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, October 13, 2015

The Stolen 17th Mile Stone That Once Stood on Boston Post Road in Pelham Manor

Have you seen this 17th mile stone that once stood on today's Boston Post Road in the Village of Pelham Manor?  Do you know where this stolen mile stone is?  If so, please leave a comment with information below, contact Pelham Town Hall (no questions asked) so it may be restored for the benefit of Pelhamites and our surrounding region.  

It seems likely that anything that remains of our 17th  mile stone is somewhere in our region.  Other communities have found their stolen mile stones before.  Pelham's was stolen more than thirty years ago and has never been recovered.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog tells our mile stone's story.  If you appreciate that story, please share this posting and encourage those whom you know to live in our region to do the same.  

This Is Essentially How the 17th Mile Stone Would Look
Today, About Two Feet High and Two Feet Wide, After
It Was Snapped Off of its Granite Monument Base And
Stolen At Least Thirty Years Ago (See Story Below).


Perceptive Pelhamites know that there stands along today's Boston Post Road at its intersection with Esplanade an 800-pound granite boulder with a bronze plaque affixed to it.  The plaque commemorates the mile stone that once marked the 17th mile on the "new" Boston Post Road located 17 miles from City Hall in New York City.  The plaque on the boulder reads as follows:

APRIL 30, 1937"

Granite Boulder with Bronze Tablet Affixed to it
Commemorating the Mile Stone that Once Marked
the 17th Mile from City Hall in New York City.
Photo by the Author Taken in 2004.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

Many who stop to read the bronze tablet assume that the granite boulder to which it is affixed once marked the 17th mile.  It did not.  Instead, Pelham protected the marker for many years until it was embedded into the boulder 1937 to secure the mile stone for posterity.  Thereafter, an unknown person or persons snapped the upper portion of the original, ancient mile stone off flush with the top of the boulder in which it was embedded and made off with the top portion of the marker.  The remainder of the marker remains embedded in the granite boulder.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog tells the story of the mile stone that once marked the 17th mile on the new Boston Post Road in the Village of Pelham Manor.  

The Old Boston Post Road

Only months after John Pell's arrival in the Colony of New York in 1670, Colonial Governor Francis Lovelace designated him to work with John Richbell of Mamaroneck on an important roadway project.  A new roadway recently had been laid out as a common highway near the settlement of Eastchester adjacent to the Manor of Pelham to facilitate travel from New York to New England.  

The new road was said to be "much more convenient" than the former roadway that led into New England, but some people objected to the route of the new roadway.  Governor Lovelace sought a study to determine which of the two roads would be the "most convenient to be maintained" so that the Governor could resolve the objections and designate the roadway to New England that would continue to be maintained -- the beginnings of the Old Boston Post Road, a portion of which still passes through the Town of Pelham where it is named Colonial Avenue. 

The records of the Town of Eastchester contain an entry reflecting instructions from Governor Lovelace issued on May 17, 1670 appointing "Mr. John Pell of the Manor of Ann Hooks Neck and Mr. John Rickbell of the Moroneck [i.e., John Richbell of Mamaroneck]" either to prepare the study the Governor sought or to hire other "understanding persons" to prepare such a study.  I have written of these developments in the past.  See Fri., Dec. 05, 2014:  John Pell and John Richbell Selected in 1671 to Assess Best Roadway to New England -- The Beginnings of Old Boston Post Road.  

John Pell and John Richbell worked together on the roadway and recommended a route that passed through today's Town of Pelham along the route of Colonial Avenue.  Although there is some debate over the precise date, it seems clear that in about January, 1673, the Old Boston Post Road was sufficiently complete to permit a post rider to make the first round trip along the entire length of the roadway including the portion through today's Town of Pelham.  The post rider made the round trip in a month.  

The route was for many decades unmarked with any form of mile stones.  Those who tell the story of the Old Boston Post Road say that in the mid-eighteenth century, American founder Benjamin Franklin was placed in charge of the colonial postal system.  He reputedly faced a population convinced that they were being cheated when sending mail because postage was assessed based on the mileage traveled by post riders.  

In the summer of 1753, Franklin reportedly invented a homemade odometer attached to carriage wheels and had an equipped carriage driven along the length of Old Boston Post Road with a wooden stake driven every mile along the way.  According to the story, work crews followed and set stone markers in place of the wooden stakes.  See CNN TRAVEL - Boston Post Road:  Milestones of History, Wed., Sep. 8, 2004, Posted 11:00 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) (visited Sep. 8, 2004; printed copy in author's files).  

No milestone seems to have been placed anywhere within today's Town of Pelham along the route of the Old Boston Post Road, likely because the road passed through only a small section of the Town along the roadway known today as Colonial Avenue.

Page from 1789 Atlas Showing Section of Old Boston Post
Road that Passed Through Pelham Along Route of Today's
Colonial Avenue.  Source:  Colles, Christopher, From New
York to Stratford, plate 2 (NY, NY:  Chistopher Colles, 1789).
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

The Creation of the Westchester Turnpike:  Today's Boston Post Road in Pelham

In the late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, efforts to straighten the route of the Boston Post Road and thereby shorten the distance traveled by road between New York City and Boston were underway.  A company named the "Westchester Turnpike Company" was created to shorten and improve the route from Eastchester, through Pelham, and into New Rochelle.  

The company decided to replace the old Boston Post Road route that ran along today's Colonial Avenue with a new toll route further south that would be a more direct route from the approach toward Pelham through Eastchester (a portion of which is now part of today's City of Mount Vernon) and on into New Rochelle.  A charter was granted to the Westchester Turnpike Company to construct the new section of roadway with the right to install turnpike gates at the New Rochelle border with Pelham and to charge a toll for use of the new section of roadway.  Among the directors of the Westchester Turnpike Company were Pelham's Philip Pell, as well as Gabriel Furman and John Peter Delancey.  Travelers could continue to take the old, longer route along the path of today's Colonial Avenue without paying a toll.  Those who wanted to follow the shorter, more-direct route, however, had to pay the toll.

With the rise of railroads, turnpike companies such as the Westchester Turnpike Company suffered financially.  Many failed.  In the case of the Westchester Turnpike Company, the County of Westchester took over the section of the new Boston Post Road that ran through Pelham Manor in 1867 and the company was dissolved.  The roadway later became part of U.S. Route 1, also known as the Atlantic Coastal Highway, part of the principal roadway for movement from Maine to Florida before the creation of the United States interstate highway system in the 1950s.

Pelham's Mile Stone

With construction of the section of the roadway through today's Village of Pelham Manor during the period from about 1800 through 1804, new mile stones had to be set.  One of those mile stones, the 17th mile marker, was set along the new section of roadway within today's Village of Pelham Manor not far from today's Four Corners (the intersection of Boston Post Road and Pelhamdale Avenue).  

For more than a century, the 17th mile stone stood as a silent sentinel along the dirt roadway that became ever-more-busy with each passing year.  It became a cherished historical artifact treasured by Pelhamites throughout the town.  It was, however, an artifact at risk.

Such mile stones were disappearing all along the Boston Post Road, victims of theft.  Additionally, as the quantity and intensity of traffic grew, the mile stones also were at risk of damage from automobile accidents.  As traffic grew, Pelham took its first steps to protect the mile stone by embedding it within a concrete base to make it sturdier and to discourage its removal.

Nevertheless, on Sunday, April 22, 1928, a drunk driver ran off the road and smashed his truck with two passengers inside over the mile stone.  The crash sheared the tall stone off where its base was embedded in the concrete pedestal substantially reducing its height.  An outraged local village court justice fined the driver $50 for driving while intoxicated, $25 for disorderly conduct and using abusive language and sentenced him to 15 days in the Westchester County Penetentiary.  The justice also fined the two passengers in the vehicle $10 each for "public intoxication."  The 17th mile stone was preserved only because a Village of Pelham Manor street commissioner had the presence of mind, following the accident, to collect the stone and remove it to his home where he preserved it for a short time until it could be re-installed along the Boston Turnpike for all to enjoy.  

In 1936, the local Knapp Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution announced that the organization would undertake efforts to protect the marker.  According to an announcement in the local newspaper, they "fear[ed] that it may be damaged" and, thus, planned to create a monument to preserve it for posterity.  

One has to understand that the 17th mile stone truly was important to the Town of Pelham during the Twentieth Century.  The entire town hoped to preserve this cherished historical item.  Pelhamites understood its relevance to the early history of the nation and were proud of the Town's connection to that history, demonstrated in part through our mile stone.  

On April 30, 1937, Pelham did something to protect the stone.  Led by the beloved Knapp Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Pelham re-dedicated the 17th mile stone by unveiling what was left of that mile stone after the truck accident that mowed it down in 1928.  As Pelhamites put it at the time, the D.A.R. "re-erected" it.  Most importantly, however, it once again stood as a silent sentinel over that portion of the Boston Turnpike that flowed through Pelham.  

Here Is an Early Photograph of the 17th Mile Stone
Embedded Atop the 800 Pound Granite Boulder with
Bronze Tablet that Still Stands Along Today's "New"
Boston Post Road (or the "Boston Turnpike") at 
Esplanade.  Focus Carefully on the Actual Mile Stone
That Was Snapped Off by A Rather Heartless Thief
and Has Never Been Found.  The Boulder and Tablet
Still Stand at the Same Spot, Awaiting Reunion.


The Pelham Manor mile stone that marked the 17th mile from New York's City Hall for about 150 years along the "new" Boston Post Road once was considered "one of Pelham's most cherished historical relics."  Its theft was a sad day for the Town of Pelham.

Discovery and return of the stolen stone is not beyond the realm of possibility.  Mamaroneck's mile stone marker along the Boston Post Road had been missing for well over a century in 1937 when a group of New Rochelle High School students found it on a Davenport Neck estate.  According to one report, "The caretaker when interrogated said the stone had been standing there for at least 25 years and no further light [was] cast upon the manner of its removal to the Neck."  See Mamaroneck Wants Its 21st Milestone Back, The Pelham Sun, Jan. 28, 1938, p. 10, cols. 3-4.  

Somewhere in our region likely lies a dark-colored stone pictured above at the outset of this posting with the number "17" carved in it.  Its return to Town Hall in Pelham (or a phone call with a clue to its possible return, no questions asked) could allow the Town to restore one of its most cherished historical relics.  If you have seen the mile stone or know anything about its whereabouts, leave a comment below, use email, telephone Town Hall, or arrange its return, no questions asked.

"D.A.R. Presents Village With Historic Marker
Amid the bustle of heavy traffic on the Boston
Post Road, the mile stone which was erected in
1804 to mark the distance of 17 miles from New
York City Hall by the way of the 'new' Boston Post
Road was rededicated in a 800-pound granite stone
at the Post Road and the Esplanade.  The stone was
unveiled by Robert Gibney, Jr., of Troop 4, Boy Scouts
and Mabelle Fairchild, Troop 4, Girl Scouts.  It was
presented to the Town by Knapp Chapter, Daughters
of the American Revolution."  Source:  GHOSTS OF OLD
is DedicatedThe Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], May 1,
1937, p. 5, cols. 6-7.  NOTE:  Click on Image To Enlarge.

"Draws Jail Sentence For Reckless Driving
Negro Drives Machine Into Milestone On Boston Road.  Two Companions Fined In Manor Court

The old milestone on the Boston Post Road, near Red Church Corners, was hit by an automobile on Sunday and torn completely from its foundation.  Alexander Weeks, colored, of No. 13 Brook Street, the driver; John Austin, of No. 31 1-2 Cedar street, and Samuel Ford, of No. 138 Horton avenue, occupants of the car, were arrested.  All three men reside in New Rochelle.  Weeks was held under $400 bail on charges of reckless driving, operating a car while under the influence of liquor and using abusive and indecent language to an officer.  Ford and Austin were held in $10 bail on a charge of public intoxication.  The men appeared before Judge Floyd Price in Pelham Manor Police Court on Monday night.  Weeks was fined $50 for driving while intoxicated, $25 for disorderly conduct and using abusive language and was sentenced to 15 days in the Westchester County Penetentiary.  Ford and Austin were fined $10 each on the public intoxication charge."

Source:   Draws Jail Sentence For Reckless Driving -- Negro Drives Machine Into Milestone On Boston Road.  Two Companions Fined In Manor Court, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 27, 1928, p. 6, cols. 4-5.  

"Old Milestone To Be Preserved By D. A. R. Group

As part of its program of preserving historical articles, Knapp Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution will provide a permanent location for one of Pelham's most cherished historical relics, the old Boston Post road milestone, situated near the Esplanade.  The stone, which was first set on the turnpike in 1804 to designate the 17th mile from New York's City Hall, on the route to Boston, will be installed in a small stone monument to be erected in the parking strip on the Esplanade a few feet north of the Boston Road.  A bronze tablet will be erected on the monument.

The following inscription has been recommended by Town Historian William R. Montgomery:  'This stone was originally set in 1804 to mark the distance of 17 miles from City Hall by way of the new Boston Post road and Third avenue.  This monument has been erected by Knapp Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.'

At the present time the stone is standing alongside the highway, and members of Knapp Chapter, of which Mrs. George E. Lord is Regent, fear that it may be damaged.  Several year[s] ago the stone was rammed by a truck and broken off at its base.  It was re-erected in a concrete base, but this now shows signs of deterioration.

The Pelham Manor Village board has granted permission to move the milestone.  Plans for the erection of the monument will be discussed at an early meeting of the D. A. R. Chapter."

Source:  Old Milestone To Be Preserved By D. A. R. Group, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 2, 1936, p. 7, col. 5.  

Trucks and High-Powered Cars, However, Drown Out Voices As Resetting of the Mile Stone for Boston Road's 17th Mile is Dedicated

(Special To The Daily Argus)

PELHAM MANOR, May 1.  -- With heavy trucks and modern pleasure cars drowning out their voices, officials of Knapp Chapter, D. A. R. and the town yesterday dedicated the resetting of the mile stone first set in place in 1804 to designated [sic] the 17th mile on the Boston Post Road.

Shades of long-dead couriers, pony express riders and covered wagons hovered over the scene of the dedication when traffic stopped for a red light at the Esplanade -- only to be dispelled as trucks began up-hill grinds with a clashing of gears.  

The mile stone was set above an 800-pound granite block containing a bronze tablet with a historical sketch of the stone.

Stone Formerly Higher

The mile stone, when it was first set up in 1804 after Christopher Colles surveyed the road, was at least two and a half foot [sic] higher, Town Historian William R. Montgomery declared.

Despite a law making it a crime to touch any milestones, people removed them or chopped parts of them off for souvenirs.  The 17th milestone was preserved only because a Pelham Manor street commissioner took it to his home and preserved it.

'The old Boston Post Road,' Mr. Montgomery said, 'was the first surveyed and therefore proclaimed U.S. Route 1, and has so remained ever since.  It originally started at Wall Street and reached Kingsbridge by two bi-roads, the West Road known as the Bowery or Third Avenue.

Only Direct Route

'The Boston Post Road was the only direct mail route to Boston and the first post rider started on his journey from New York on January 22, 1673.'

'The adoption of the Constitution of the United States was the greatest landmark in history', former Congressman Benjamin L. Fairchild, quoting from Webster, declared.

In these critical times, when the American system of government as embodied in that Constitution is being attacked from high places, he said, we cry out 'woodman spare that tree'.

'No Compromise'

'When we deal with fundamentals,' he said, 'we wish for our nation to endure.  There can be no compromise.  Partisanship ceases to exist except that which spells loyalty to the Constitution.'  

The speech of acceptance for the town was ade by William Clark, clerk to Supervisor Harold W. Davis, who was unable to attend.  Mr. Clark thanked Knapp Chapter for the marker.  

Town Councilman Arthur Retallick was master of ceremonies, introducing Dr. Willard P. Soper of the Huguenot Memorial Church who pronounced the invocation and the Rev. Edward Thomas Taggard, rector of Christ's Church, who said the benediction.  

Post 50 of the American Legion and auxiliary, the Memorial High School Band, Boy and Girl Scouts joined in the ceremonies and in the massing of colors.  Robert Gibney, Jr.,, Troop 4 and Mabelle Fairchild, Troop 4, daughter of Mr. Fairchild, unveiled the marker as Mrs. George R. Lord, Regent dedicated it to the Town.  Mrs. Hilliard C. Birney, first vice-regent, led the salute to the flag.  Mayor Dominic Amato of North Pelham was the only Pelham mayor to attend."

Source:  GHOSTS OF OLD HORSEMEN HOVER AT MANOR RITUAL -- Trucks and High-Powered Cars, However, Drown Out Voices As Resetting of the Mile Stone for Boston Road's 17th Mile is Dedicated, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], May 1, 1937, p. 5, cols. 6-7.  


The annual meeting of Knapp Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution will be held on Wednesday, May 25th, at the home of Mrs. W. W. Warner on Pelhamdale avenue.  Officers will be chosen  at this time.  The business meeting will be held at 1:30 o'clock and will be followed by bridge at 2:30 o'clock.

Mrs. Hilliard C. Birney, Regent of the Chapter will preside.

Knapp Chapter will preside.

Knapp Chapter has reported the planting of a Constitution Tree near the historic 17-mile, marker on Boston Post Road at the Esplanade.  The tree, a Carolina hemlock, was planted on May 7, under the supervision of Mrs. W. W. Warner.

The visit to Ellis Island planned by members of the historic group for Monday has been postponed until later in the season.  Mrs. Forrest M. Anderson, chairman of the Ellis Island Committee will be in charge of arrangements for the visit."

Source:  ANNUAL MEETING OF D. A. R. UNIT SET FOR MAY 25, The Pelham Sun, May 13, 1938, p. 1, col. 5.  

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
Home Page of the Historic Pelham Blog.
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home