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, February 05, 2016

More on the Glen-Drake Rifle Range Once Located in Pelhamville

In the autumn of 1874, a group of New York State National Guardsmen who were members of the American Rifle Association (the original name of today's National Rifle Association) secured land for a small rifle range that permitted target shooting at 200 yards.  The group was led by Colonel John T. Underhill of the 27th Regiment Infantry, National Guard of the State of New York.  By the following spring, however, it was clear that the range was too small and a new location would have to be secured.  

Colonel Underhill was charged with finding a larger and more suitable site for a rifle range to be used by National Guardsmen for rifle practice, drilling, and encampments.  In a report he prepared on November 29, 1875, Col. Underhill wrote "[a]fter considerable labor and some expense," a site at Pelhamville "was selected and secured, targets at once erected and practice commenced."

The new rifle range, named "Glen-Drake" Rifle Range, opened formally in October, 1875.  Its precise location remains somewhat of a mystery.  Glen Drake appears to have been a specific place within Pelhamville.  Thus, for example, an article published in the September 8, 1891 issue of The Chronicle of Mount Vernon, containing a report about the local water supply stated:

"the New York and Westchester Water Co. own the Hutchinson River below Duryea's Mill Pond down to and south of Glen Drake, so that all the water of the Hutchinson River north of Glen Drake can be cut off at any time.  From Glen Drake to the reservoir of the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company is a distance of a mile; from the source of the Hutchinson River to Glen Drake is four miles."

Source:  Our Water Supply, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 8, 1891, Vol. XXII, No. 1435, p. 2, col. 1.  

Regarding the precise location of the range, another source stated:  "Glen-Drake range is situated two-thirds of a mile north of the depot of the New York and New Haven Railroad at Pelhamville, with a road running in a straight line from the depot to the range."   Source:  "Annual Report of the Adjutant General" in Documents of the Senate of the State of New York Ninety-Ninth Session - 1876, Vol. I -- Nos. 1 to 17 Inclusivepp. 332-33 (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1876) (quoted in full below).  This would place the rifle range, very roughly speaking, alongside today's Fifth Avenue roughly at 6th Street.

In any event, the Glen-Drake Rifle Range quickly became a popular recreational center where shooting matches attracted crowds of spectators.  The range was open free to members of the National Guard for marksmanship training and practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays in 1875.    

I have written about the Glen-Drake Rifle Range in Pelhamville on several occasions.  See:

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

Wed., Apr. 22, 2009:  1877 Account of Competition for De Peyster Medal at the Glen Drake Range in Pelhamville.  

Mon., Apr. 20, 2009:  Only Known Image of the Glen-Drake Rifle Range Near Pelhamville.

Wed., Apr. 01, 2009:  Evidence of a "Glen-Drake" Rifle Range in Pelhamville During the 1870s.  

Only Known Image of the Glen-Drake Rifle Range in Pelhamville.
Note the National Guardsmen Marching in Formation Through the
Gate and the Canvass Targets in the Distance as Well as Tents
on the Grounds of the Range.  The Structure on the Hill in the
Distance Just Above the Upper Left Corner of the Gate May Be
the Little Schoolhouse that Once Stood Where Today's Hutchinson
Elementary School Stands.  Source:  Starr, George C., The Forest 
and Stream Hand-Book for Riflemen, p. 7 (NY, NY:  J. B. Ford & Co., 1876).

It is not yet known how long the American Rifle Association operated the Glen-Drake Rifle Range in Pelhamville.  It clearly was in operation in 1875, 1876, and 1877.  Later references are hard to come by.  The Bromley map of the area in 1881 makes no reference to such a range, nor does the Julius Bien map of the region published in 1893.  One thing is clear from a host of accounts of shooting matches during the three-year period the range is known to have operated:  it was a popular and busy shooting range located in the rural reaches of tiny little Pelhamville, New York.  

*          *          *          *          *

Below is the transcribed text of a number of items that shed further light on the history of the Glen-Drake Rifle Range once located in Pelhamville.

YONKERS, November 30, 1875.


Inspector of Rifle Practice, Fifth Division:

COLONEL -- I have the honor to transmit herewith my report of the rifle practice of this brigade.  Under the directions of the brigade commander, I have been engaged in perfecting a system of rifle practice, based upon your instructions, and the orders which have from time to time been issued by the General Inspector of Rifle Practice, but, owing to the recent date of my appointment as brigade inspector, and to the delays incidental to a proper acquaintance with the conditions of the various armories, etc., scattered, as this brigade is, over so large an area of country, I have not been able as yet to put it in effect.  Much preparatory work has, however, been done in awakening interest in target practice, with excellent results.  Two efficient ranges have been established, besides that of the Poughkeepsie Rifle Association, viz.:  The Glen Drake range at Pelhamville, Westchester county, and the Morsemere range at Yonkers, in the same county.

The establishment of the Glen Drake range is due to the energy of Colonel John T. Underhill, commanding the 27th regiment, assisted by the officers of his command, and certain influential citizens of the neighborhood.

Much irregular, and some regular, practice has been had by the members of the 27th Regiment, under the management of Captain A. W. Peck, I. R. P., the results of which, so far as they can be tabulated, are herewith transmitted, together with a special report from Colonel Underhill, for your information.  I fully indorse [sic] all that is therein said for the capabilities of this range, which I think is unusually well adapted for the use of the National Guard, and I feel sure that in y next annual report I shall have the pleasure of recording a great advance in the efficiency of this regiment.

The Morsemere range has been established by an association of gentlemen, residents of Yonkers, who have kindly thrown it open to the use of the National Guard, who come there in uniform.

Under the able management of Captain Douglas Smyth, I. R. P. 16th Battalion, acting under orders from Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Cooley, a great work has already been done in increasing the efficiency of that command, the results of which are shown in his report, which I take pride in transmitting.


Besides these two ranges, so well established, as to warrant their recognition as official ranges of this brigade, it gives me pleasure to refer to a number of temporary ranges, which have been established at different places, within the limits of this brigade, prominent among which is the range at Goshen, Orange county, which has been established by the energy of Captain R. C. Coleman, I. R. P., 19th Battalion, where some good work has been done.

To Colonel Dickey, of the 19th Battalion, great credit is due for the choice he has made of an officer so pre-eminently qualified for an inspector of rifle practice as Captain R. C. Coleman.


Besides those entitled to wear the Marksman's Badge, it is proposed to establish in this brigade a corps of sharpshooters, by a still higher test of skill, at all ranges, up to and including 600 yards, to be made up of regimental and battalion corps, the details of which are soon to be set forth in a general brigade order.

I have the honor to remain, Colonel, 

Very respectfully, 

Your obedient servant,


Major and Inspector Rifle Practice, 7th Brigade."

Source:  "Annual Report of the Adjutant General" in Documents of the Senate of the State of New York Ninety-Ninth Session - 1876, Vol. I -- Nos. 1 to 17 Inclusive, pp. 326-27 (Albany, NY:  Weed, Parsons and Company, 1876).  

TUCKAHOE, November 29, 1875.


Major and I. R. P., 7th Brigade, S.N.Y.N.G.

MAJOR -- In accordance with your request, I have the honor to report the progress of rifle practice in my regiment for the past year has been rapid, and the interest evinced by the rank and file steadily increases.  In the fall of 1874, a number of the officers organized and incorporated a club for the purpose of promoting and encouraging this most essential part of the school of the soldier, under the title of the American Rifle Association.  A two hundred yard range was secured and practice commenced.  Matches were shot on Christmas, 1874, New Year's day, 1875, Washington's Birthday, July 4th and Thanksgiving Day.  In the spring of this year the range there occupied was found to be inadequate, and the association empowered me, as its President, to secure a larger and more commodious location.

After considerable labor and some expense, the site at present occupied was selected and secured, targets at once erected and practice commenced.  

Glen-Drake range is situated two-thirds of a mile north of the depot of the New York and New Haven Railroad at Pelhamville, with a road running in a straight line from the depot to the range.  [NOTE:  This would place the rifle range, very roughly speaking, alongside today's Fifth Avenue roughly at 6th Street.]  Pelhamville is thirty-five minutes' ride from the city of New York, and the fare by excursion ticket is seventy-five cents.  The range was formally opened in October, the 27th Regiment being present, since which time matches have been shot on every Saturday.  The prizes for which these matches were held have for the most part been offered by prominent residents of Westchester county, except in one instance, that of the De Peyster medal.  This medal, without doubt the finest in the possession of any rifle association, was offered by Major-General I. Watts De Peyster, to encourage off-hand shooting.  The conditions under which it is shot for are as follows:  Only members of the National Guard in uniform are allowed to compete; distance 300 yards, 7 scoring shots; position, off-hand; rifle, Remington military, open sights.  

This has been shot for three times, Captain Robbins, I. R. P. Seventh Regiment, winning it once, Lieutenant Gee, Eighth Regiment, winning it once, and Sergeant Backhofen, of the Forty-seventh Regiment, winning it at the last match, held on Thanksgiving Day.

The present range admits of practice at 600 yards, shooting from west to east, a natural bank or hill forming the epaulement in rear of targets, of which six adjustable, canvass, Wimbledon style except dummmy, are now in operation.  By slightly changing firing point a range of 800 yards is secured.

It is the intention of the management to erect a spacious building for the accommodation of visitors, with a small armory and apartments for range-keeper attached, and to inclose [sic] with a suitable fence such portions of the grounds as will secure them from the intrusion of malicious persons and prevent all danger.

This can only be done by a liberal appropriation on the part of the State for the purpose, and, having once finished this part of the work, there can be no good reason why the association should not be self-sustaining.  

The ground also affords ample provision for encampments of regiments, there being a large level plain on which regimental or even brigade drills may be held.  This fact alone, taking into consideration its accessibility from New York and its retirement from all evil surroundings, should bring it favorably to the earnest attention of the State authorities.

All of which is respectfully submitted.


Colonel Twenty-seventh Regiment Infantry, N.G.S.N.Y."

Source:  "Annual Report of the Adjutant General" in Documents of the Senate of the State of New York Ninety-Ninth Session - 1876, Vol. I -- Nos. 1 to 17 Inclusive, pp. 332-33 (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1876).



The announcement that the De Peyster medal, which was presented a few years ago to the American Rifle Association, to be shot for only by members of the National Guard, was to be contested for again yesterday at Glen Drake Range, Pelhamville, Westchester County, brought together about 15 Militiamen.  The regiments represented were the Eighth, Twenty-seventh, and Forty-seventh.  The conditions were as follows:  Distance, 300 yards; position, offhand; seven shots.  At the last contest the trophy, which is of gold and valued at $150, was won by Lieut. J. A. Gee, of the Eighth Regiment, of this City.  An interesting and close contest had been expected, but to the surprise of many the day was consumed with a series of angry disputes, which finally terminated in a hearing before a Justice of the Peace.  The practice has been to allow the winner of the badge to retain it from match to match, until finally won for the third time; but this rule, it seems, the association yesterday determined to depart from, and when Lieut. Gee appeared on the range Major Coburn, of the Twenty-seventh Regiment, the executive officer of the day, demanded that he should deliver it up before the competition began.  This Lieut. Gee peremptorily  declined to do until the contested was concluded and the winner decided upon.  Major Coburn then refused to allow the match to proceed until the trophy had been handed over to him as the representative of the American Rifle Association.  A disgraceful quarrel ensued, during the course of which some very strong language was used, Major Coburn at one time threatening to knock Lieut. Gee down.  In anticipation of Lieut. Gee's refusal to surrender the badge a Constable had been kept in waiting all the afternoon, and when the Lieutenant prepared to leave the grounds he was placed under arrest.  He was taken before a Justice of the Peace in the village, when an affidavit was made by J. M. Jarvis, acting Secretary of the association, charging the Lieutenant with wrongfully retaining in his possession the badge, which was the property of that organization.  In the court-room the wrangling was resumed, all of the National Guardsmen taking part in the dispute.  They discussed the matter in no mild terms with the Justice, who finally ordered the Constable to search the Lieutenant and take the badge from him.  This having been done and the badge handed over to the officers of the association, Lieut. Gee made a charge against Major Coburn of threatening to knock him down.  The members of the National Guard who went to Pelhamville to shoot a fair match, as they returned home were loud in their denunciations of the persons who control the range, and who by their trickery deprived them of a chance of honestly contesting for the trophy.  On Monday next the several regimental teams of the Fifth Division, N.G.S.N.Y., will go into camp at the Glen Drake Range for rifle practice."


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