Pelham Heights Really Pulled a Fast One on Pelhamville in 1896 -- Again!
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The ruse was simple. During the winter of 1895/1896, a rumor began circulating throughout Pelhamville that the area was about to incorporate as a village as had Pelham Manor only a few years before. At the time, the area north of the New Haven line railroad tracks, often referenced as Pelhamville, had about six hundred fifty residents and two hundred voters. The area just south of the New Haven line railroad tracks was being newly-developed and only had about 20 residents. That area was known, informally, as "Pelham Heights" or "The Heights."
Shortly after the rumors of incorporation began to circulate throughout Pelhamville, two petitions "mysteriously" began circulating throughout Pelhamville to change the name of the United States Post Office to Pelham and to change the name of the New Haven line railroad station to Pelham Station. Pelhamville residents gladly signed the petitions because, as one article put it, "[r]esidents felt a new pride in their village, as it bore one of the oldest names in Westchester county, and they dreamed of incorporation, and many improvements that would be possible under a village government." Indeed, Pelhamville residents were proud and happy when word came that both petitions had been granted and both the post office and railroad station would hence be known as "Pelham."
Pelhamville residents, however, failed to see the train rumbling down the tracks (pun intended). The tiny little development of "Pelham Heights," led by real estate developer and United States Congressman Benjamin L. Fairchild, stole a march on Pelhamville and incorporated as the "Village of Pelham." The area did not have enough residents to incorporate as a village under New York law, but Congressman Fairchild was able to secure special legislation to incorporate "the smallest village in the State of New York" and to name it the "Village of Pelham." Pelhamville residents were shocked and angry. They believed they had been duped.
I have written before about the fast one pulled by Congressman Fairchild and residents of Pelham Heights. See Tue., Jul. 01, 2014: Why Do We Call It the Village of Pelham Instead of Pelhamville? Because We Were Duped! See also Fri., Apr. 15, 2005: How Pelhamville "Lost" Its Name! I have not, however, written before about another element of the stunt pulled by Congressman Fairchild and residents of the Heights.
It turns out that despite rumors that had circulated for months that the tiny settlement of Pelhamville planned to incorporate, when Congressman Fairchild and residents of the Heights incorporated the new "Village of Pelham," they made certain that the boundaries of the new village encompassed all property of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company. Thus, the boundary of the Heights, incorporated as the Village of Pelham, lay north of the tracks of the New Haven line. This, of course, meant that the valuable properties belonging to the railroad were situated entirely within the new Village of Pelham. Thus, the railroad would pay property taxes to the new Village of Pelham -- not to Pelhamville (once it incorporated as the new Village of North Pelham).
Pelhamville residents howled when they learned that crafty Congressman Fairchild and the twenty or so residents of Pelham Heights had pulled another fast one at the expense of Pelhamville. Congressman Fairchild came under intense pressure and quickly promised to secure legislation to re-draw the boundary line as a line dividing the tracks that passed through Pelham into two equal parts with one half in the Village of Pelham and the other half in the Village of North Pelham.
On Wednesday, May 5, 1897, at an adjourned regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors of Westchester County, the Supervisor of the Town of Pelham, John Shinn, presented a petition to the members of the Board signed by one-half of all the electors (i.e., eligible voters) at the time who resided in Pelham Heights -- a grand total of seven people including three members of the Fairchild family. The petition is quoted in full immediately below, followed by a transcription of the record of the Board's decision based upon the petition.
"To the Board of Supervisors of the County of Westchester:
Sirs: We, the undersigned, one-half of the electors resident within the village of Pelham, liable to be assessed for the ordinary and extraordinary expenditure of such village, do hereby petition that all that portion of the territory now included within said village shall be excluded that line northerly of a line commencing at a point at the easterly line of said village, half way between the two centre rails of the tracks of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, thence running westerly half way between said two centre rails and parallel therewith, to the westerly line of said village. Said property here petitioned contains no electors resident therein, and this petition is executed by one-half the electors resident within said Village of Pelham liable to be assessed, in accordance with Chapter 332 of the Laws of 1897.
Dated Pelham, May 4, 1897.
JOHN F. FAIRCHILD,
BEN L. FAIRCHILD,
RALPH T. HUBBARD,
GEO. K. PERRY,
Mr. Shinn presented the following preamble and resolution:
Whereas, A petition signed by more than one-half of the duly qualified persons residing in the Village of Pelham, Westchester County, N.Y., has been received by this Board in accordance with Chapter 332 of the Laws of 1897, relating to diminishing of the village boundary; now therefore be it
Resolved, In accordance with said petition, that the boundaries of said Village of Pelham be and they are hereby diminished as follows, to wit: All that part of said village shll be excluded from its boundaries which lies northerly of a line commencing at a point at the easterly line of said village, half way between the two centre rails of the tracks of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad; thence running westerly half way between said two centre rails and parallel therewith, to the westerly line of said village.
The question was taken upon the adoption of the new preamble and resolution, which were declared adopted, a majority of all the members of the Board voting in favor thereof, as follows:
Ayes -- Messrs. Baxter, Bigelow, E.K. Brown, G.H. Brown, Burns, Couch, Dusenberry, Forsyth, Frazier, Gray, Haight, Kear, Lane, Lawrence, Lent, Lewis, Percival, Purdy, Robinson, Ruscoe, Sackett, Schirmer, Secor, See, Shinn, Stewart, Teed, Tompkins, Turner, Whlen and Chairman -- 32.
Nays -- None."
Source: Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of Westchester County, N.Y., Session of 1897 Together With Proceedings of Adjourned Regular Meetings, Held May 5, May 14, May 24, May 27, May 28, June 5; and Special Meeting July 19, 1897, pp. 7-9 (White Plains, NY: Press of the Westchester County Reporter, 1898).
With the May 5, 1897 decision of the Board of Supervisors, the Village of Pelham (already the smallest village in the State of New York) became even smaller. Its newly-incorporated neighbor, the Village of North Pelham, was still angry with its new neighbor, but the additional property tax revenue it would receive from the railroad certainly helped ease the pain.
Below is the text from an additional resource related to the subject of today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog. It is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"PELHAM AND WOODLAWN. . . .
The Assessment Rolls.
The legislation whereby the village receives half of the property of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company within its boundaries, has been completed, and the assessors have included all that part of the railroad on the north side of a line dividing the tracks into two equal parts, in this year's assessment roll. It will be remembered that when the Village of Pelham was incorporated it contained the entire railroad property. Ex-Congressman Ben L. Fairchild promised North Pelham however that he would endeavor to have half of it given to the latter village. Through his efforts this has now been accomplished.
The Board of Assessors met Saturday night and completed the compiling of the assessment roll. Some properties have been assessed higher than last year and certain land which formerly came under the head of acreage was assessed as improved."
Source: PELHAM AND WOODLAWN . . . The Assessment Rolls, The Chronicle [Mt. Vernon, NY], May 21, 1897, p. 3, col. 3.
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Labels: 1896, 1897, Assessment, Benjamin L. Fairchild, boundary, John M. Shinn, New York New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, Pelham Heights, Real Estate, Village of North Pelham, Village of Pelham