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.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Ruffians Attacked the Branch Line Train in Pelham in 1878

During the 1870s, the tiny settlement known as Pelham Manor was in the midst of its early, initial development.  The New Haven Branch Line had only commenced passenger service in the area with stations at Bartow and Pelham Manor within the Town of Pelham a few years earlier.  With the coming of the railroad to the region came an easier mode of transportation for so-called tramps, thieves, burglars, and ruffians.  

Bartow, Pelham Manor, and New Rochelle began to experience a spate of burglaries and crimes -- a crime spree that eventually played an important role in the creation of the "Pelham Manor Protective Cllub" that, through homeowner's dues, paid for night watchmen to patrol the region, paid bounties for the arrest of "tramps," and ran suspicious strangers out of town.  

Before the establishment of the Pelham Manor Protective Club in 1881, however, the region was rife with bandits.  During only a period of a "few months" in late 1877 and January, 1878, every single ticket office on the New Haven Branch Line was broken into and robbed including the Pelham Manor Depot which was robbed on Saturday, January 26, 1877 -- one of many such burglaries of that station.  To make matters even more dire, at about the same time the ticket office at Bartow Station in Pelham had been robbed three times and the Post Office in the same settlement had been "repeatedly robbed."

Only a few days later, on Wednesday, January 30, 1878, a band of ruffians believed to be from Eastchester committed a shocking attack on a New Haven Branch Line Train as it passed through the tiny neighborhood of Bartow in the Town of Pelham.  At about 2:30 a.m. the "Washington Night Express" train of the New York, New-Haven, and Hartford Railway was passing from New Rochelle through Pelham toward its final destination of the Harlem River where it was scheduled to arrive at 2:45 a.m.

As the train passed through Pelham near Bartow Station, suddenly a hail of stones struck the cab of the train, smashing its windows and injuring the fireman.  Another hail of stones struck the rear car of the train targeting the brakeman, though he was not hurt.  The conductor had the engineer whistle-signal a stop of the train.  It was brought to a halt and backed up to the site of the attack as the engineer, brakeman, conductor, and others assembled weapons to battle the attackers.  According to one account:   

"From the pertinacious way in which the attacking party held their ground, and the reluctant manner in which they retreated, it is believed that they designed a bold combat with the train hands."

The train men lit lanterns and climbed off the train with their guns.  They could make out seven men lingering in the darkness of the woods as the ruffians began jeering them.  The train men started firing shots at their attackers but soon realized the futility of the endeavor, climbing back onto their train for the brief trip to Harlem River.  Though the train had been damaged and the fireman had been injured, the attack had been for nought.  

1877 American Passenger Steam Locomotive Likely Similar
to the One Attacked in Pelham on January 30, 1878.  Source:
Maw, W. H. & Dredge, J., eds., The Engineering Journal:  
A Weekly Journal, Apr. 6, 1877, p. 267.

*          *          *          *          *

Immediately below is the text of an article published several days after the attack on the New Haven Branch Line train as it passed through Pelham.  The text is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

"Attack on a Railroad Train.
A NIGHT EXPRESS ON THE HARLEM BRANCH ROAD ASSAILED WITH STONES -- THE ATTACKING PARTY PURSUED TO THE WOODS.  -- Seven men made an attack on the Washington Night Express train of the New York, New-Haven, and Hartford Railway, at Bartow Station, on the Harlem Branch Road, at about 2:30 o'clock, Wednesday morning.  This train is due at the New Rochelle Junction at 2:20 A. M., and reaches Harlem River at 2:45 A. M.  As it was passing Bartow volleys of stones and other missiles were hurled against the engine cab and at the brakeman on the rear car.  The cab windows were smashed, and a stone struck the fireman, James Goodfellow, on one of his arms with such force as to disable it.  The brakeman, William Koers, who was also made an object of attack, passed through it without harm.  A short distance beyond the station the train slackened its speed before crossing the draw of the bridge over East Chester Creek, and here the Conductor, Mr. D. B. Marshall, was made aware of the attack, the engineer having whistled 'down brakes' and slowed down so fast as to indicate an intention to make a full stop.  Conductor Marshall directed the train to be run back to the place where the attack had been made, and at once mustered the train hands with such weapons as could be found, to give battle to the attacking party.  It was found that the ruffians had taken to the woods, whence they sent back jeering words to the conductor and the men of his party.  The conductor, engineer, and brakemen, having lanterns in their hands, could see some of the fellows, and think they could identify some of them.  Shots were fired in the direction they took but elicited only mocking remarks.  Seeing that nothing could be done, the conductor went on with his train.  From the pertinacious way in which the attacking party held their ground, and the reluctant manner in which they retreated, it is believed that they designed a bold combat with the train hands, but were overawed by the determined and resolute action of their opposers.  The attacking party are believed to have headquarters in the village of East Chester, which is about a mile above where the train was assaulted.  They were in Bartow early on Tuesday evening.  At about 8 o'clock they drank at the Bartow Hotel and went off.  At about 9:30 o'clock they returned and drank till about half an hour before the night express was due, when they again disappeared.  The hotel-keeper at Bartow says he knows two of the gang.  The ticket office at Bartow has been robbed thrice lately, and the Post Office also has been repeatedly robbed.  Every ticket office on the branch road has been broken into and robbed within a few months.  That at Pelham Manor was robbed on last Saturday night.  On one of these occasions of burglary at Bartow a boat was stolen, and the next day it was found in East Chester Creek, not far from the town dock."

Source:  Attack on a Railroad Train, The Brewster Standard [Brewster, NY], Feb. 1, 1878, p. 3, col. 5.  

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home