Laying of the Cornerstone of the First Manor Club Clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day in 1887
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The Manor Club, located at 1023 Esplanade in Pelham Manor, is a cultural, civic and social club for women. Although it had its beginnings in the 1870s, it was not organized formally until January 10, 1882.
The precise origins of the club, unfortunately, are shrouded in the mist of time. Some believe that in 1878, only five years after the Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights Association formed to develop the area, a few local residents began gathering socially in local homes. This group, with no organizational structure, is believed to have evolved into the Manor Club. See The Manor Club, THE HISTORY OF THE MANOR CLUB, p. 6 (Pelham Manor, NY: 1973). See also Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, pp. 160-61 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).
Despite such humble beginnings, what these early residents of Pelham Manor crafted has since become a social and cultural force in Pelham.
The “Reorganization” of the Club in 1882
On January 10, 1882, “the greater part of the residents” of Pelham Manor gathered at the home of Mr. E.E. Hitchcock. See id. Their purpose was to “reorganize” the Manor Club which, for some unknown reason, “had formally been disbanded at a meeting held December 9, 1881” according to the minutes of the January 10 meeting. Id. A history of the club published in 1973 says that during the “reorganizational” meeting:
“a constitution and by-laws were drawn up and unanimously adopted. Mr. John H. Dey, temporary chairman of the meeting, appointed a committee to nominate the officers of the new club and said officers were elected by acclamation. This new constitution provided that the offices of vice president and treasurer must be filled by ladies.” Id.
Early meeting minutes suggest that the club held monthly meetings in various members’ homes. Entertainment included recitations, singing and – even as early as 1882 – simple plays such as “a serio-comic representation of Oscar Wilde’s Dream”. Id.
Efforts to Influence School Elections Prompted Creation of a Clubhouse
There is a fascinating story about the origins of the Manor Club’s first clubhouse. According to William Barnett, a member of the original Club and an early Club historian, it seems that Pelham Manor residents were unhappy with their lack of influence in local school affairs. They decided to acquire lands, erect a clubhouse and give all members a "freehold interest" in order to qualify all members (including women) to vote as property owners during school elections.
It appears that residents of Pelhamville (the area north of the New Haven line) dominated school affairs. In the fall of 1882, residents of Pelham Manor supported one of their own, Mr. George H. Reynolds, as a candidate for the school board. At about this time, it was “suggested that lands be purchased under the auspices of the Club and freehold interest conveyed therein to each member, in this way qualifying all members (including the ladies) to vote at school elections.” Id., p. 7.
In effect, Pelham Manor residents had formed a plan to stuff the ballot box in school elections. To implement that plan, however, they needed a large number of landowners. Common ownership of land set aside for a new clubhouse seemed to be the perfect solution. According to a history of the Club prepared by Mrs. Earle E. Bradway:
"In May 1883 the Club voted to purchase, for three hundred dollars, two lots of land on the Esplanade, numbers 161 and 162. In order to effectuate the object of the purchase, it was desirable that an incorporate institution should first take title to the land from Mrs. [Robert C.] Black and then convey undivided interests therein to the voters. Accordingly, Mr. Robert C. Black, Mr. John H. Dey, Mr. W.R. Lamberton, Mr. George H. Reynolds and Mr. G. Osmar Reynolds signed and filed articles of association under the provisions of an Act of the Legislature passed in 1875, and on the 28th day of May 1883 became incorporated under the name of the Manor Club. This incorporated club in June 1883 took title to the land referred to and carried out the intention of the purchase by conveying life interests to the several members of the old Manor Club.” Id.
At a meeting of the club held on June 7, 1883, members voted to build a permanent clubhouse. Mrs. Robert C. Black, whose family founded the settlement and owned large swaths of land in the area, donated a lot on the Esplanade as the site for the new clubhouse.
During the summer of 1887, the Club raised $10,000 by subscription to fund construction of the new clubhouse. Club members selected Pelham resident F. Charles Merry as the architect. He designed a lovely shingle-style building with a large auditorium in the center and a deep “piazza” (porch) that surrounded nearly the entire building.
The Laying of the Cornerstone of the First Clubhouse in 1887
On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1887, a crowd gathered for the laying of the cornerstone of the Manor House, the new clubhouse. The Order of Exercises for the ceremony suggests that those who participated believed that they were shaping the history of their village – three of the speakers addressed the following topics: “History of Pelham Manor”, “The Early History of The Manor Club”, and “The Later History of The Manor Club”. See Order of Exercises at the Laying of the Corner Stone of the Manor House at Pelham Manor, N.Y., on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, 1887 At 10 o’clock, A.M. (Handbill in Memory Book of the Manor Club). Construction proceeded smoothly and the new clubhouse opened in June 1888.
A brief announcement of the cornerstone laying appeared in one New York City newspaper. The reference read as follows:
"SUBURBAN NEWS. . . .
A NEW CLUB-HOUSE AT PELHAM.
The Manor Club of Pelham Manor, in Westchester County, is erecting a very picturesque and substantial club-house to be called the Manor House, from plans furnished by Mr. F. Carles Merry. The material is the rough stone found upon the place, and it has been treated in a simple but very effective manner. The Club subscribed $10,000 for building purposes during the summer, and broke ground this fall. Yesterday the corner-stone was laid by Mrs. Robert C. Black with appropriate ceremonies."
Source: SUBURBAN NEWS. . . . New York. A NEW CLUB-HOUSE AT PELHAM, The Evening Post [NY, NY], Nov. 25, 1887, p. 3, col. 5.
Immediately below is the program entitled "ORDER OF EXERCISES" provided at the laying of the cornerstone of the Manor Club clubhouse on November 24, 1887. Below the image I have transcribed the text of the program.
"ORDER OF EXERCISES AT THE LAYING OF THE Corner-Stone of the Manor House, At PELHAM MANOR, N.Y. ON THANKSGIVING DAY, NOV. 24, 1887, At 10 O'Clock, A.M.
1. INVOCATION, by the Rev. Charles Higbee, Rector of Christ Church.
2. CONGRATULATORY REMARKS,.....Mr. Henry W. Taft, President.
4. HISTORY OF PELHAM MANOR,.......Mr. David M. Johnson.
5. THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE MANOR CLUB,.......Rev. Henry Randall Waite.
7. THE LATER HISTORY OF THE MANOR CLUB,.......Mr. Wm. E. Barnett.
[NOTE. -- Should the weather prove stormy or chilly, the proceedings up to this point will take place at the residence of Mr. Dey -- the procession thence proceeding to the site of the Manor House for the purpose of laying the corner-stone. The architect, Mr. F. Carles Merry, will supervise any arrangements necessary at the building.)
LAYING OF THE CORNER-STONE.
8. ANNOUNCEMENT OF CONTENTS, WITH ANY PARTICULARS, Mr. Robert C. Black.
9. LAYING OF THE CORNER-STONE,.......Mrs. Robert C. Black.
10. POEM,............Mr. Wm. Allen Smith.
12. VOLUNTEER REMARKS, as may be invited by the President.
13. THE LORD'S PRAYER, AND BENEDICTION, Rev. D. N. Freeland, Pastor of the Huguenot Memorial Church.
Mr. Charles F. Roper and Mr. Wm. Allen Smith have kindly consented to take charge of the singing.
All former and present members of the Club, any residents of the Manor, and all to whom this Order of Exercises is addressed, are cordially invited to be present on this occasion.
By order of the Board of Directors,
ROBERT C. BLACK, )
JOHN H. DEY )
NEW YORK, Nov. 21st, 1887."
The new Manor House that opened in June 1888 was two stories in height plus a basement. The building was eighty feet by sixty-five feet. On the first floor was the "Main Room," 30 x 32 feet with a stage that was sixteen feet deep and with an inglenook (a fireplace corner) on the south side of the room, 7 x 16 feet. The first floor also included a billiard room, 16 x 28 feet, a card room, 16 x 20 feet, and: a gentleman's dressing room, a "green room," kitchen, and pantries. The second floor included a ladies' dressing room, a stage dressing room and gallery. In the basement there was a bowling alley. See COUNTY NEWS, The Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Jun. 23, 1888, Vol. XLIV, No. 12, p. 3, cols. 3-4.
Though the original Manor House of the Manor Club was razed to make room for today's clubhouse opened in 1922, the original Manor House cornerstone laid by Mrs. Robert C. Black on November 24, 1887 with its time capsule contents remains part of the building today.
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I have written about the Manor Club and its history on a number of occasions. See, e.g.:
Bell, Blake A., Early History of the Manor Club, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 20, May 14, 2004, p. 12, col. 2.
Tue., Dec. 13, 2005: The Manor Club's First Clubhouse Built in 1887-1888.
Wed., Dec. 28, 2005: The Mystery of the "Manor Club Girl" That Set Pelham Tongues Wagging in 1913.
Fri., Aug. 4, 2006: Early Images of the Original and Current Clubhouse Structures of the Manor Club in the Village of Pelham Manor, New York.
Mon., Feb. 15, 2010: Early History of the Manor Club in the Village of Pelham Manor.
Thu., Sep. 25, 2014: The Manor Club's Celebration of its Golden Anniversary in 1932.