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, July 14, 2015

Are These Eerie Coincidences Involving the Pelham Town Historian Worthy of "Ripley's Believe It Or Not"?

I have had the honor, privilege, and pleasure of serving as the Historian of the Town of Pelham since 2004.  Before then, I served as Deputy Town Historian, working with Town Historian Mimi Buckley.  While I heartily embraced the positions of Deputy Town Historian and, later, Town Historian of Pelham, New York of my own free will, I have since come to wonder whether it truly was a matter of free will.  There simply seem to be so many eerie coincidences that connect me, my family, and our ancestors to Pelham and its history that I must question whether it has all been a series of coincidences worthy of "Ripley's Believe it or Not," or a matter of fate.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog gives you a chance to decide and . . . believe it or not. . . .

Coincidence Number 1

In 1974, I was a sixteen-year-old kid growing up in Mississippi.  New York City was a distant metropolis that I never had visited.  I had never heard of any of its suburbs, much less one called "Pelham."  

Following a statewide competition, I was selected to receive a scholarship to attend, with boys from many other states and countries, an international leadership camp based in New York State known as Camp Rising Sun, founded by Louis August Jonas.  Among the many highlights of the camp program was the practice of arranging for campers to arrive one to two weeks early and to be hosted by families residing in the New York City region to give the campers -- most of whom, like me, had never set foot in New York City -- a chance to visit the grand metropolis.

Forty-one years ago this summer I flew from Mississippi to New York to join my host family before camp began.  Who was my host family?  The Dietermeyer family who, at the time, lived at 31 Highbrook Avenue in the little Town of Pelham, New York,  I stayed in their lovely home in historic Pelhamwood for a week and enjoyed not only daily excursions from the Pelham Train Station into New York City, but also daily activities in the lovely Town of Pelham. . . . 

The Lovely Pelhamwood Home Located at
31 Highbrook Avenue, Village of Pelham, in
the Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Coincidence Number 2

Following college and law school, I began working in New York City, living in a studio apartment on Maiden Lane in lower Manhattan.  Ready to settle down with my college sweetheart, Janice Faye Ingram, I shopped tirelessly at many, many jewelers for what I hoped would be the "perfect" engagement ring.

I found that ring.  I bought it from an historic jewelry firm that had competed for more than a century against the likes of Tiffany and Cartier.  The firm, which subsequently failed and dissolved after more than 150 years (although recently the name has been acquired and a west coast jeweler has opened under the same name), had a fascinating history of its own.  It was known as Black, Starr & Frost.  Robert C. Black and Cortlandt W. Starr of the firm were prominent nineteenth century residents of . . . . . . the little Town of Pelham, New York.  (I have written before about both men.)  Should we cue music from "The Twighlight Zone" yet?  No?  Simply another coincidence?  Well, let's keep going.  

Coincidence Number 3

Fast forward to the late 1990s when my wife and I, both working long hours in New York City with brutal travel schedules, began looking to move from our apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan to a nearby New York City suburb.  We looked all over lower Westchester County and finally settled on the perfect home located at 20 Beech Tree Lane in the beautiful Town of Pelham.  At the time, I did not even remember that I had visited Pelham as a sixteen-year-old and did not have a clue that Robert C. Black and Cortlandt W. Starr were once Pelham residents.

The home, it turned out, had a fascinating history.  It was built in 1927 by Lockwood Anderson Barr.  Barr was an interesting man.  He was a Pelham historian and author of a book on the history of Pelham.  (Not only did I subsequently become Pelham Town Historian, but I published two books on the history of Pelham.)  Now can we cue the eery background music?  

20 Beech Tree Lane, Village of Pelham Manor,
in the Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Coincidence Number 4

Lest one believe that such developments suggest nothing of fate but, rather, are simple coincidences and nothing more, consider the following.  It seems that my ancestors include one who has been in the Manor of Pelham before.

Among my Sixth-Great-Grandfathers was Johann Jakob Holzapfel who served as a Private in the 4th Company, Hesse-Kassel Regiment Erbprinz, on Muster Roll 0/1775 (HETRINA III, #8113-14).  Holzapfel's regiment was sent to America in the summer of 1776.  

Holzapfel was in America at the time of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.  Extensive research for nearly two decades has established that his regiment EITHER fought in the Battle of Pelham or was among those shipped from Staten Island to New Rochelle (once part of the Manor of Pelham) a few days after the Battle of Pelham to join with those who fought in the battle for a long march to White Plains for the subsequent Battle of White Plains.  Perhaps Johann was simply checking out the area for one of his great-great-great-great-great-great grandsons.  

Coincidence Number 5

Could it be that the girl from southwest Virginia whom I married and whose ancestors have remained in southwest Virginia for three hundred years since at least 1698 had her own ancestral ties to the northern Town of Pelham?  Certainly that seems so far-fetched as to be the stuff of fiction.  

After moving to Pelham, I discovered that one of my wife's Great-Great Grandfathers, Nathaniel H. Bouldin, was a Confederate soldier who was captured in the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865 in the very last days of the Civil War.  He was shipped north where he was held as a prisoner of war in a camp located on Hart Island.  Hart Island then was part of . . . the Town of Pelham.  

Nathaniel Henry Bouldin died of "chronic diarrhea" while being held as a prisoner in Pelham.  He was buried on Hart Island in the Town of Pelham.  (In the twentieth century, his remains and those of other Confederates who died while being held on Hart Island were moved to Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.  Bouldin is buried in Grave Number 2677 at Cypress Hills.)


Is it mere coincidence that I made my way to Pelham, New York and now have the honor, privilege, and pleasure to serve as Historian of the Town of Pelham?  I think not.  I prefer to think of it as fate.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it. . . . . . . 

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At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Sylvia Hazlehurst said...

Dear Blake, What a great story, I have to agree that this is your fate to end up in Pelham and to keep with the history of this lovely town! Keep the stories I enjoy reading them.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger beth kennedy said...

This was so interesting, Blake! Loved reading about your family ties with Pelham! Looks like a beautiful town!


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