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, January 18, 2016

The Great Battle of Colonial Avenue In Pelham

Most Pelhamites know that the Battle of Pelham ended on October 18, 1776 as American troops crossed the Hutchinson River via the old Boston Post Road (today's Colonial Avenue) and British and German troops ended their pursuit at the river.  The British and Germans encamped along both sides of the road all the way to the New Rochelle Border.  That night, American and British artillery units exchanged fire doing little damage to each other.

One might think that those artillery exchanges are what we know today as "the Great Battle of Colonial Avenue."  One would be wrong in assuming so, however.

The Great Battle of Colonial Avenue began in about 1891 and lasted decades, at least through the 1920s.  It was fought between the Village of Pelham Manor and the then Village of Pelham (known today as Pelham Heights).  

In 1891, when the forefathers of today's Village of Pelham Manor decided to incorporate, they also hoped to pull a fast one.  They incorporated using a northern village boundary at the southern edge of today's Colonial Avenue -- not the center of the street as is so often done when setting boundaries between two adjacent municipal entities.  

This decision meant that all of the old Boston Post Road (today's Colonial Avenue) sat in an unincorporated section just outside the boundary of the new Village of Pelham Manor.  Thus, the Pelham Manor founders reasoned, their new village would not be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the ancient roadway.  That roadway was notoriously crooked, deeply-rutted, and both difficult and expensive to keep in good order.  

The Village of Pelham Manor realized that once a "new" village decided to incorporate adjacent to it, that new village likely would take the old Boston Post Road and all its maintenance headaches and expenses.  Several years later, that is exactly what happened.

The tiny little "Village of Pelham" (a village that at the time encompassed only today's Pelham Heights) incorporated in 1896.  The local newspaper later recognized Pelham Manor's ruse.  It wrote:  "We can picture the knowing winks of the founders as they cleverly relieved themselves of any responsibility for the maintenance of the road, forcing their neighbors in Pelham Heights to assume this when they incorporated some years later."

The Great Battle of Colonial Avenue was underway.

Pelham Heights felt that Pelham Manor seemed smug about its supposed "victory."  Soon, however, Pelham Heights turned the tables.  

As traffic regulation and street lighting became more sophisticated throughout the Town of Pelham, today's Colonial Avenue remained notoriously poorly lit and somewhat confusing from a "traffic regulation" perspective.  Somewhat hypocritically, most complaints came from Pelham Manor residents although the Village of Pelham Manor took the position that maintenance, lighting, and traffic regulation was the responsibility of Pelham Heights.  Pelham Heights, however, wasn't about to improve the lighting and traffic regulation on a street it believed it "shared" with the Village of Pelham Manor.

Moreover, pioneers soon sought to build Pelham Manor homes along the SOUTHERN  side of Colonial Avenue.  For the first time, Pelham Manor officials realized that the "knowing winks" of their forbears (when they placed the village boundary at the southern edge of Colonial Avenue) may have made it extraordinarily difficult to arrange water and sewer service beneath the roadway for homes adjacent to the roadway.  Actually, it made it impossible (absent entreating with the enemy, Pelham Heights).  

Village officials from both villages were unable to reach agreement to permit the laying of sewer and water lines beneath Colonial Avenue.  It took a high level pow-wow between former United States Congressman Benjamin L. Fairchild, a founder of Pelham Heights, and Theodore Hill, then counsel for the Village of Pelham Manor to reach a settlement that allowed service connections and, thus, the construction of homes along the southern side of today's Colonial Avenue.  

1950 Map of the Town of Pelham.
NOTE: Click Image to Enlarge.

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The Colonial avenue fiasco has continued long enough.  Let's make an end of it for the best interests of the taxpayers.  Mayor Joseph N. Greene in answer to a letter fro a Pelham Sun reader, which was published in last week's issue, says that overtures have been repeatedly made to the Village of Pelham to relocate the boundary lines of the villages along the center of Colonial avenue, but the latter village has turned a deaf ear to those proposals.

There have been numerous complaints about poor lighting and traffic regulation along this avenue which although it is on the southern boundary line wholly within the village of Pelham, most of these complaints come from Pelham Manor.  Mayor Greene answers by saying that Pelham Heights won't agree to divide the roadway.  

If our recollection is correct it was the Village of Pelham Manor which first established its boundary line along the southern line of the old Boston Post road, now Colonial avenue.  We can picture the knowing winks of the founders as they cleverly relieved themselves of any responsibility for the maintenance of the road, forcing their neighbors in Pelham Heights to assume this when they incorporated some years later.

It has always been a thorn in Pelham Manor's side.  A decade or so ago, the Village Fathers found themselves unable to give sewer and water service to householders who had established themselves within Pelham Manor, yet their homes fronted on Pelham Heights' highway.  It was only through the counsel of former Congressman Ben L. Fairchild, then village attorney for Pelham, and Theodore Hill, then counsel for Pelham Manor, that an amicable settlement was reached to provide for service connections.

Had the founders of the Village of Pelham Manor been equipped with Mayor Greene's foresight, their little coup might not have appeared to be so amusing.  

At a recent discussion the trustees of Pelham Heights expressed an opinion that Colonial avenue was well lighted, and that additional traffic regulation was not necessary.

However, Mayor Greene's suggestion for a relocation of the village boundary lines is a point well taken and should be considered by the Pelham Heights trustees."

Source:  LET'S MAKE AN END OF IT, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 9, 1929, p. 2, cols. 1-2.  

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