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.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

More on the History of the Country Club at Pelham in the 19th Century

In late 1883, a group of Pelham Manor residents and New York City "club men" organized a new "Country Club" in Pelham Manor dedicated to the enjoyment of all "legitimate sports."  By 1884, the Club had commenced operations in a 34-acre area between Shore Road and the Long Island Sound with a club headquarters in the Italian Villa-style mansion known as "Oakshade" built some forty years earlier by wealthy New Yorker David Lydig Suydam.  

At about this time, the concept of a "country club" was beginning to revolutionize social circles in New York City.  Until the 1880s, most clubs frequented by the elite of New York City were men's clubs located in Manhattan.  During the 1880s, so-called "country clubs" began to spring up throughout the metropolitan region.  These country clubs typically allowed only male members but, unlike the men's clubs in New York City, typically allowed female family members of the club members to use the facilities.  Many of the most notable members of New York Society flocked to such country clubs in the New York City area.

The Country Club at Pelham was one of the earliest such country clubs established near New York City.  It was not a predecessor to today's Pelham Country Club.  To make matters more confusing, the Club was known by many different names including the Pelham Country Club, the Country Club at Pelham, the Country Club, the Westchester Country Club, the Country Club at Westchester, and other names. 

Members of the Country Club at Pelham rode to the hounds, sponsored and competed in steeplechase races, played baseball, tennis, billiards and more.  The Club's great steeplechase races became nationally-renowned and attracted gamblers and spectators from all over the northeast.  I have written extensively about the Pelham Country Club and, particularly, the baseball games and steeplechase races that it sponsored.  (See the lengthy list of links at the end of this posting.)

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of a fascinating article published in the New York Herald on October 28, 1888.  The article was published just as the club was preparing to close its original club house in the old Suydam / Morris mansion on the eastern side of Eastchester Bay and move to a larger, newly-constructed club facility on the western side of Eastchester Bay.  The article provides an interesting snapshot of the club and its activities shortly before the facility in Pelham was closed and the Club moved to its new home in 1889.

Undated Post Card view of the Suydam/Morris Mansion
Known as "Oakshade"After its Conversion to a Roadhouse and 
Addition of Elements to the Structure Including the Dining
Room in the Foreground; Post Card Ca. 1918-1923.  Oakshade
Was Used as the Clubhouse by the Country Club at Pelham.
Notation on Card Says: "SHANLEY'S PELL TREE INN.
Pelham Shore Road, N.Y."  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The Evolution of an Idea Which Changes Our Scheme of Life.
The Beautiful House that is Being Built on Pelham Bay.

A club in the country used to be as much of a paradox as a cow in town.  We all remember how the crowd used to stare through the iron railings about the Goelet house, at Nineteenth street and Broadway, and display the utmost concern for old 'Mulley' chewing her cud and a few hens strutting between her legs.

We have changed all that.

The cow, her cud and her hide have long since been turned into cold cash by the enterprising heirs of the Goelet estate, and country clubs have been established to an extent that bids fair to revolutionize our entire system of life.

There is not a train or a boat that goes out from this city in the afternoon, in summer or winter, that does not carry a half dozen men who are hurrying to some club in the country to finish up their day's work in town with an hour or two of sport before dinner.


On the Long Island Railroad, for instance, the afternoon express always incluudes in the drawing room car Messrs. William K. Vanderbilt, H. B. Hollins, Duncan Wood, William Breese, Chris Robert and a lot of others who make a practice of stopping at the South Side Club on their way home to catch a fish for dinner, shoot a wood duck or absorb a cocktail.

Another train on the same line will discover Messrs. Elliot Roosevelt, F. Gray Griswold, S. S. Sands, Jr.; J. G. Beresford, Dudley Winthrop, Winthrop Rutherford, Tom Hitchcock, C. G. Peters, Mid Burrill, P. A. Collier and August Belmont, Jr., anxious to get to the Meadow Brook Club in time for a gallop across country with the hounds before the sun sets.  Another lot -- Messrs. Jack Cheever, the Lamontagnes and Tim Cowdin are headed for Cedarhurst for either an hour's scramble at polo or a fast burst across the fences.

The 3:30 on the Erie is pretty sure to carry down to Tuxedo Messrs. Pierre Lorillard, William Kent, Grenville Kane, James Breese, James B. Porter, Wetmore Cryder, James Lord and a car full of fellows who play pool and poker before dinner because there's nothing else to do.  

The smoker on the 4:00 train on the New Haven road is apt to be full of Waterburys, Kanes, Iselins, Adees, Furmans and Jacksons, who, every man of 'em, will stop his buggy at the Country Club before he kisses his wife and children.

The 4:20 ferry boat for Staten Island is always freighted with Davidges, Slocums, Robinsons and young athletes, who made a habit of taking an hour's work at tennis, baseball or football on the grounds of the Cricket or Athletic club before they think of going home.


We find New York then surrounded by a charmed circle of country clubs.  They are little lumps of sugar to the fly young men of the day.  They have been made utterly attractive.  Their cooks are unexcelled.  They serve the same cocktails that do such good service in town, their log fires roar up the chimneys.  The best English, French and sporting papers and magazines are handy to reach, and above all these clubs offer what no club in town does -- the society and companionship of pretty women.

There is no use talking and grumbling about late seasons in town or wondering where all the people are.  If there is a pigeon shoot at Tuxedo, and Mrs. Breese, Mrs. Kent, Mrs. Kane, Mrs. Potter, Mrs. Lord and a lot of pretty girls are going to be about the grounds and make tea afterward in the big hall of the club, the Union Club is sure to be deserted that afternoon.  So if there's a run at Meadow Brook and Mrs. Ladenberg, Mrs. Belmont, Mrs. Schenck and Mrs. Roosevelt are all driving about in pretty traps asking men to dinner and to stop the night there is never a chance for getting a game of whist or euchre at the Knickerbocker.

These country clubs, not one of which has yet celebrated its tenth birthday, have entirely revolutionized the social life of New York.  They keep people out of town, they change our seasons, modify our habits and develop a new and charming type of woman, who rides, drives and talks hunting 'shop' to perfection, and never thinks of leaving the dining room when the tobacco is passed around.


The evolution of the country club was supposed to have reached the limit of perfection when Mr. Pierre Lorillard completed Tuxedo Park and turned that splendid property over to the members.  There is reason to believe that in the bright cyclopedia of New York youth there is no such idea as 'a limit to perfection.'

The Country Club of Westchester county is authority for such a belief.  This club has for some years occupied the old house of Dr. Morris, on the Pelham road, at Bartow, situated in the centre of a group of gentlemen's country seats it obtained a large patronage from the Adees, Bartows, Costers, Kanes, Jacksons, Iselins, Potters, Waterburys, Furmans, Ellises, Emmets, Havemeyers, Hunters, Lorillards, Setons and Sands.

Without the slightest idea of ranging up alongside of Tuxedo with actors, actresses and English pheasants, the Country Club has kept steadily along, making itself agreeable to everybody, and with the advantage of being very accessible to New York and on the salt water.  The usual pigeon shooting, polo, hunting and steeplechasing in which all country clubs indulge have been forwarded without serious casualties, and in the matter of field shooting the colonization of quail at Pelham has been rather more satisfactory than a like effort with pheasants was at Tuxedo.

Moreover, the women's influence referred to above has been particularly potent at Pelham, and the result of the whole business is that the  Country Club has outgrown Dr. Morris' house and is about to build the most elaborate establishment for club purposes that has even been erected in this country.


When Mr. James M. Waterbury and Mr. John C. Furman had been worried enough with complaints of 'no room' and 'not enough ground,' they began to cast about for a new home for the club, and finally found it in the old Van Antwerp place, on the west shore of Pelham Bay.  The Country Club Land Association, capitalized at $175,000, was soon formed, the bonds sold and the 118 acres purchased.  The land has been cleverly subdivided into villa plots, polo, pigeon and tennis grounds and a race course.  Messrs. Renwick, Aspinwall and Russell were then subsidized to draw plans for a house.  The committee has just accepted the plans, and ground is already broken for the superb edifice which will be ready by the autumn of 1889.

The house has a frontage on Pelham Bay of about 240 feet.  The design is purely colonial, including lots of porches, gables, pillars and small paned windows.  The first half floor, the great terrace and the courtyard fence are to be of pressed brick.  The body of the house will be of uncolored shingles.  The three stories are capped by four great chimneys, the centre of the roof being enclosed by a light balustrade.

A noble hall, 21 x 34 feet, finished in hard wood, leads to the right and left into the two great rooms of the house -- to the right into a dining room, 24x31 feet; to the left into the club room, also to be used as a billiard and ball room, 32x53 feet.  Drawing rooms, private dining rooms, a library, the kitchen, a servants' hall, offices and an elevator are all properly distributed.  A billiard table for ladies' use is to occupy one end of the big hall.  Great fireplaces are in each room.

Above stairs, on the second floor, are sixteen bedchambers, the men's rooms being completely separated from the women's.  The third floor is devoted to servants.


The property is within easy driving distance of New York, is only a half mile from the Bay Chester station of the Harlem branch of the New York and Hudson River Railroad and three miles from Williamsbridge on the main line.  But Mr. Waterbury is particularly anxious to develop the aquatic side of the place, and as there are six feet of water at low tide at the dock on the premises a steamboat will be chartered to make the trip to town in the morning and back in the afternoon.  A number of sail and row boats will also be on hand for the use of members.


The first sale of plots by the Country Club Land Association last summer resulted in a very considerable decrease of the club's holding.  Messrs. E. C. Potter, Moses Taylor Campbell, Paul Theband, Howard Gallup and George B. French secured the lots facing on the bay.  Mr. C. P. Marsh bought one of the interior lots, and Mr. C. A. Leland purchase the site of the old Ferris manor, in which Fenimore Cooper is said to have written 'The Spy.'

The second auction sale of land will soon take place.  The prices obtained, averaging about $2,500 an acre, are not high considering the improvements made in grading and building roads, all of which are to be fifty feet wide, macadamized, curbed and guttered.  The bonds of the building association are received in payment for land at par and interest, but members of the club not bondholders may buy on such terms as may be agreed to.

The officers of the Land Association are Mr. James M. Waterbury, president; Mr. E. C. Potter, vice president, and Mr. Fred Jackson, secretary.


The membership of the Country Club is about as incongruous, without being mixed, as that of any club in the world.  There are men like Messrs. C. C. Baldwin, George S. Bowdoin, E. L. Godkin, C. B. Hoffman, Leonard Jerome, Luther Kountze, Herman Le Roy, Pierre Lorillard, J. Pierpont Morgan, Lloyd Phoenix, George Quintard, Howland Robbins and George E. Sistare, who have never been inside the place, and couldn't tell you where it was if you asked them.

On the other hand, there are lots of members who belong to other clubs, but go only to the Country Club.  These are the Messrs. Adee, Agar, Barlow, Chittenden, Coster, Edgar, Ellis, Furman, Gallup, Havemeyer, Hunter, Iselin, Jackson, Gouverneur Morris, Potter, Sands, Story, Watson and Zerega.

Between these two extremes and among the best but but most casual customers of the club are a lot of young gentlemen who go wherever fun is rife and beauty ripe.  It is to this floating vote that country club committees cater and look for substantial support.  Races, dinners, coaching, dances, pigeon shoots, toboggan slides, polo, baseball, good cooks and cocktails are necessary to attract and fix the patronage of such an element, and the Country Club is fortunate in having an attractive committee and such ornamental and usefl names to draw upon as those of Messrs. Philip Allen, Frank Appleton, Fred Beach, R. L. Beeckman, August Belmont, Jr.; O. H. P. Belmont, Oliver Bird, Carroll Bryce, Hamilton Cary, Brockholst and William Cutting, Arthur Dodge, Elisha Dyer, Girard Foster, Valentine Hall, Duffus Harris, Cooper Hewitt, Charles Hone, Goold Hoyt, William Jay, Delancey Kane, Woodbury Kane, Adolf Landenberg, Henry McVickar, Bradley Martin, Richard Mortimer, Harry Munroe, Oliver Northcote, T. L. Onativia, Julian Potter, Reginald Rives, George Ronalds, Howland Russell, Harry Sands, Augustus Schermerhorn, Alfred Seton, Lorillard Spencer, W. E. D. Stokes, Marion Story, J. J. Van Alen, Seward Webb, Egerton Winthrop and T. de R. Wiesman.

If these gentlemen are not fit and proper not only to occupy the new colonial house, but also to make the Country Club hum, then we must ask Mr. McAllister of what stuff has he woven the fabric of New York society."

Source:  COUNTRY CLUBS -- The Evolution of an Idea Which Changes Our Scheme of Life -- THE LAST INSTANCE -- The Beautiful House that is Being Built on Pelham Bay -- SOME OF THE MEMBERS, N.Y. Herald, Oct. 28, 1888, Septuple Sheet, p. 9, cols. 4-5.

*          *          *          *          *

I have written extensively about The Country Club at Pelham and its famous steeplechase races and other such events of the 1880's.  For a few of many more examples, see:  

Bell, Blake A., The Pelham Steeplechase Races of the 1880s, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIV, Issue 12, March 25, 2005, p. 10, col. 2.

Thu., Mar. 23, 2006:  Baseball Fields Opened on the Grounds of the Westchester Country Club in Pelham on April 4, 1884.

Tue., Apr. 14, 2009:  1889 Account of the Sport of Riding to Hounds by Members of the Country Club Located in Pelham.

Wed., Apr. 15, 2009:  More About the Country Club Sport of "Riding to Hounds" During the 1880s in Pelham.

Thu., Apr. 16, 2009:  A Serious Carriage Accident and Many Tumbles During the Country Club of Pelham's Riding to Hounds Event in November 1889.

Fri., Apr. 17, 2009:  A Brief History of the Early Years of "Riding to Hounds" by Members of the Country Club at Pelham.

Wed., Sep. 09, 2009:  1884 Engraving of Winner of the Great Pelham Steeplechase, Barometer, and His Owner and Rider, J. D. Cheever

Wed., Sep. 16, 2009:  September 1884 Advertisement for The Country Club Steeplechase.

Thu., Sep. 17, 2009:  Controversy in 1887 When The Country Club Tries to Dedicate a Large Area of Pelham as a Game Preserve.

Wed., Sep. 30, 2009:  Score of June 1, 1887 Baseball Game Between The Country Club and The Knickerbocker Club.

Mon., Oct. 19, 2009:  Polo at the Country Club in Pelham in 1887.

Fri., Oct. 30, 2009:  Preparations for Annual Country Club Race Ball Held in Pelham in 1887.

Thu., Apr. 15, 2010:  Account of Baseball Game Played in Pelham on June 9, 1884: The Country Club Beat the Knickerbockers, 42 to 22.  

Tue., Feb. 25, 2014:  An Interesting Description of the Country Club at Pelham Published in 1884.

Mon., Mar. 03, 2014:  The Suydam Estate known as “Oakshade” on Shore Road in the Town of Pelham, built by James Augustus Suydam.  

Fri., Sep. 12, 2014:  Reference to an 1884 Baseball Game Between the Country Club of Pelham and Calumet.

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