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, March 15, 2016

More on New York City's Plans to Annex Pelham and Lower Westchester County in 1870

The tiny little town of Pelham, next to the metropolitan behemoth New York City, has long had a target on its back for annexation or consolidation.  Indeed, as early as 1824 -- nearly two hundred years ago -- some already were calling for the consolidation of Pelham and other nearby towns under a single government.  See Spafford, Horatio Gates, A Gazetteer of the State of New-York: Embracing an Ample Survey and Description of its Counties, Towns, Cities, Villages, Canals, Mountains, Lakes, Rivers, Creeks, and  Topography, p. 406 (Albany, NY: B.D. Packard, 1824) (stating, in describing the Town of Pelham, "In some of the freaks of our legislation, it would be well, perhaps, to consolidate some of these little towns, though it might diminish the number of those little-great-men, who derive all their importance from an office. But -- 'the more teats the more puppies,' a fact perfectly understood by all the managers, as well on the smaller as on the greater scale, and division and subdivision are the order of the day").  Similarly, barely two decades later, in 1843, there was an unusual call to annex the southern portion of the Town of Pelham to Queens County.  See Thu., Feb. 22, 2007:  An 1843 Plan To Annex Southern Portion of Pelham to Queens County?

By 1870, the corrupt Tammany Hall Ring that controlled New York City and, some would say, New York State politics turned its attention north of New York City in the hope of annexing much of Westchester County including the entire Town of Pelham.  As I have written before, Tammany Hall was looking to expand its tentacles to encompass new public works to feed its voracious need for jobs, public contracts, and public funds to keep its graft and corruption scheme afloat.  Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall looked toward Pelham and lower Westchester County hoping to annex the region to fulfill its evil needs. 

Eventually, much of the region fended off the initiative by New York City which ultimately annexed the settlements of West Farms, Morrisania, and the Town of Westchester, followed later by City Island, other nearby islands and the land that now forms today's Pelham Bay Park.  

I have written repeatedly about New York City's plans in 1870 to annex Pelham and a host of other towns in lower Westchester County.  See:

Fri., Jan. 29, 2016:  Did Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall Have Designs on Pelham and Plans to Annex It to New York City in 1870?  

Wed., Jan. 16, 2008:  Plans To Annex Pelham and Make It Part of New York City in 1870

Thu., May 10, 2007:  Report That Pelham Favored Annexation of Much of Westchester County by New York City in 1870

Wed., Apr. 6, 2005:  A Behemoth Looks to the Suburbs: Talk of New York City Annexing Pelham As Early As 1870.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes a newspaper article that, in turn, transcribed a committee report of a committee of property owners who considered the initiative by New York City to annex much of Westchester County.  The report considered the so-called "Corson Bill" named after Cornelius Corson, President of the New York Printing Association, purported drafter of the bill that proposed to annex nearly two-thirds of the County of Westchester north of New York City.  

The Committee unanimously recommended against passage of the Corson Bill, noting that it proposed to annex Westchester County lands that were three times the size of the entire County of New York.  The report further warned against the evils of allowing a government controlled by Tammany Hall to wrap its tentacles about Westchester, stating:

"The well-recognized fact that the city of New York is now governed by a 'Tammany ring,' consisting of not more than five prominent members, should induce the people of Westchester, from motives of personal respect, from their intelligence and integrity, and in protection of their interests to long hesitate before consenting to confer additional power of assessment and taxation, already too much concentrated in and upon this 'ring.'"

The report became a bit prone to hyperbole when it compared the "robbery" by William the Conqueror who invaded and conquered Britain to New York City's efforts to "conquer" Westchester County.  Yet, the point was clear.  Many in Westchester County wanted nothing to do with the proposed annexation by New York City.

William M. "Boss" Tweed in Photograph Believed To
Have Been Taken in 1869 or 1870.  Source:  WIKIPEDIA - 
The Free Encyclopedia:  William M. Tweed (visited Jan.
23, 2016).  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Immediately below is the text of the article regarding the Committee Report on the Corson Bill and New York City's efforts to annex up to two-thirds of Westchester County including the Town of Pelham.  The text of the article is followed by a citation and link to its source.

At a meeting of property owners, held in Fordham, Westchester County, on the 15th inst.,  committee of five was appointed to consider the proposed annexation of seven of the lower towns of Westchester County to New York, and prepare another bill for legislative action at the approaching session, having in view the organization of a new form of government for three of the lower towns of the county.  The committee accordingly prepared the following report, which was presented at an adjourned meeting, held in the above-named village last Saturday.


That the committee have had under consideration the subject referred to them, and have given it that attention which its public importance demanded.

In considering the subject embraced within the resolution, your committee have necessarily had also to consider the question of the proposed annexation to the city of New York of the greater part of the county of Westchester -- nearly two-thirds of it in population and wealth is proposed to be annexed.  The bill on this subject, which has been prepared and printed, is understood to have emanated from Mr. Cornelius Corson, President of the New York Printing Association.  The bill to which he has given paternity includes for annexation seven of the most populous and wealthy towns of the county of Westchester, containing a population of about 75,000 people out of 132,200, which is about the population of the whole county.  The towns which he proposes to annex compose the heart of the 


A very natural inquiry suggested by so radical a measure of change as is proposed by this bill is whether the people to be affected by its provisions have asked for or desire its passage; and, if they do, whether the terms and provisions of the proposed act are such as will mete out equal and exact justice to all of its citizens in the way of representation, assessment, and taxation, and in connection with prospective benefits which are claimed to flow from the adoption of this measure.  Certainly no Democratic Legislature should be guilty of annexing to the imperial city of New York so large a territory, with a population of 75,000 people, against their well.  It is a cardinal principle of the Democratic party that no people should be governed without their consent, constitutionally expressed and obtained, which suggests that this bill, if it should be considered at all by the Legislature, should first be submitted to the people who are to be affected by the radical changes proposed; and, if a majority of them should desire its passage, then, if there be no constitutional obstacles in the way, it might be passed with propriety.

Your committee unanimously report 


by the Legislature, because the area of territory proposed to be annexed is treble in extent that of the present territory of the county of New York.  A diffusion, therefore, of municipal regulation and government over so large a territory would result probably in expensive and inadequate improvement, while if annexation is to be desired at all, a concentration of improvement produced by additional political power, conferred by a municipal government, might with propriety be considered in reference to that portion of Westchester County which lies immediately easterly and southerly of the norther point of the present county of New York -- namely, a line drawn in an easterly direction from Spuyten Duyvil creek at King's Bridge to the Sound, just above Fort Schuyler.  An annexation of this territory, containing now a population of nearly 40,,000 people, provided it were made upon fair and just terms, would be one that the people of this section, if it were submitted to them for their vote, might approve.  But 


by Mr. Corson's bill in the creation of four wards out of the seven towns of Westchester County and having those four wards represented in the Board of Aldermen of the city of New York by two additional Aldermen, making seventeen in all (why not the old Hasserach and Ali Baba number!), to be elected by a general ticket, and having those four wards each with representatives in the Board of Assistant Aldermen, with a most unequal population in each ward -- 20,000 in the Twenty-third ward, 30,000 in the Twentieth ward, 10,500 in the Twenty-fifth ward, and 11,000 in the Twenty-sixth ward -- is so radically unjust and anti democratic that no fair-minded citizen could support it.

The change of the entire school and of the judicial systems now existing in this portion of Westchester County to that of the present Police Justice and District Justice and Court of Sessions jurisdiction of the city of New York, all of which is to occur in 1872 if this bill becomes a law, and the additional change proposed of making this portion of Westchester, after the next census in 1875, part of a New York city Senatorial and Congressional District, and of a New York city Supreme Court Judicial District, and the other additional change of removing by 


proposed by the bill, all the county records of titles and judgments from the county seat at White Plains to the city of New York, thus uprooting and overturning the existing titles of more than one-half of the citizens of the county to their real and personal property, would result in creating chaos where order, system, and good government now exist.

It is for this and other reasons, which would occupy too much space to be embodied in this report, that your committee have unanimously reported against Mr. Corson's bill as unworthy of serious consideration by any intelligent Legislature.

The resolution, under which your committee act, provides for the preparation by them of a new form of government for the lower towns of Westchester County; and in pursuance of this portion of the resolution they have the honor to submit for your consideration their unanimous views in favor of the incorporation of the old township of West Chester, now constituting the towns of Morrisania, West Farms, and West Chester, under one form of municipal government, similar to that which was given to the city of Brooklyn in the year 1834.  The time has arrived when the population of this old township of West Chester, amounting to about 40,000 -- nearly 20,000 more than the number which Brooklyn had when she  received the benefits of a city charter -- should receive the 


The growth of Brooklyn, marvellous in extent, and greater, perhaps, than that of any other city in the United States, if not in the world, may have been mainly attributable to the fact that her own people received from the Legislature a charter which conferred upon them the power of making all the internal improvements which were necessary for her development and progress, and which have, since she became a city, made her, within the last ten years the third city in the Union, and in her improvements one of the most beautiful.

The benefits of a city government are exemplified not only in the growth and prosperity of Brooklyn, but also in the growth and prosperity of Jersey City, which has more than quadrupled in population within the last ten years.

No good reason can be assigned why the lower part of Westchester County, with its natural facilities for great development and improvement, should not grow as rapidly within the next twenty years as Brooklyn and Jersey City have grown within the past.  She is bounded on the south by the Harlem river, with a proposed canal connecting it with the North river, and which will probably be speedily constructed, the two forming


for the laying up of vessels in Winter superior to the Atlantic dock at South-Brooklyn, and the bank of the river affording greater facilities for commodious stores and warehouses.

On the east it is bounded by the East river and by Long Island Sound.

On the East river, just north of Harlem, we have Port Morris, unsurpassed for the anchorage of large vessels by any port in the world.

The Great Eastern, with her immense size and capacity, formerly laid safely at one of her docks.  And just above Port Morris and opposite Riker's Island, fronting the property of the late B. M. Whitlock, is a bay affording the best place for a navy-yard in any of the States, inasmuch as here, alongside of the East river salt-water frontage, might be constructed a large fresh-water basin, to be supplied by water about a mile distant from the Bronx river, in the village of West Farms, large enough to float all the iron clads of the world, and the corroding of the iron of these vessels, when not in actual service, lying in salt water, requires their anchorage in such a fresh-water basin.

THE CONCENTRATION OF THE HUDSON RIVER, the Harlem and New Haven Railroads, in their freighting and passenger business at their proposed new grand depot, near Melrose, and at Mott Haven, indicate that their immense freight and passenger traffic from the Pacific Coast, and from the West and the East, all must, within a few years, centre near the Harlem river, within the present town of Morrisania.  The land contained within this old township of West Chester, topographically considered, is more easily and better adapted to drainage than any piece of territory of like extent in the State of New York.  Sewers, streets, and avenues may be thereon constructed, so that for health and comfort no city could, in this respect, be better improved.

In the centre of these towns we have a valley, which is indicated by Millbrook, through which a grand sewer (like the old Canal street in New York) might be constructed from the northern boundary line of West Farms to the southerly boundary line of Morrisania on the Harlem river.

The ridge of land west of this Millbrook, and bounded on the west by Harlem river and the large easterly plateau extending toward the East river and the Sound, is unsurpassed for natural beauty of scenery, for suitability of building sites, and for elegant houses, by any other in the State; while the Harlem river, the Bronx river, and the East river, lying in the centre of east and west and on the sides of this territory, form the 


for thorough drainage and sewerage.  To illustrate that the time has come when every citizen will admit that the government now existing in West Chester, West Farms, and Morrisania, should be abolished -- that this portion of Westchester County is in a transition state, and is in many of its features a semi-city.'  That a government lacking proper checks and balances, and power and responsibility of officers, which is the fact as to these rural town governments, is now totally inadequate for the march of improvements, which can only be legitimately produced by a city government having proper power to make 


now so greatly desired by those who now are and who are to become citizens of the lower part of the county.  The wonderful increase of population in Brooklyn and in New Jersey, contiguous to the great city of New York, proved that the time has arrived when a city government should be conferred upon this portion of Westchester County.  The following enumeration of population demonstrates this:

[Illegible Table Showing Population Growth of Counties in New York and New Jersey Omitted]


The plan for a new city government which the committee have reported, is nearly identical with that of the city of Brooklyn, differing only in its having a Board of Assistant Alderman in addition to the Board of Alderman.  This was deemed proper because of its being more in accordance with the upper and lower House of the Senate and Assembly of the State and of the two legislative branches of the New York city government.

A brief synopsis of this plan shows that the proposed new city government would be composed of a Mayor and Common Council, with nine wards, four of which are now the existing wards of the town of Morrisania, three of which are created in the town of West Chester.  These wards will each have an alderman, constituting the Board of Aldermen of nine members, and from each of these wards the assistant aldermen are to be elected, making eighteen, constituting the Board of Assistant Aldermen.

The Aldermen and Assistant Aldermen are to serve, as was formerly the case in the better days of New York city government with the Aldermen and Assistant Aldermen, without pay.


for the first few years of the existence of the new city government would be paid to the Mayor and a fair salary to the different heads of departments created by this bill -- the different departments contemplated by the change, consisting of the Finance Department, with its head, the Comptroller, and the Department of Public Works -- included within which would be jurisdiction over the streets, the water, gas, and other local improvements, as now conferred upon the Commissioner of Public Works, in the city of New York.  The Law Department would consist of a Corporation Counsel and Corporation Attorney, to whom during the earlier existence of this government small salaries would be paid.  There will be a grand Tax Department, containing two bureaus -- one to look after the assessments of property upon fair and equal terms, and to be known as the Board of Assessors; and the other bureau to consist of a Tax Receiver and necessary deputies.


would consist of a city judge, to be elected, and who should have, for the territory embraced within the new city limits, the same jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases that the county judge now has.  In addition, one justice of the peace is provided, to be elected for each of the wards within the proposed city, whose jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases should be the same as is now conferred upon the justices of the peace in the towns comprising the proposed new city.  In other respects the County Court and the Supreme Court and their jurisdiction are to remain the same as at present.  The police, with a Board of Police Commissioners and a Superintendent, would be in such numbers and in compensation as the Common Council in their wisdom would see fit to designate and appoint.


with the different Boards of Education, school-houses, apparatus, and property, would remain and continue as now existing and constituted, subject only in such changes for increase of scholars and better accommodation as might be provided by the new government.

The existing debts of each town are to be assumed and paid by the property and taxation thereon in the new city; but each of the towns of that city is to be assessed and to pay therefor in taxation in proportion to the indebtedness of each town at the time of the charter taking effect.  In connection with the indebtedness, it would be well to state that the present debt of the town of Morrisania amounts to over $400,000; West Farms, to over $700,000; of Westchester, over $400,000 -- making a total, say, of about $1,500,000..

Your committee believe that the work which has been done in the same way of public improvement, and for which this indebtedness was created, did not exceed sixty-six and two-thirds per cent. of its actual value.  This was caused by the


of a number of special Commissions appointed by different acts of the Legislature, and known as boulevard commissions, who have power conferred upon them of issuing bonds, and which bonds, owing to the lack of confidence of capitalists and banking institutions, have been negotiated and sold at sums varying from seventy-five per cent. up to, in a few cases, of their par value.

The contractors doing the work and receiving these bonds in payment for the work, instead of money, always in their estimates discounted the bonds at enormous rates.

Under the proposed new system, one of the main benefits which the community affected by it would receive would be in the credit of the bonds of the new government, being, as in the case of Brooklyn and Jersey City bonds, put at par in the market among capitalists, and a saving of at least thirty-three and one-third per cent. would be effected in the value of the work which would actually be thereafter done in the way of public improvements within the proposed new city territory.

The rights of property owners by the proposed change of government will be protected from special State legislation, from


made at general expense, and where those immediately benefited should bear their just proportion of the expense of construction, and should pay for the improvement where they are largely benefited thereby.  In no case would any improvement of a street or avenue be made unless two-thirds of the property owners fronting upon such street or avenue petitioned and desired the same.

A general system of drainage and lamp districts, and of sidewalks and other legitimate improvements, would be made upon similar requisition of property owners.  By this plan would also be preserved intact by the present boundaries of the county, the Senatorial, Congressional, and Judicial districts, and the existing system of recording titles and judgments will be recognized.  The only


proposed for annexation to the city of New York is that by it privileges of the Croton water would be derived by the people living in the lower part of Westchester County.

Considering that the city of New York has now no more reservoirs than are necessary for the sufficient supply of that city with water, under the plan of annexation new reservoirs would have to be constructed in the lower part of Westchester County, the cost of which would have to be borne by its people.

Your committee can see no good reason why they should not, through their representatives and agents in the proposed new city governments, construct works for the use of the waters of the Bronx river, and other fresh water streams flowing into the lower part of Westchester County, for the erection of necessary reservoirs and works, and to give the citizens the same facilities and comforts of water which are now had in the city from the Croton Department, and this done, too, under the immediate supervision and direction of our people's representatives, and at a much less cost than would result from annexation.


contained in the seven towns to be annexed by the Corwin bill is 46,517 acres, more than treble the area of land contained in the county of New York.  One of the objections which have been made to the plan of a new city government is that the expense will be large and burdensome.  This is erroneous.  The present town halls and other public buildings would answer the purposes for years to come of transacting the executive, legislative, and judicial business therein, and no new public buildings would be built until the increased population and wealth of the new city warranted and demanded their erection.  Your committee, taking into consideration the 


of the present towns of Morrisania, West Farms, and West Chester for the last three years and for the present one, do not hesitate to say that the entire expenses of a new city government under the plan proposed would be much less than is now paid in by these incongruous governments, where proper responsibility and checks and balances do not exist, but which would be insured by the adoption of the new plan.

The well-recognized fact that the city of New York is now governed by a 'Tammany ring,' consisting of not more than five prominent members, should induce the people of Westchester, from motives of personal respect, from their intelligence and integrity, and in protection of their interests to long hesitate before consenting to confer additional power of assessment and taxation, already too much concentrated in and upon this 'ring.'


is one which under our system has hitherto commanded the respect of all communities, and they have been especially jealous of having this right destroyed, either by the centralization of the government in the Legislature at Albany, or in the legislation of the Federal Government at Washington.

An appeal to the intelligence and sense of right of the people of the lower part of Westchester County, whose history has hitherto been patriotic and honorable, should induce them to unanimously oppose the Corson scheme of annexation.  When William the Conqueror invaded and conquered Britain, the Normans called it conquest, the Britains [sic] robbery.  When King William of Prussia obtains, if he does, Alsace and Lorraine, it will also be obtained under the right of conquest.  But this is in a case where a war was unnecessarily commenced and waged against him and his people, and where he may be justified by way of 'indemnity for the past and security for the future' in taking and exercising governmental control over those territories.  When 


of New York city, and his friends seek to take the lower part of Westchester County for an extension of their domain of spoliation and taxation, without the consent of the people of Westchester County, they may think, as the ancient Britons, that this, too, is robbery.   A territory may be annexed by treaty, as was the case in the annexation of Texas; but there, as in the case of marriage, which is a civil contract, there must be the consent of the bride, as well as the groom, to consummate it.

If the New York politicians, who are looking with rapacious eyes upon the lower part of Westchester County, have the true welfare of the city of New York, as well as of the people of the lower part of Westchester County, have the true welfare of the city of New York, as well as of the people of the lower part of Westchester County, in view, they will never attempt to make their conquest by legislative enactment without first submitting the question to the people to be affected by it for their approval or rejection.

The true mode of increasing the growth, wealth, and prosperity of the lower part of Westchester County, beside having a better local government of their own, is to afford to it


to have the various railroads running through it, initiating the example set by the railroads of New Jersey, which have been the means of increasing the population of Hudson, and other counties in that State, at a greater ratio within the last twenty years than any of the suburban parts of the city of New York.  The frequent trains, fifty four per day, with the cheap cost of commutation to Elizabeth (fourteen miles to the city of New York), have quadrupled that place in population within the last ten years.  The want of hourly and half-hourly trains between Williamsbridge, intermediate stations, and New York with rates of commutation largely exceeding those of New Jersey, has kept ll the lower part of Westchester County from


even greater than Elizabeth and growing places in New Jersey have received during that time.  With three track lines of railroad the most extensive in their operations in the country, the Hudson River, the Harlem, and the New Haven, running through Westchester failing to give to it that accommodation which naturally it should have received, induces your committee to urge upon the representatives in the Senate and Assembly from this county the necessity of compelling these railroads, by suitable legislation at the next session, to afford to the residents of Westchester equal facilities for quick and cheap transit now given by the New Jersey city and who are now living in that State.

In conclusion, your committee suggests the appointment, by the meeting of a committee of three -- one from each of the towns of Morrisania, West Farms, and West Chester -- to watch the proceedings of the next Legislature in relation to any and all proposed bills for the annexatioin or spoliation affecting the lower part of this county, and to adopt and take all necessary mesures for the growth and prosperity of the old township of West Chester.

Respectfully submitted,


FORDHAM, December 24, 1870.

The unavoidable absence of G. Hilton Scribner, Member of Assembly elect, prevented that gentleman from signing the report as one of the committee.


and their respective boundaries are as follows:

The first four wards shall consist as at present the four wards in the town of Morrisania exist and are bounded and described therein.

The three wards in the town of West Farms shall consist of the land and territory and be bounded and described as follows, and be known as the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh wards:

The fifth ward to consist of all the land and territory lying between the northerly boundary line of the town of Morrisania and the centre line of Locust avenue and Morris street, in the town of West Farms, running from the easterly boundary line of the Harlem Railroad to the end of Locust avenue, in the village of West Farms, and in a straight line from the end of the terminus of said avenue, in the said village, to the Bronx river (the boundary line between West Farms and West Chester), said ward to contain all the land and territory south and southeast of said last mentioned line and the boundary line between the towns of Morrisania and West Farms; and also easterly of the easterly boundary line of said Harlem Railroad and the extreme easterly boundary line of said town of West Farms.

The Sixth ward to contain all the territory of the town of West Farms, northerly of the northerly boundary line of Ward Five aforesaid; and all the land easterly from the easterly boundary line of the Harlem Railroad up to Williamsbridge; and from thence to the easterly boundary line between the towns of West Farms and West Chester.

The Seventh ward to contain all the land and territory in the present town of West Farms west of the eastern boundary line of the Harlem Railroad, from the southerly line between West Farms and Morrisania and the boundary line between West Farms and Yonkers.

The Eighth ward to contain all the land and territory in the present town of West Chester lying easterly and southerly of the highway leading from the iron bridge on the Bronx river; and running thence along said highway, passing the Methodist Church in West Chester; and thence until it comes to the highway leading from West Chester to East Chester; thence along the East Chester road until it comes to Pelham avenue; thence running easterly along Pelham avenue to the old road leading to Pelham bridge; and thence along said old road to East Chester creek or bay.  

The Ninth ward to contain all the land and territory in the present town of West Chester lying westerly and northerly of the Eighth ward, and boundary line between West Farms, Yonkers, and East Chester."

Source:  PROPOSED NEW CITY, Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Dec. 30, 1870, p. 1, cols. 3-7.  

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