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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

1913 Article About the First Six Years of Today's Pelham Country Club

The history of "Country Clubs" in Pelham can be confusing.  Pelham residents were among the founders of the earliest such club, known by various names including the "Country Club," the "Country Club at Pelham," and the "Westchester Country Club, in 1881.  The grounds of the Club were on both sides of today's Shore Road on the property northeast and adjacent to the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum property (behind the carriage house of the Bartow-Pell Mansion, so to speak).  The clubhouse was the old Suydam home known as "Oakshade."  Once the lands leased by the club were acquired by New York City and became part of the new Pelham Bay Park, the club moved to a new facility on Throggs Neck in the late 1880s.

On June 10, 1888, the New York Athletic Club officially opened its first clubhouse complex on Travers Island in Pelham Manor.  Only a year later, on June 8 1889, the club officially opened its newly-built clubhouse.  That facility, known as the "big house," burned in a devastating fire on January 5, 1901.  The New York Athletic Club replaced the destroyed facility with the clubhouse that remains an integral part of the club complex today.

During the 1890s, Pelham was gripped with golf fever.  On November 9, 1895, a group that called itself the Pelham Manor Golf Club and included members of John Cunningham Hazen's family including Mrs. Hazen (of Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls in Pelham Manor) opened a tiny nine-hole golf course on Prospect Hill.  The club does not seem to have operated for more than a year or two, although there are several accounts of golf played on the course.

During a meeting held on May 12, 1898, Pelham residents organized what is known today as the "First Pelham Country Club" that eventually became today's Wykagyl Country Club.  Within a short time, the club first constructed six holes of golf -- then a total of nine holes -- on land along today's Fowler Avenue, using a residence on the land as a clubhouse.  By 1904, the club secured land to open a larger course in New Rochelle and evolved into today's Wykagyl Country Club.

On August 27, 1901, a "country club" intended to permit field activities, bathing in Long Island sound, and yachting activities opened not far from today's New York Athletic Club facility on Travers Island.  Called the "Pelham Field and Marine Club," the club was intended as "a Field Club when the tide was out and the flats bare, a Marine Club when the tide was in."  The club languished and only operated for about three years.  

In the spring of 1908, fifty Pelhamites created the club known today as the Pelham Country Club.  Only men were permitted as members, although their female family members were permitted to prepare and attend certain "entertainments" and social functions.  The club was located along Iden Avenue and its clubhouse was the old Henry Iden homestead along today's Iden Avenue.  The club grew soon outgrew the small Iden facility.  Work began on a new clubhouse, the main portion of which still stands and forms the Pelham Country Club clubhouse today.  That clubhouse opened in July 1913.

I have written before about the storied history of today's Pelham Country Club and some of the most famous events that have occurred there.  See, e.g.:

Mon., Sep. 26, 2005:  Brief History of The Pelham Country Club Published in 1954.

Fri., Apr. 10, 2009:  Announcement That the Pelham Country Club Bought the Bonnie Brae Property Necessary for its New Golf Course in 1920.

Fri., Jan. 01, 2016:  Ringing in the New Year of 1934 in Fine Pelham Fashion.

Bell, Blake A., Professional Golf's "Greatest Match" Was Played in Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 49, Dec. 10, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

Today's article transcribes an early article published in The Pelham Sun on December 30, 1913, only a few months after the club opened its new facility and clubhouse that still stands.  The article provides a fascinating glimpse of what the club was like before its world-class golf course opened in 1920.  

The article makes clear that in 1913 the club was most proud of its baseball team that had five winning seasons in its first six years.  The team played on a baseball field built on the club's new grounds.  Its location is unknown to this author today, though it likely was in an area now encompassed by today's golf course.  The article also is interesting because it included a sketch of the clubhouse as it looked only months after its completion in 1913.

Source:  Phelps, George A., The Pelham Country Club,
The Pelham Sun, Dec. 30, 1913, p. 8, col. 1.

"The Pelham Country Club
By George A. Phelps.

Considered from a retrospective standpoint it is difficult to believe that those interested in the formation of the Pelham Country Club, now in its sixth year of age, which was accomplished as a result of considerable effort spread over several months, ever dreamed that their fondest hopes would be fulfilled to the extent that has been the case.  That the Pelham Country Club, however, has enjoyed its remarkable growth is due chiefly to the enthusiastic interest and support accorded to it by the residents in the Pelhams as well as to the constantly increasing population of the town.  

The club started in the spring of 1908 with a membership of exactly fifty, the number which was originally decided upon by the founders as necessary in order to insure the institution's success.  The present enrollment includes 127 resident, 53 non-resident and 3 Army and Navy members, certainly an increase the proportion of which would be just cause for gratification to any club.

The first home of the club was the original Iden house, the building and grounds being offered to the club by the late Mr. Henry Iden on most liberal terms, and it would have been difficult for the club to have made such a successful start had it not been for the personal interest taken in the club's welfare by Mr. Iden.  Within three years' time the old club house and grounds which embraced four tennis courts and a makeshift ball field were outgrown with the result that a more commodious plant was found necessary whereby plans for the present quarters were finally decided upon.  The Witherbee Real Estate and Improvement Company were quick to see the advantages which would be derived to the community from the introduction of the club into its present property and a most liberal contract was made between that company and the club, as the result of which the new building was opened last July.  The grounds used for athletic purposes, including as they do an excellent turf baseball field, six dirt and six turf tennis courts together with a skating pond.  In the club building itself it is possible to indulge in exercise by means of the squash court and bowling alleys.

The architectural character of the exterior of the club building itself is a Dutch Colonial adaptation while the interior is of such arrangement as to permit the accommodation of entertainments and functions of varying sizes; in this connection it is notable that the building has been engaged by organizations on several occasions for entertainment purposes.

The architect of the new building was Mr. George S. Chappell, of the firm of Ewing & Chappell, of the firm of Ewing & Chappell, New York City, who is also vice-president of the club, and chairman of the entertainment committee.  The contractors for the club building were Smith Brothers, while to the New York Inter-Urban Development Company of Mount Vernon was entrusted the ground development.

The club has taken its place as one of the leading institutions of the Pelhams and it seems to be the general opinion that its presence has filled a long felt want in certain directions, and that through its existence the social life of the community has been decided[ly] enhanced.  In addition to the regular bi-weekly entertainments that are held at the club there are also annual features such as the March play, the baseball dinner and other events which are peculiar to the club itself.

The athletic life of the Pelham Country Club has been a source of considerable enjoyment to its members to who the success of the various athletic teams furnished a cause for pride; the baseball team in particular, captained during the past season by Mr. Gerald Barry, has a record of five highly successful winning seasons out of the past six years.  In tennis the club met and defeated in a 'round robin' doubles tournament the teams representing the Apawamis Golf, the Field Club of Greenwich, holding as the result the handsome silver trophy which is to be played for during the next three years, this contest being of the utmost interest chiefly owing to its 'round robin' character.  During the winter season the bowling alleys enjoy the greatest popularity owing in part to the excellent quality of the alleys themselves.

Although membership in the club can be held only by men, it is exceedingly fortunate for the welfare of the institution that the ladies have at all times expressed a willingness to enthusiastically co-operate with the efforts of the club members, and many of the most delightful entertainments that form part of the history of the club life, have been due entirely to the untiring efforts of the members' 'better halves.'

The officers and committees of the club are as follows:  President, George A. Phelps; Vice-President, George S. Chappell; Treasurer, Manderville Mellalley; Secretary, A. H. Townley."

Source:  Phelps, George A., The Pelham Country Club, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 30, 1913, p. 8, col. 1.

Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."

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