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 26, 2015

Stories About The Old Wolf Homestead in Pelhamville, Told by J. Gardiner Minard

For many years there stood in Pelhamville a house built by Anthony Wolf.  It stood on the north side of Third Street between today's Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue.  The home was said by many to be the oldest home in the Village of North Pelham.  It stood along a dirt pathway barely wide enough for a single horse and cart.  That simple, unpaved roadway followed a pathway once carved into the countryside by local Native Americans that ran parallel to the Hutchinson River.  The pathway extended from the Boston Turnpike (today's Boston Post Road) all the way to the little house built by Anthony Wolf.  Today we know that little country lane as Wolfs Lane and Fifth Avenue.  

In about 1898, Henry Straehle, Sr. and his wife took possession of the Anthony Wolf home.  They redesigned the interior and converted the home into a boarding house.  Henry Straehle also installed bottling equipment and, later, refrigeration equipment in the basement.  He operated a soda bottling business from the basement for about a decade.  Straehle sold and delivered his bottled sodas along a route that covered mostly City Island and Mount Vernon, although he had some soda bottling business customers in Pelham.  I have written about Henry Straehle, Sr. and his bottling business before.  See Fri., Jul. 11, 2014:  Bottlers Who Operated in the Pelhams in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries.

Anthony Wolf Farmhouse in an Undated Photograph.
Photograph Courtesy of The Office of The Historian
of the Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

In 1908 or 1909 (J. Gardiner Minard believes it was 1909), the Wolf homestead was moved to make way for the Fifth Avenue Station and the tracks of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway that once passed through the Village of North Pelham.  The home was moved around the block to 210 Sixth Avenue.

J. Gardiner Minard was a former Pelham newspaperman who became one of the oldest residents of the Village of North Pelham.  He once boarded at the Wolf Homestead while it was operated by Mrs. Straehle as a boarding house.  Periodically Minard wrote about his reminiscences of Pelhamville and the early days of the Village of North Pelham.  In 1938 and 1939, he published in The Pelham Sun a three-part series in which he recounted anecdotes about the old Anthony Wolf Homestead.  The text of each of those three articles, followed by citations and links to their sources, appear immediately below.


In another column of The Pelham Sun is a legal ad that will probably be noticed by about one reader in a hundred; and about one in ten of those will read it through with interest.  It is a foreclosure sale of the house and lot on the east side of Sixth avenue between Fourth and Third streets.  More properly it may be identified as 210 Sixth avenue.  It is the Wolf homestead.  The oldest house in North Pelham, it stood originally on an acre of ground on the north side of Third street from Fifth to Sixth avenues.  In 1909 the property was sold to the new Boston and Westchester and the house moved to its present location.  The house has a peculiar interest to me for it was the house that I gave as my home when I enlisted in 1917 and it so appears in my enlistment papers.

But here is another story; in 1908 on a bright June morning I was seated on the front porch when my attention was attracted by a short, stout man:  almost bald, with ruddy face and snow white moustache.  He was coming up the driveway, his eyes sweeping the entire front of the building and smiling broadly.  He greeted me cordially and said:

'I am Andy Wolf; the last of the tribe.  I was born in this house and a short time ago a notion occurred to me to find out whether the house was still standing and, if so, to see it once more before I die.  I wrote a friend to that effect and he replied that the house was still standing so I have come all the way from California to see it.'

I called Mrs. Straehle who gave him a hearty greeting and after explaining that she was very busy, asked me to show him over the house.  We first went down the stone steps to the basement and his eyes danced with joy as he identified the flat slabs of sandstone with which the areaway was paved and remarked that his father laid those stones.  He chuckled upon entering the kitchen in the basement and remarked that his family also had used the basement for a kitchen but the wood burner had given way to a coal range and there was no hot water boiler then.  We entered the cellar but he was not so sure of himself as now it was filled with bottling machinery and and a big ice box had been built there; but he showed some excitement when he pointed to the girder and floor beams overhead which showed the marks of the adz.  These timbers, he explained, were all hewn by hand from trees felled on the spot.  We now went up the same cellar stairs that he had ascended as a child and he again registered joy as he found the dining room unchanged and the old fireplace still there.  The pantry was now Mr. Straehle's office.  

His eyes glistened as he stood in his old bedroom which had not been divided into two rooms, as were two other bedrooms.  We now went down to the front door and first opened the two glass doors in the panels and pointed to the iron grill covering it from the outside.  This, he explained, was for the purpose of identifying anyone who came knocking at the door at night.  You carried the lamp to the door and opened one of these little doors and asked the caller to come close so you could see who he was.  Again he registered happiness when he beheld the old original door bell.  You pulled a handle and it drew a wire and started the bell on the end of a spiral spring jingling.  Again and again he pulled the knob and told how as a child he liked to ring it and was often scolded for it.

He stood on the porch and waved his hand toward Lather's woods (Pelhamwood) and said 'The woods extended right down to the river.  My father and grandfather cleared it and where all these houses and stores are now was the farm lands and pasture.  There was a lane that began at the Boston Turnpike and came right up to the front door.  I noticed a street sign the other side of the track showing they still call it Wolf's Lane.'

What lucky star directed Andy Wolf to the house in 1908?  A year later he would have found it in a different location and he most certainly would never have derived the same amount of satisfaction."

Source:  Minard, J. Gardiner, THE OLD DAYS By J. GARDINER MINARD, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 4, 1938, p. 10, cols. 6-7.

 Tales of the Old Wolf Homestead No. 2

While cleaning up the pile of rubbish in the pavilion, Jack Pellicci, who was giving me a hand, called out, 'Hey!  What do you call this?' and held in his hand what looked like a cross on a long pole.  At sight of it my memory went back to a mid-Summer day in 1899.  The Straehles had taken possession of the old Wolf homestead in November, 1898.  Directly across the street, where the Boston & Westchester station now stands, was Reilly's blacksmith shop.  Mrs. Straehle came from the County Clare, Ireland, and spoke Gaelic fluently.  Reilly also spoke the language, but as he had no one to converse with for years, he was somewhat rusty in its use.  It did not take him long to discover Mrs. Straehle's familiarity with it and he spent much time there brushing up on his Gaelic.  In those days Reilly's shop was a favorite meeting place for all the famous characters of the 'Pelhamville' era.  

Being a news gatherer, I put in about an hour a day absorbing the village gossip.  A dime spent for a growler of beer was good for a column of news.  Reilly was welding old horseshoes together and showing much enthusiasm over it.  This evoked my curiosity, and when we were alone he confided to me that he was making an old-fashioned Irish pike such as the Irish in olden times used in opposing the attacks of the English soldiers.  It was to be a present for Mrs. Straehle.  He hammered out a spear head and across the shank one side soon had a long narrow axe like blade and on opposite side a hook.  When it was completed he went to Jake Heisser's store where you could buy anything from a pound of butter to a plow.  He purchased a long rake handle which he fitted in the pike head.

Learning from him the approximate time it would be ready for presentation.  I sat with a group in the bar room when Reilly entered with his pike.  Smiling broadly, he glanced about and taking a position in the middle of the floor where all could see, he held it up before Mrs. Straehle who was behind and asked, 'Did you ever see one of those, Mrs. Straehle?'

'I did not, Jim,' she replied.

'You're a fine Irishman,' he growled.  Let me state here that Jim Reilly in those days did not carry an ounce of fat.  He was slightly stoop-shouldered and his hair, eyebrows and flowing moustache were coal black.  Taking a half-squatting position, he held the pike firmly in his hands and with the lethal end up at an angle of 45 degrees, explained that the English soldiers, mounted, were charging the Irish who are afoot.  The glint of battle was in his eye as he watched his victim approach.  With a sudden lunge forward and a sweep of the arms he yelled, 'You take the hook and hook the bridle of his horse and break the reins -- that makes him lose control of the horse.  Now, (another hook in the air and yank) you hook him by the neck and drag him off the horse to the ground.'  Before the astonished soldier was aware just what had happened, Reilly sprang forward and placing a foot on the helpless victim brought the spear down.  'Then you drive the spear through his heart,' he explained.  Reilly now seized the handle with both hands near the end and gave an imaginary tug to withdraw the spear and jumping to one side he made a chop with the axe and said 'then you cut his head off.'

Having finished a good job, he turned in triumph to Mrs. Straehle whose face registered horror.  'And did he kill him, Jim?' she asked.  Reilly regarded her with disgust for a second.  Gentle reader, this is a family paper and I cannot repeat Mr. Reilly's exact words, but they implied that the Englishman was really dead.

*     *     *     *

In the pile of rubbish in the center of the floor I found an Irish blackthorn.  When Reilly completed his first term as Village President, he returned to Ireland, his first visit since coming to this country during the 80's.  Returning, he brought with him a half dozen blackthorns and this one he had presented to Mrs. Straehle.  [NOTE an "Irish Blackthorn" is a wooden walking stick and club or cudgel typically made with a large knob at the top.]  What strikes one forcibly is with all the time, labor, material and expense to which people go to give pleasure to others, the articles become junk when the principals die."

Source:  Minard, J. Gardiner, THE OLD DAYS By J. GARDINER MINARD -- Tales of the Old Wolf Homestead No. 2, The Pelham Sun, May 12, 1939, p. 12, cols. 6-8.  

Tales of the Old Wolf Homestead No. 3

I put a catch on the window of the bedroom at the southwest corner of the upper floor.  To my knowledge there has been no lock on that window in 45 years and I doubt if there ever was one, as no screw marks show.  That window has a little story of its own.  When the Straehle's took possession in 1898, Mrs. Straehle decided to take in boarders and had that room divided so as to increase the number of bedrooms.  The corner room was a spare and the adjoining one was occupied by Henry, Jr., better known as 'Son.'  I often used the spare room.  Straehle established a soda bottling plant in the basement and had two large routes; one in New Rochelle and the other in City Island.  He had a smaller route in Pelham.

During the busy season the bottling machines had to be operated all day.  Son was a pretty good bottler, but he could not be gotten out of bed before noon.  This necessitated the hiring of a bottler.  In vain his father and step-mother tried to get him out of bed in the morning and would appeal to me as to whether they should get a doctor for him inasmuch as they thought he always retired early.  I knew what was the matter but kept it secret.  Son loved to dance and attended dances every night.  He knew just where the next one would be held, whether in New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Yonkers, Tuckahoe, etc.  He would start for bed at night, noisily undress, shake the bed and then quietly get dressed, sneak out that window, creep over the piazza roof and climb down the corner post and away.  After the dance he would return and get in the same way.  When I occupied this room it was necessary for him to pass through.

Around the top of the piazza is a row of heavy wooden fancy ornaments, one over each post.  The one on the corner he would put his arm about in order to swing over the gutter.  One morning while returning, this ornament broke loose and both came tumbling to the ground, hitting the tub of water below for watering the horses and dumping it over him.  He gave a yell that aroused the household.  I explained that he was walking in his sleep.  This satisfied Mrs. Straehle, but when his father could talk to me alone he winked and said, 'It's a good think the Missus didn't smell his breath.'"

Source:  Minard, J. Gardiner, THE OLD DAYS By J. GARDINER MINARD -- Tales of the Old Wolf Homestead No. 3, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 2, 1939, p. 4, cols. 1-2

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