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, December 25, 2015

Christmas Day Celebrations in the Town of Pelham in 1885

The Town of Pelham, in 1885, was a very different place.  The entire population of the Town was about 3,000 people with most of the population living on City Island.  There were other population concentrations including Bartow (near the old Bartow Station along the Branch Line), Pelham Manor and Prospect Hill, and Pelhamville.  Unpaved country lanes criss-crossed the Town and horse-drawn transportation was the order of the day.

One thing about the Pelham of yore and the Pelham of today remains the same, however.  Much of Pelham experienced the joy of Christmas through the eyes of its youngsters and celebrated the holiday accordingly.  Interestingly, the tiny little settlement of Bartow (also known as "Bartow-on-the-Sound" and the tiny little Town Hall  built by Pelham at Bartow played important roles in the joyous Christmas celebration held in Pelham in 1885, one hundred thirty years ago today.

In 1885, Pelham's Town Hall was a tiny little brick building with a bell tower located on today‚Äôs Shore Road near the site of Pelham Bit Stables / Bronx Equestrian Center in Pelham Bay Park. I have written about that beautiful little Town Hall that was razed during the 1950s on previous occasions.  See

Wed., Dec. 03, 2014:  Pelham Proposed To Build A Town Hall and Post Office in 1857

Tue., May 11, 2010:  Mystery Solved - Pelham Town Hall That Once Stood On Shore Road Was Used as a School

Mon., Mar. 13, 2006:  Two Photographs of Pelham's Town Hall That Once Stood On Shore Road

Bell, Blake A., Pelham's First Town Hall on Shore Road in Pelham Manor, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 35, Sept. 3, 2004, p. 8, col. 1. 

Undated Photograph Showing Pelham Town Hall on Shore Road.

Detail from 1868 Beer's Map of Town of Pelham with Red
Circle Indicating Location of Pelham Town Hall.  NOTE:
Click Image to Enlarge.

Christmas in 1885 also was on a Friday.  Although Pelhamites throughout the Town celebrated with family in their homes early in the day, later in the day a festive shooting match was held at Bartow, a site that is an abandoned ghost town today with no structures remaining except the decrepit remnants of a later-built Bartow Station along the Branch Line tracks that once ran through the center of the settlement.  While a Christmas Day shooting match might strike us, today, as an odd Christmas celebration, the tradition was common in our region during the 19th century.  I have written previously about one such Christmas Day shooting match held in Pelhamville in 1875.  See Tue., Jul. 28, 2009:  Account of Christmas Shooting Matches in 1875 at the Glen-Drake Rifle Range in Pelhamville.  

The shooting match was sponsored by John Secord of Bartow.  Secord was the proprietor of a tiny hotel and restaurant known simply as "John Secord's, Bartow" that was located opposite the railroad depot at Bartow.  John Secord was a local entrepreneur who hustled for business and sponsored a host of events to attract people to his establishment.  He sponsored raffles, pigeon shoots, marksmanship shooting matches, and more.  Secord was an avid fowler himself and competed in many of his own pigeon shoots as well as others held in Eastchester and the surrounding region.  

Some of Secord's pigeon shoots were head-to-head betting matches between gunners who bet up to fifty dollars that they could hit the most of twenty pigeons released for each shooter.  Spectators, of course, wagered heavily on the results as well.  Other of Secord's pigeon shoots were of the "sweepstakes" variety where a large number of gunners paid to enter to compete against one another until a victor was declared.  Once again, spectators wagered heavily on the results.  

Secord's also was used as an occasional meeting place for the Republican Town Committee.  During summers, the facility was a popular stopover for fishermen and sportsmen arriving at Bartow Station on their way to City Island for sport.  

The shooting match held on Christmas Day, 1885 was well-publicized in advance.  Thus, according to a brief account, "the attendance was large."  The results of the match, however, do not seem to have been recorded so that we know them today.

After the Christmas shooting match was over, the Christmas festivities continued.  Pelhamites gathered nearby in the tiny little brick Town Hall building along Shore Road for a special treat.  Two Pelham residents, Michael Hogan and George Rothjen, gave "one of the most enjoyable entertainments given in the town of Pelham" for the benefit of young and old.  They hosted a "Punch and Judy" show in Town Hall.  (Michael Hogan was the Pelham postmaster, at least until his resignation in 1886 when he was replaced by Fred Vickery.)

"Punch and Judy" entertainments have been around for hundreds of years.  The entertainment is a "traditional, popular, and usually very violent puppet show featuring Pulcinella (Mr. Punch) and his wife, Judy.  The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically Mr. Punch and one other character (who usually falls victim to Mr. Punch's club). . . . The various episodes of Punch and Judy are performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy -- often provoking shocked laughter -- and are dominated by the anarchic clowning of Mr. Punch."  See "Punch and Judy" in WIKIPEDIA - The Free Encyclopedia (visited Dec. 20, 2015).  

One hundred thirty years ago this evening, George Rothjen performed the Punch and Judy show.  According to one account, "For over one and a half hours he kept not only the children but the older ones, in one continuous roar of laughter.  Such a night!"  

With the end of the Punch and Judy show, however, the festivities were not complete.  After the puppet show, five Pelhamites sang for the crowd (Misses Johntry and Bowton, Mrs. James Bell and Messrs. Hogan and Rothjen).  After the singing performances, attendees were treated to "a fine display of pictures of the polyopticon."  

The polyopticon was a marvelous contraption that was very popular -- particularly with young people -- during the mid-1880s.  It was an early form of overhead projector, capable of projecting images of items onto a screen.  This allowed attendees at "Polyopticon Parties" to bring their own engravings, advertising cards, color images, and the like to see them projected onto a screen either as a simple amusement or as the basis for an associated lecture.  An advertisement for the wondrous contraption published in 1889 read as follows:


Given as a premium for a club of 15 yearly subscribers at $1.00 each; or, for 10 subscribers and $1.25; or, for 6 subscribers and $2.25 additional.  Sent by express, charges to be paid by the receiver.

This is a wonderful invention whereby views from Newspapers, Magazines and Book illustrations, Portraits, Comic Cuts, Photographs, Chromo Cards, IN ALL THEIR COLORS, Flowers, etc., can be thrown onto a screen in the parlor, enlarged about 400 times.

In the Magic Lantern the display is limited to the glass slides, in the Polyopticon it is practically unlimited, since any small engraving, photograph or drawing may be used.  The instrument serves admirably for parlor use, throwing a disk upon the screen of from four to five feet in diameter.


have come to be very popular with the young folks.  Each guest brings a few of the ordinary picture advertising cards and their photographs, or natural flowers -- whereby an entire change of views can be seen every evening, which would be impossible with the Magic Lantern without a great expense in purchasing new slides for each evening.


which if painted on glass for use with a magic lantern would cost $30.00, are given with each Polyopticon, thus affording a lot ready for use including:

Around the World in 80 Sights; Bible Pictures -- Old and New Testament; Ancient and Modern Statues; Portraits of Prominent Persons; Illustrations from Robinson Crusoe; Illustrations of a Temperance Lesson; Over 100 German figures in Procession and Silhouettes.

We have sent out a large number of these instruments, and know they are found to be perfectly satisfactory over time.  We have received letters from all over the country asking if we would recommend it for exhibition purposes in large halls, etc. etc.  We know that by careful selection of pictures and a little practice, it is possible to make a bright picture circle of six feet across on the screen, but we do not advise nor recommend a Polyopticon where a $100 Stereopticon is wanted.

Price $4.25.  Sent by express, charges to be paid by the receiver."

Source:  THE POLYOPTICON [Advertisement], The Ladies' Home Journal, Dec. 1889, p. 13.  

Though the evening's festivities were fabulous that Christmas night many years ago, the people of Pelham still were not finished even after the magical polyopticon show.  After that show, the women of Bartow served attendees with a round of refreshments.  The refreshments, according to one account, "ended a most Merry Christmas for the children of Bartow."

Whether one hundred and thirty years ago or today, the happy sentiment remains!  Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays, dear Pelham!

Punch and Judy Puppets.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Detail from an Advertisement for a Punch and Judy Show.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Example of a Traditional Punch and Judy Booth.
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

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Below is the text of a pair of brief references to the Christmas celebration in the Town of Pelham in 1885.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.


There were some fine displays of marksmanship at Secord's Bartow, on Christmas Day.  Plenty of notice had been given, and the attendance was large, which kept John in the best humor all day. . . ."

Source: PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 1, 1886, Vol. XVII, No. 850, p. 3, col. 4.  


On Christmas night, at the Town Hall, Bartow, was given one of the most enjoyable entertainments given in the town of Pelham.  Messrs. M. Hogan and George Rothjen, thinking it would be the proper thing to do something for the children's pleasure gave a Punch and Judy show, Mr. Rothjen being the performer, and at this business he is a star.  For over one and a half hours he kept not only the children but the older ones, in one continuous roar of laughter.  Such a night!  There was some very fine singing by the Misses Johntry and Bowton, Mrs. Jas. Bell and Messrs. Hogan and Rothjen, followed by a fine display of pictures of the polyopticon, after which refreshments were served by Mrs. Hogan and Rothjen, and all the ladies of Bartow.  This ended a most Merry Christmas for the children of Bartow."

Source: A MERRY CHRISTMAS AT BARTOWThe Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 1, 1886, Vol. XVII, No. 850, p. 3, col. 4.  

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I have written before about Christmas celebrations in Pelham.  For a few examples, see:

Thu., Dec. 25, 2014:  Christmas in Pelham in 1926.

Fri., Dec. 25, 2009 1906:  Christmas Day Celebration at Christ Church in Pelham.

Mon., Sep. 21, 2009:  January 1882 Account of the 1881 Christmas Festival Held at the Union Sabbath School in Pelhamville.

Tue., Jul. 28, 2009:  Account of Christmas Shooting Matches in 1875 at the Glen-Drake Rifle Range in Pelhamville

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
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