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 30, 2015

Another Detailed Account of the 1901 Fire that Detroyed the Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island

The new summer clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in Pelham Manor opened, unofficially, on June 1, 1889.  Nearly twelve years later, on January 5, 1901, the N.Y.A.C. clubhouse (known as the "big house")  burned to the ground in a horrific fire. 

The massive fire attracted spectators from throughout the region.  Many newspapers and periodicals covered the event.  I have written about this devastating fire on two prior occasions. I also have written many, many items about Travers Island and the New York Athletic Club facilities there.  After the account of the fire below, I have included links to many of my previous writings regarding Travers Island and the New York Athletic Club.

One week after the fire, the New Rochelle Pioneer published a lengthy and detailed account of the fire, efforts to save the clubhouse, efforts to save the nearby Potter House and, finally, the aftermath of the fire and efforts by local residents to salvage "souvenirs" from the ashes.  The account is particularly interesting in that it details the order of arrival of firefighting equipment from Pelham Manor and New Rochelle and the difficulties of fighting such a massive fire with the crude equipment available at the time.  

The text of the account appears below, followed by a citation and link to its source.

Source:  Hackett, Owen, THE ISLAND HOME OF 
ATHLETICS, Munsey's Magazine, Vol. VII,
No. 10, p. 391 (Jul. 1892).  NOTE:  Click on
Image to Enlarge.

Source:  Hackett, Owen, THE ISLAND HOME OF 
ATHLETICS, Munsey's Magazine, Vol. VII,
No. 10, p. 392 (Jul. 1892).  NOTE:  Click on
Image to Enlarge.

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Handsome Home of the N. Y. A. C. at Travers Island in Ruins.

Two chimneys, a tower and a mass of ruins mark the site of the large and handsome summer home of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island.  The building was burned to the ground last Saturday afternoon and is a total loss.  The fire was caused by defective insulation of an electric light wire and was discovered about half past twelve by William Hansen, a carpenter, who was at work in the house.  It started in the basement under the main entrance.  Hansen saw smoke pouring out of the basement windows and flames along the beams on a line with the wires.  He hastened to the Potter House, a small two-story frame building adjoining the main club house used by the members in winter, and gave the alarm to superintendent James Kerwin and the ten or twelve other employees who were at dinner.  The men carried several buckets of water into the basement but could not reach the flames owing to the suffocating smoke and intense heat.  The men then set to work to connect the club's fire hose with a hydrant.  Water had barely been turned on when the hose bursted.  In the meantime Kerin telephoned to the New Rochelle police headquarters and Chief Timmons sent in alarm No. 144.  The Pelham Manor fire department were also called out.  Relief and Huguenot Engine Companies responded promptly.  The Huguenot hose wagon arrived at the scene first.  Immediately following came the Relief engine and wagon and the Huguenot engine.  The Pelham Manor department brought two hose carts and its hook and ladder apparatus.  When the firemen arrived the flames had spread under the entire building and between the walls to the second story.  The nearest hydrant was at the stables about 1500 feet from the club house.  The chemical engine was put into use and two streams of water were poured on the flames but the firemen were unable to save anything.  There was a scarcity of water owing to the small service pipe and this hampered the firemen.  

When it became evident that the entire building, which was of inflammable material, would be destroyed the firement directed their efforts to saving the Potter House and after heroic work succeeded in keeping it intact.  At 2 o'clock the the entire club house was enveloped in flames and half an hour later what was left of it collapsed.  Nothing in the building was saved.  All the valuable furniture, paintings, and decorations were destroyed with the other material.  The entire collection of relics given to the club by Buffalo Bill and used by the 'Huckleberry Indians' was burned with the rest.

Owing to the dense smoke, terrific heat and the extent of the flames before the firemen arrived, the fire was one of the most difficult they have battled against in recent years, and several men were overcome and burned on the hands and arms.  At 4 o'clock the once handsome club house was a mass of smouldering ruins only the tall chimneys and stone tower were left standing.

Scores of club members who live in Pelham Manor, Larchmont and this city joined with the firemen in their work.  Chief Mayhew W. Bronson, of Larchmont, was in the New York clubhouse when superintendent Kerwin telephoned that the Travers Island club house was on fire.  Major George W. Rand, the manager, and Mr. Bronson immediately set out for Pelham Manor.  The fire attracted a large number of the people who live along the Sound.  They went in carriages and automobiles.  Several hundred of them, including many women, visited the club grounds in the afternoon.  

The grounds were put in charge of Chief Bronson, who is a member of the club, and were guarded after the fire by several mounted men from the Bronx.  

The club house was built in 1889.  It was one of the finest and largest in the neighborhood of New York and resembled a Norman chateau.  It was a three story frame structure, with towers and gables, surrounded by piazzas overlooking the Sound and the athletic field.  The loss on the building and its contents is estimated at about $70,000.  The insurance is said to have been $40,000.  This is the second fire the club has had at its home in Pelham Manor.

A few years ago, when the village of Pelham Manor declared for no license, the members of the club found it convenient to comply with the law by moving the bar, which was in the west part of the building, over to the eastern end, which was in New Rochelle.

On Sunday the Board of Governors and several hundred other members of the club went to Pelham Manor to see the ruins.  Nearly all the visitors carried away souvenirs of the fire from the piles of crockery, china and melted silverware which are scattered in the ashes.  The most value relic taken out was a pair of antique andirons."

Source:  FIRE DESTROYS CLUB HOUSE -- Handsome Home of the N. Y. A. C. at Travers Island in Ruins -- WATER SUPPLY INADEQUATE, New Rochelle Pioneer, Jan. 12, 1901, p. 1, col. 4.  

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I previously have written about the New York Athletic Club facilities on Travers Island. Below is a linked listing of such writings.

Tue., Dec. 23, 2014:  The Original Summer Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club in 1889, Shortly After it Was Built.

Mon., Jun. 16, 2014:  1892 Images of Travers Island NYAC with an Important Description of the Clubhouse and Facilities.

Thu., Jan. 23, 2014:  Another Account of the Devastating Fire that Destroyed the Travers Island Clubhouse of New York Athletic Club in 1901

Fri., Sep. 4, 2009:  1901 Newspaper Article About Fire That Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island.

Thu., Apr. 28, 2005:  Ladies' Day on Travers Island in the 19th Century.

Thu., May 26, 2005:  The New York Athletic Club's Opening of the 'New Summer Home' on Travers Island in 1889.

Tue., Jun. 21, 2005:  Life at Travers Island in the 1890s.

Thu., Aug. 11, 2005:  How Dry I Am:  Pelham Goes Dry in the 1890s and Travers Island Is At the Center of a Storm.

Wed., Dec. 21, 2005:  An Early Sketch of the First Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in Pelham.

Thu., Jul. 19, 2007:  Members of the New York Athletic Club Were Duped Into Believing the Club Created a Small Nine-Hole Golf Course in Pelham Manor in 1897.

Fri., Jul. 20, 2007:  Account of Early Baseball in Pelham:  Pelham vs. the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in 1897.

Wed., Nov. 21, 2007:  Baseball on Travers Island During the Summer of 1897.

Thu., Nov. 22, 2007:  August 1896 Description of Cycle Route to Travers Island in Pelham Manor.

Fri., Nov. 23, 2007:  The Festivities of the Huckleberry Indians of the New York Athletic Club Off the Shore of Pelham Manor on July 12, 1896.

Mon., Nov. 26, 2007:  Box Score of a Baseball Game Played on Travers Island in Pelham Manor in July 1896.

Thu., Feb. 7, 2008:  Village Elections in Pelham in 1900 - New York Athletic Club Members Campaign Against the Prohibition Ticket in Pelham Manor.

Mon., Jan. 19, 2009:  Photograph of Members of the New York Athletic Club Shooting Traps on Travers Island in 1911.

Tue., Feb. 17, 2009:  The New York Athletic Club Opens Its New Clubhouse on Travers Island in Pelham in 1888.

Wed., Feb. 18, 2009:  The New York Athletic Club Opens Its New Travers Island Boathouse in 1888.

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009:  The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.

Wed., Mar. 4, 2009:  "Ladies' Day" on Travers Island in Pelham Manor in 1894.

Tue., Mar. 24, 2009:  1897 Photograph of Visitors Streaming to Athletic Outing on Travers Island in Pelham Manor.

Wed., Oct. 28, 2009:  Article About the June 10, 1888 Opening of Travers Island Facility of the New York Athletic Club.

Tue., Aug. 18, 2009:  New York Athletic Club Board of Governors Decided to Mortgage Travers Island in 1895.

Mon., Apr. 12, 2010:  New York Athletic Club Stage Coach Accident Leads to Death of Pelham Manor Man.

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