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.

Friday, August 28, 2015

North Pelham Blacksmith James Reilly Was Known as "Honest Jim Reilly" for a Reason

Honest Jim Reilly, who served as President and Mayor of the Village of North Pelham for ten years, was a village blacksmith who became a North Pelham resident whose personality was larger than life.  A political lightning rod, his escapades and deeds were the stuff of legend during the earliest years of the 20th century.  I have written about Honest Jim Reilly on a number of occasions.  See:

Mon., Jun. 08, 2015:  Was "Honest Jim Reilly" Really So Honest? Blacksmith and, Later, Politician in the Village of North Pelham Died in 1937.

Fri., May 22, 2015:  History of Pelham's Beloved "Nott Steamer" Known as "Jim Reilly's Boiler."

Fri., Feb. 27, 2009:  More on the 1906 Village of North Pelham Elections in Which the Village Blacksmith Surprised Republicans and Democrats Alike and Won

Fri., July 8, 2005:  How Did a Village Blacksmith Win the 1906 North Pelham Election by Cornering the Market on Sleighs? 

Wed., Aug. 17, 2005:  More on the Village Blacksmith Who Won the 1906 North Pelham Election by Cornering the Market on Sleighs.

In 1929, long-time North Pelham resident J. Gardiner Minard, a friend of James Reilly, wrote an article for the local newspaper, The Pelham Sun, in which he recounted two fascinating anecdotes, one of which affirmed Honest Jim Reilly's honesty.  Both articles shed light on what North Pellham and Pelham Heights were like when horses ruled the roads and the local blacksmith was essential to functioning local transportation. 

Honest Jim Reilly at the Age of 72 in 1935.
The Pelham Sun, Dec. 6, 1935, Vol. 26, No. 35,
Second Section, p. 1, cols. 3-5.
NOTE: Click Image To Enlarge.

Immediately below is J. Gardiner Minard's entertaining article, followed by a citation and link to its source.  

Another Story Of Early Pelham.  How An Unscrupulous Coachman Attempted To Use the Village Blacksmith To Further His Own Financial End, But He Reckoned Without Reilly
By J. Gardiner Minard

Last month I told the story of the fire department snap harness and how George P. Robbins of Pelham Heights contributed $25 towards its purchase.  Mr. Robbins lived in the large residence which is now the Cole apartment on Pelhamdale avenue, near First street, Pelham Heights.

In the rear, which has also been converted into an apartment called the Highbrook Arms, was his immense barn and stables.  He had a string of twleve very fine coach, carriage and saddle horses which were his pride.  His harness room resembled an exhibition with its dazzling rows of single and double sets of brass, nickel and silver mounted harness.  The coach room had open and closed carriages of all descriptions, including a tally-ho.  These skyscrapers on wheels, which had almost disappeared in these parts until recently revived, are practically unknown to the younger generation.  Two or three times a week the residents of Pelhams were aroused by the bugle notes and rushed to windows and doors to view with pride the Robbins family and guests dashing along with their tally-ho drawn by four spirited horses.  Robbins and the coachman were on the front seat and the guests with Mrs. Robbins in the other two seats, while on a step in the rear, was the footman.

This footman's name was Wellman, a short, fat Englishman who was a thypical John Bull in dress as well as stature.  He wore a short top hat, yellow breeches and top boots.  He even wore the mutton chop side whiskers.  It was his duty to toot the horn.

Away they go about the streets of the town and then a spin a few miles to some road house for a meal, after which they would return to Pelham.  Their departure and return was a rival attraction to the fire company responding to an alarm.

The most fashionable event in the county was the annual horse show of the Westchester County elite, which was held at the old fair grounds at White Plains, and the people of Pelham persuaded Mr. Robbins to enter the tally-ho contest.  The Pelhamites were always looking for new worlds to conquer and felt sure Robbins would capture the trophy.  Little did he know that to do this he must compete with such experienced drivers as William K. Vanderbilt, Harry Payne Whitney, Mrs. Kernoghan, Hamilton Fish, Foxhall Keene and Herman Gelrich, but he entered his name.

There was a goodly attendance from Pelham when he entered the arena, but trouble developed.  Scattered all over the place were artificial barriers, fences, gates, trees, hedges, boxes, barrels, etc., and he was expected to worm his horses and trap around them without colliding.  Driving through the streets of the Pelhams was easy, but this was another matter, and after he had knocked down everything in his way he was ordered out of the ring before he could complete the work of demolition.

In concluding with the following anecdote, let the reader banish all thoughts of politics and consider only the moral contained therein.  In those days, James Reilly had a blacksmith and horseshoeing shop on Fifth avenue on the site of the present Westchester and Boston station.  He had a shock of coal black hair and long moustache, neither containing a single gray hair.  It was a hard struggle in those days to pay rent for both hoe and shop and at the same time raise his little family, and he worked often late into the night by the light of a dingy central burner kerosene lamp which was suspended from a brace in the roof.  The price for shoeing a horse all around in those days was $1.50, out of which the coachman expected to receive a quarter for bringing the trade.  It took a lot of shoeing to earn a decent day's pay.

Any blacksmith can nail shoes on a horse, but not all can do it properly.  You have often seen a horse with raw sores on the ankle.  This is caused by the ankles rubbing together and is called 'interfering.'  Improper shoeing is generally the reason for this and the ordinary horseshoer would advise the owner to buy leather boots to prevent the ankles chafing.  You have also seen a horse trotting along the street and heard a constant click, click.  This is called over-reaching and is the shoe on the descending hind foot striking the shoe on the rising front foot.

Now Reilly was more than a horseshoer and blacksmith.  He was a farrier; [NOTE:  "Farrier" is a British term for a formally-trained blacksmith.] and in the old country where he learned the trade, it was first necessary for the apprentice to master the anatomy of a horse's foot, Reilly knew as well what was inside the foot as outside.  He could cut or burn out a corn; treat a thrush; he knew how to trim the frog and how much of the hoof should be removed.  By shifting the weights on the shoes he could stop interfering and over-reaching.  Robbins was very particular about his horses and insisted every one be shod all around each month, regardless the amount of work the animal had done or the condition of the shoes.  As an extra inducement for special attention he paid $2.50 each, or $1 extra for each horse.  This made Robbins a customer that any horse shoer would fight for.  Reilly did all his shoeing.

One summer the Robbins family left for a six weeks' sojourn in Europe.  A month passed and the Robbins family did not put in an appearance at the shop.  Reilly wondered at this but knowing of the absence of the family decided that instructions not to have the horses shod must have been given.

Three days before Robbins was scheduled to return, the footman dressed in the latest style, strutted into the shop.  Reilly was shoeing William Barry's white horse and was holding the rear foot between his knees and rasping the hoof.  'Jim,' he said sharply.  'Robbins will be home on the steamer Saturday and I want you to make out a bill for shoeing the horses last month and when you get the check turn it over to me.'

Reilly looked up from his work and said:  'the horses were not here last month.'

'Never mind; do as I tell you,' replied Wellman impatiently.

Reilly put the horse's foot on the floor and straightened up and, walking up to Wellman said, 'now let's get this thing right; Robbins' horses were not here last month, but you want me to make out a bill for shoeing them all and when Robbins sends me the money, you want me to give it to you?'

'Precisely,' replied Wellman.

'Well, you can go to hell!' exclaimed Reilly.

'All right:  I will take the horses away from here,' replied Wellman angrily.

I was in the shop at the time and told Reilly to see Robbins when he returned and tell hime what had happened, but Reilly replied, 'No; if he wants to hire a thief, let him find out for himself.'

True to his threat, when Robbins returned he informed hi that Reilly was not shoeing the horses properly and was told to take them to some other shop.

Now let us see what followed.  A short time later there came a crash in Wall Street and Robbins' fortune was wiped out.  Mrs. Robbins, who had a fortune of her own, turned it over to him to help wipe out the debts and they lost everything.  About two years later Robbins died, broken in health and spirit. Wellman died soon after and Mrs. Robbins, as brave a little woman as ever lived, gave music lessons on the violin to raise money to support her two children.  If ever a smiling face covered an aching heart, it was here, for she never lost her sunny disposition.  She, took died recently.  But Reilly prospered and since the event has served ten years successively as president and mayor of North Pelham.  Here at least is one instance where honesty paid."

Source:  REILLY AS VILLAGE BLACKSMITH LOVED THAT HONESTY IS BEST POLICY -Another Story Of Early Pelham.  How An Unscrupulous Coachman Attempted To Use the Village Blacksmith To Further His Own Financial End, But He Reckoned Without Reilly, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 26, 1929, p. 12, cols. 1-4.

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