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, August 05, 2015

In 1931, Pelham Recalled "Pelham Institutions Dear to the Hearts of the Old Timers"

Where is Tillie's Rock?  What is "Grand Jury Bench?"  Have you ever heard of Beecroft Beach in Pelham?

The little Town of Pelham has a rich history that, thankfully, has been well recorded for at least the last 360 years.  As the Town has changed so, too, have its "institutions."  

In 1931, The Pelham Sun published a cheeky little article that recorded a few "Pelham Institutions" that only the old-timers in the Town could recall at that time.  The article discussed the nightly closing of the Boulevard, noting that a disgruntled motorist once blocked from the thoroughfare complained "Where else in this part of the world will you find them taking the streets in at night?"  The article discussed the "Toonerville Trolley," a source of pride for all Pelhamites, then and now.  It discussed the Red Church Corner, the Grand Jury Bench, Tillie's Rock and the Summer White House.  

Thank goodness for such articles for they have preserved little snippets of Pelham traditions that have helped make our town what it is today.  Below is a transcription of the article published in 1931, followed by a citation and link to its source.  

'Street They Take in at Night,' 'Toonerville Trolley,' 'Red Church Corner,' 'Grand Jury Bench,' and 'Summer White House' Are Institutions of Long Standing.

Residential communities such as the Pelhams . . . are seldom without their 'institutions,' the novel features which contribute greatly to the homeliness of the villages.  Perhaps they mark us as 'small towners' but they are the items that make the Pelhams distinctive suburban communities, countryside of gentlefolk, one of our enterprising sloganeers once deftly termed the three villages, and it is the residential features to which the villages cling that certainly establish this fact.

'Where else in this part of the world will you find them taking the streets in at night?' one of our critics was heard to ask not so long ago.  He was a disgruntled motorist seeking a short route from Mount Vernon to New Rochelle after midnight.  Of course, he chose the Boulevard, only to find that the thoroughfare had been barricaded at Wolf's Lane to prevent the passage of noisy trucks through the residential district while the citizens of the villages were sleeping.

This unique procedure was instituted in 1924 when the Pelham Heights village trustees determined that the Boulevard had not yet been fully dedicated to the village, and could therefore be closed at will.  The passage of trucks through this avenue was extremely bothersome late at night.  The long hill from Pelhamdale to Corona avenues was too steep for heavy lumbering vehicles to negotiate in high speed and the clattering of transmissions and discordant rumble of racing engines made sleep almost impossible.

Proponents of the street closing were met with objections on the ground that the highway had been a public thoroughfare for a period of years.

'It had never before been closed,' said the objectors, 'and therefore could not be barricaded at night.'

Investigation, however, showed that the street had been closed at least once every year, to permit coasting on winter days, so the village fathers took advantage of this and consequently Pelham Heights sleeps peacefully at night.

'The Toonerville Trolley' is another much maligned 'institution' of the Pelhams, yet Pelham Manor is loath to relinquish it.  Perhaps a motor bus would give better service to the commuters who ridicule its contention of meeting all trains, but just listen to their howl if you talk about abandoning the line.  Long before Fontaine Fox visited Pelham in 1909 and gained the inspiration for 'Toonerville Trolley' by riding in the Pelham Manor car, the residents of the village had learned to depend on the car.  They'll swear it's a nuisance (you can find several examples of the Terrible Tempered Mr. Bang) but it's a favorite institution with residents of the Manor.  

'The Red Church Corner' is almost forgotten except by the old timers, who remember when the old Huguenot Memorial church, painted a brilliant red, was situated at the intersection of the Boston road and Pelhamdale avenue.  The late Edward Penfield, noted artist, erected a marker at the site, but the newcomers are ignorant of the fact that 'The Red Church Corner' was once as well known in Westchester as Columbus Circle is in New York City.

When the Pelham Manor village officials first contemplated plans for a park and bathing beach on Long Island Sound adjacent to Travers Island, Remington Schuyler, the artist, well versed in Pelham lore, proposed that it be called Beecroft Beach.  The Beecroft boys, of whom Edgar C. Beecroft, village attorney of Pelham Manor is the last in the village, were once the ringleaders of youth in the Pelhams and made their headquarters along the sound shore.  The site of the proposed beach was the scene of many of the Beecroft boys' escapades in the early days of the village, and there are still many of the old timers who have accepted 'Beecroft Beach.'  The park will not be ready for use by the villagers for several years, but the term will last among those who remember the old days.

About a mile away from Beecroft Beach is 'Tillie's Rock,' on Hunter's Island, which has for many years been the favorite bathing beach of the youth of the Pelhams.  What price a three mile hike, if one can enjoy a swim in the cooling waters of the Sound without the necessity of having to carry a bathing suit all that distance.  'Tillie's Rock' is reserved for men only, and it is as sacred a masculine haven as Huckleberry Island, the aristocratic beach of the Huckleberry Indians, on whose premises no woman has ever set foot.

North Pelham has its 'Grand Jury Bench,' where the old timers gather to discuss questions of international, national and local importance.  Former Mayor James Reilly, the old war horse of village politics, is the foreman of the jury which meets regularly on a low bench at Sixth Street and Fifth avenue.  Many of the major improvements of the village have been planned from this bench and at all hours of the day a loiterer is certain to pick up some interesting information from the 'jurymen.'

Although we must travel several miles to visit the next 'Pelham Institution,' its distance does not remove it from local patriotism in the least.  It is the 'Summer White House' at Alburg, Vt., where Supervisor David Lyon holds sway during the summer months.  The pilgrimages have already begun and rumor has it that the real Pelham political pot is brewing on the shore of Lake Champlain where the Supervisor is spending his vacation.

Do you know these 'institutions'?  If you don't you had better ask some of the old Timers and get acquainted.  You're missing something.  

Can you find anything more than those mentioned?"

Source:  PELHAM "INSTITUTIONS" ARE DEAR TO THE HEARTS OF THE OLD TIMERS, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 24, 1931, p. 5, cols. 1-2.

1868 Beer's Map of the Town of Pelham,
Page 35.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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