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.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Mystery Solved: The Purpose of the Clubhouse Built by the Pelham Shore Improvement Company in 1900 and 1901

On Thursday, October 23, 2014, I published to the Historic Pelham Blog an article entitled "A Mystery:  The Club House Built by the Pelham Shore Improvement Company."  In it I noted that "Yet another Pelham 'history mystery' has arisen" marked by the fact that in 1900, a group of prominent Pelham Manor residents incorporated a company named the "Pelham Shore Improvement Company of Pelham Manor" and built a wooden frame clubhouse on the Long Island Sound side of Shore Road at the boundary between Pelham Bay Park and the Village of Pelham Manor.  I noted at the time that "The purpose of the Club is not yet known."

Research since has revealed the name of the club and its purposes.  The clubhouse was built for the members of the "Pelham Field and Marine Club."   The club opened on Tuesday, August 27, 1901.  It turns out that little has been known of the club precisely because it was not successful.  According to one account published long after the demise of the club, the organization was: 

"a Field Club when the tide was out and the flats bare, a Marine Club when the tide was in.  When the club languished, because Manorites were not sufficiently marine, the place was named 'Cove House' and rented to Mr. Dorrance."

Source:  Blymyer, Mary Hall, OVERLOOKING THE SOUND IN 1910, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 17, 1931, p. 13, cols. 1-2.

The Pelham Field and Marine Club was intended as a country club that included yachting.  The club was established before the creation of today's Pelham Country Club (although the predecessor to today's Wykagyl Country Club existed at the time in Pelham along today's Fowler Avenue).  

The Pelham Field and Marine Club was founded a little more than a decade after the move of the Country Club at Pelham from its location along Shore Road adjacent to the Bartow-Pell property to Throggs Neck.  Among the facilities offered by the new club were tennis courts, a ballroom for dancing and social events, a pier for marine activities, a bathing beach, and tennis courts available to members.  The club's members also used the brand new public golf facilities at the nearby Pelham Bay Golf Course across the road from the clubhouse.  In addition, the club had a kitchen with a "luncheon department" as well as "limited sleeping accommodations for the members."

The very centerpiece of the club, however, was its substantial bathing beach.  The club constructed "a heavy sea wall the length of the grounds" then dredged the Long Island Sound in front of the sea wall to an adequate depth.  The club then brought in several barge loads of sand "to make a fine beach bottom."

The club seems to have suffered from several major issues that led to its rather quick demise.  First, it stood virtually adjacent to the New York Athletic Club facility on Travers Island including its yachting facilities.  Second, with the Priory property across the road from the Club and the Pelham Bay Park along its border, there was very little land that could be made available for the "Field" portion of the club.  Third, twice each day as the tide ebbed, the "Marine" facilities including the pier stood on massive mud flats not particularly conducive to yachting and considered maloderous by many.  Fourth, Ezra T. Gilliland, one of the guiding forces behind the construction of the new clubhouse, died on May 13, 1903, not long after the club opened.  Fifth, and finally, as one commentator noted, "Manorites were not sufficiently marine" to support an additional yachting club besides the well-established New York Athletic Club yachting facilities on Travers Island only a few hundred yards away.  

On Tuesday, August 27, 1901, virtually every prominent member of Pelham Manor society gathered in the ballroom on the second floor of the new clubhouse of the Pelham Field and Marine Club to celebrate the opening of the club.  The members of the Board of Governors of the club presented a Loving Cup to member Ezra T. Gilliland in appreciation for his successful efforts to oversea construction of the new clubhouse.  The Loving Cup was promptly pressed into service as a punch bowl for the celebration.

It appears that the Pelham Field and Marine Club opened for the season each year in about the middle of May and closed for the winter as the weather became cool in the autumn.  In addition to tennis, golf, dancing in the ballroom, and swimming in Long Island Sound, it appears that clambakes were a popular social event at the club.  The club operated for at least the next three years.  

As interest waned and the club closed, the club renamed the clubhouse and grounds as "Cove House" and leased the facility to a Mr. Dorrance.  (Cove House stood for many years at 20 Shore Road in Pelham Manor.)  Pelham was ripe, yet again, for the establishment of a country club for local residents -- leading to the establishment of today's Pelham Country Club shortly thereafter.  

Detail from 1901 Map Showing Location of the Clubhouse
of the Pelham Field and Marine Club.  Source:  Fairchild, John F.,
STREET MAP OF THE City of Mount Vernon AND THE
Town of Pelham, Westchester Co., N. Y., COMPILED AND PUBLISHED BY
(T.S. STRANGE, DEL.: Oct. 1901) (copy in collections of Museum of the
City of New York, No. 53.191.4).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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"The Pelham Field and Marine Club is now building a new club house on the shore of Long Island, opposite Travers Island.  The club has an acre of ground right near Pelham Bay Park and the club house is being built exclusively for members.  It will have a luncheon department and limited sleeping accommodations for the members.  The club is to be devoted to golf, tennis, boating and bathing.  There are at present about one hundred and fifty members, and the club is open to membership from all parts of Westchester county, but has been joined chiefly by persons residing in the town of Pelham.  

Among the members of the club are Messrs. Robert C. Black, H. B. B. Stapler, William B. Randall, Charles Pond, Ezra T. Gilliland, Horace Hatch, John C. Hazen, Edward M. Fowler, Edward P. Fowler, John Butler, Benjamin L. Fairchild, Howard Scribner, Ralph K. Hubbard, Henry G. K. Heath, John M. Shinn and Edward Kelly.

The club house is to be a two story and basement house, and is to contain bath-houses on the basement floor.  On the floor above will be a large assembly room, with diining facilities.  Above will be rooms for the members, locker rooms and servants' rooms."

Source:  [Untitled], N. Y. Herald, Jul. 7, 1901, Sixth Section, p. 4, col. 6.  

Westchester County Gets the Club House and Ezra Gilliland a Loving Cup.

Residents of Pelham Manor, New Rochelle and along the Shore Road of Westchester County had a dance and supper on Tuesday evening in celebration of the opening of another country club, to be known as the Pelham Field and Marine Club.  The new club house stands directly upon the edge of the Sound and adjoining the upper boundary line of Pelham Park.  It has broad verandas, tennis courts, golf links and a bathing beach, the latter of which was perfected by the club governors building a heavy sea wall the length of the grounds, dredging the Sound there to a greater depth and filling in again with several barge loads of sand to make a fine beach bottom.

At the opening of the new club house on Tuesday evening there were present nearly all the prominent members of fashionable society in that part of the Westchester County.  Under the ruse of making a formal speech of welcome, General Stapler gathered the members and their guests in the dancing hall that they might see the presentation of a handsome loving cup from the other governors to Ezra T. Gilliland, as a mark of the appreciation of his fellow governors and members for the work and time he has devoted to the club project from its start to the completion of its seashore home on Tuesday.  Mr. Gilliland, to hwom the compliment of the governors was a surprise, did not permit his embarrassment to prevent him from cracking the joke that he was glad to win the first prize awarded by the Pelham Field and Marine Club.  The first prize was then pressed into service as the punch bowl."

Source:  A NEW COUNTRY CLUB -- Westchester County Gets the Club House and Ezra Gilliland a Loving Cup, The New York Press, Aug. 29, 1901, p. 7, col. 5.  


The Club House of the Pelham Field and Marine Club was formally opened last Tuesday evening.  The event was marked by a large reception and dance which was quite the success of the season.  The grounds were brilliantly illuminated with Chinese lanterns which were hung in and about the foliage, and extended to the end of a long pier.

Although the Club House has just been completed, every detail has been considered for the comfort of the guests, including the installation of gas, running water, etc.

One of the chief features of the evening was the presentation of a silver loving cup to Mr. Ezra T. Gilliland, as a mark of appreciation of his untiring efforts in supervising the construction of the Club House.  The presentation speech was made by Mr. Henry B. B. Stapler, and Mr. Gilliland made a few very apt remarks of thanks to the donors of the gift.

The kitchen, bathing houses, etc. are on the ground floor; on thee floor above are the dressing rooms and ballroom, and the top floor is devoted to locker space, guest rooms and servants rooms.  The exterior architecture is of the queen Anne pattern, and is most artistic, and in the bright moonlight and other various environments made a picture not soon to be forgotten.

The supper was served by Jacob Schwind, and the music was furnished by Professor Cox.

Among those present were:  Mr. and Mrs. Stapler, Mr. and Mrs. William B. Randall, Mr. and Mrs. Horace Hatch, Mr. and Mrs. John F. Gouldsbury, Mr. and Mrs. Charles F. Hull, Mr. and Mrs. H. G. K. Heath, Mr. and Mrs. John Butler, Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Pond, Mr. and Mrs. Ezra T. Gilliland, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Herbert, Professor and Mrs. Vulte, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ferrin ,the Misses Ferrin, Mrs. J. Clarkson Hill, Mr. and Mrs. Edward M. Fowler, Mr. and Mrs. James F. Secor, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Alston Gerry, Miss Gerry, Mrs. Schuyler Mills, Miss Schuyler, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Clark, and the Misses Pinckney, Renaud, Wiles, Wicks, Maynard, Roper, Jones, Messrs. Black, Tedford, Jones, Hill, Grazebach, Meighan, Roper, Nicholas, Sands, Hull, Dey, Scott and many others."

Source:  OPENING OF NEW CLUB HOUSE, The New Rochelle Press, Aug. 31, 1901, p. 8, col. 2.   

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The Pelham Field and Marine Club will give a clambake on June 28 at the clubhouse on Long Island Sound."

Source:  CROWDS IN WESTCHESTER -- THOUSANDS JOURNEY TO SOUND RESORTS -- PLANS FOR THE FUTURE, New-York Daily Tribune, Jun. 23, 1902, p. 4, col. 4.  

For Years a Prominent and Popular Resident of Pelham Manor.

Ezra T. Gilliland, one of the best-known and highly respected citizens of the lower part of Westchester County, died at his home, in Pelham Manor, yesterday morning, from heart trouble.  Mr. Gilliland had taken an important part in the early organization and establishment of the telephone business both in the United States and in Europe, and for many years was a prominent official of the Bell Telephone Company, as well as a partner at one time of Thomas A. Edison.  About a dozen years ago he retired from active business, going to live in Pelham Manor, in one of the handsomest houses of that section, where he also built a completely equipped laboratory in which, to the time of his death, he pursued his scientific studies, electrical researches and mechanical inventions more as a partime and pleasure than as a business.

Mr. Gilliland had devoted a generous share of his time and fortune to the public interest of the community in which he lived after his retirement from active business, being for a number of terms President of the village of Pelham Manor, village trustee and holding other local offices, in the administration of which he was able, with a not infrequent call upon his private purse, to obtain many benefits for the residents of his town, which endeared him to them all.  Two of his most recent achievements in that direction were the founding of the Pelham Field and Marine Club on the Sound and the erection of a club house, with bathing beach, tennis courts, etc., for the residents of Pelham.  Pelham Manor, New Rochelle and the Shore Road; and his activities in the coal famine of last year.  During the period of coal scarcity Mr. Gilliland bought coal at the mines by the train load, delivering it throughout his neighborhood at scarcely any advance above the normal prices.  At the time when coal was selling everywhere else at the highest prices Mr. Gilliland visited personally the sick and poor in the vicinity of Pelham Manor, supplying to them coal, sometimes delivered in sacks out of his own carriage in cases of extreme need and urgency.

Mr. Gilliland, who is survived by his wife, mother, one brother and three sisters, was 56 years old.  Until within the last few months he had been in the best of health.  The funeral will be at his home, at 11 o'clock to-morrow morning, and the burial will be in Adrian, Mich."

Source:  DEATH OF E. T. GILLILAND -- For Years a Prominent and Popular Resident of Pelham Manor, The New York Press, May 14, 1903, p. 6, col. 7.  

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The Pelham Field and Marine Club has opened its club house on the Sound for the season."

Source:  PELHAM NOTES, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], May 10, 1904, p. 6, col. 4

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The Pelham Field and Marine Club, has enlarged its club house on the Shore road and is now putting a handsome wall along the front of the property, greatly increasing its beauty."

Source:  PELHAM NOTES, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 28, 1904, p. 4, cols. 4-5.  

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