an open carriage.  The reporter from The Pelham Sun had a vivid image of her driving about the county in her open carriage, looking as she said for little travelled roads, carrying what she described as one of those 'mind your own business' little parasols -- which the user could adjust at the desired angle to obstruct any unwanted gaze.  In the Winter, there was a fine sleigh, drawn by the horses, gay with bells.  'I used to drive up to New Rochelle in that and remember the boys throwing snowballs,' Mrs. Heath recalled with a smile.  'We were the last residents on the Circle to give up our horses,' she added.  They hated to part with them.

The first automobile in the family was another red letter day.  Mrs. Heath recalled her early first fear of the horseless carriages.  Her husband called her outside the house one day to 'see something.'  The something was a new Reo which he had just driven up from New York with the automobile salesman.  That afternoon with no more driving experience, Mr. Heath motored his wife up to Mount Kisco and she 'was not really afraid.'

The memories of this real old-timer encompass the steady growth of St. Catherine's Church which she remembers as a tiny structure able to house only about a hundred parishioners.  Before they came to the Manor, at Mr. Black's suggestion, the Heaths joined the Manor Club, an organization of which Mrs. Heath is now an honorary member, after a remarkably long record of active participation and interest in club affairs.  For six years, Mrs. Heath was head of the Choral, for two years chairman of the Literature Section and she served as club vice-president for three years.  During a ten-year period, she missed only three meetings, a record which the late Mrs. Joan E. Secor, the club's first president, told her was not likely to be equalled.

Mrs. Heath's gifts in dramatic way, her aptitude for mimicry illustrated in her clever recitations, is well known not only to the Manor Club group, but to a wider Pelham audience.  Active in the work of the Queen's Daughters, Mrs. Heath became the first president of the Ladies of Charity and is now an honorary president of that charitable group of St. Catherine's Church.  Last March, on her first day 'downstairs,' after her fall in the previous June, Mrs. Heath was greeted by many friends at a party at the home of Mrs. Frederick B. Davies on Eastland avenue and presented some of her popular recitations on that occasion.

A lover of flowers, Mrs. Heath recalls the wealth of lovely ferns and jack-in-the-pulpit and such wild things that were found in the old days in the woods that stood in the Roosevelt avenue section of the Manor.  'It was not a particularly unusual thing to wake up in the morning and find a horse straying into one's garden, in those days,' she said and on one occasion a cow was the unexpected visitor.  A Swedish maid in the Heath household decided firmly, 'I'll milk heem' -- but the cow had already been milked.

The youngest in a family of seven children, Mrs. Heath has gone through life with and continues to display a fine adaptability hat stands any human being in good stead.  Manor Circle she calls her 'universal circle' -- 'everything that could, happened to her there in a full life.  Very fond of people she confessed herself immediately, 'I never yet have seen anyone who was not in some way interesting,' she declares.

As she sits and talks to you, she looks you right in the eye (without glasses too), she laughs eeasily and genuinely, delights in her many friends, in books, in the understanding companionship of her daughter, both the past and the present and the future are her interest -- one leaves her with the feeling that years have no power over such a human being -- that something like this we are all intended to be when we can no longer call ourselves 'young.'  But some of us get jolly well warped along the way."

Source:  Leary, Margaret, Mrs. Heath Recalls Horses and Cows As Garden Visitors In The Old Manor, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 22, 1938, p. 10, cols. 2-3.  

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