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, April 29, 2016

Famous Meyers Mansion in Pelham Manor Burned Down in 1897

During the mid-1890s, the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department suffered turmoil that led to the resignation of most members of the volunteer fire department.  Since its founding, members of the volunteer department had elected their own Fire Chief.  In about early 1896, the Fire Commissioners determined that the Commission would exert control over the department by removing the selection from the members of the department and, instead, providing for the appointment of a Fire Chief by the Fire Commissioners.  In response, all but seven members of the fire department resigned, leaving the village with a meager force. 

This dispute, of course, foreshadowed a similar dispute involving the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department nearly three decades later when the Village Board of Trustees took steps to exercise control over the Department and its ability to elect its own leaders without oversight by the Board of Trustees.  That dispute led to the disbandment and subsequent rebuilding of the entire department.  See Mon., Jan. 04, 2016:  Pelham Manor Voters Voted to Disband the Pelham Manor Fire Department in 1928.  

In 1897, the turmoil involving the Pelham Manor Fire Department had dire consequences.  On the windy afternoon of Wednesday, March 31st, young boys were playing in an empty lot along Wolfs Lane next to the home and carriage house of Henry Iden.  Somehow, the boys started a fire that burned the tall grass in the empty lot.  The winds fanned the flames toward the Iden Estate.  

There stood on the Iden estate a lovely old home built in about the late 1860s.  The structure had been converted to a carriage house to serve the Iden mansion on the estate grounds.  

The history of the old home converted into a carriage house was quite fascinating.  The home was built in the late 1860s by a well-known New York City wine merchant named James Meyers.  At the time, the Coudert estate centered around the home known as "Pelhamdale" and "Pelham Dale" (located at 45 Iden Avenue) was the adjacent property, bordering the property acquired by Myers for his home.  

Myers built his new home on the border between his estate and the Coudert estate.  It turned out that the eaves of his new home extended over the Coudert property line by about four inches.  After the Coudert family discovered the issue, they demanded that Myers move his home.  Myers refused.

Coudert, an attorney, filed suit against Myers.  No records of the lawsuit yet have been located, but according to a newspaper account, Coudert obtained a court order authorizing him to saw off four inches of the eaves of the Myers home which he had a Westchester County sheriff handle, thereby removing the incursion from his property.

Detail from 1881 Bromley Map Showing Location of the
Meyers Estate Along Wolfs Lane Near Center of Image.
Civil Engineers" in Atlas of Westchester County, New York.
From Actual Surveys and Official Records by G. W. 
Bromley & Co., Civil Engineers, pp. 56-57 (NY, NY: Geo.
W. & Walter S. Bromley, 1881).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Myers later sold his home to Henry Iden who incorporated it as part of an estate with three structures including a grand home that no longer stands on the site.  For a time, Henry Iden allowed a family member to live in the old Myers Mansion.  During the 1890s, however, the family member moved out and Iden converted the structure to a carriage house.

On that windy afternoon, March 31, 1897, the fire sparked by the young boys in an adjacent field whipped sparks into the air, some of which landed on the carriage house, setting it afire.  The alarm was sent to the Pelham Manor Fire Department.  Alas, all but one of the seven village firefighters were out of town at the time.

A single, brave Pelham Manor fire fighter drafted a group of boys who struggled with him to pull the hose carriage to the scene of the fire.  Upon arrival, the fire was raging and looked as though it might leap to the nearby Iden mansion.  The firefighter organized a group of bystanders into an "impromptu volunteer fire department," but the fire was simply too big.  To make matters worse, according to one account, the former Pelham Manor firemen who had resigned from the force in connection with the dispute over electing a fire chief "would not give any assistance."   A call was sent to the nearby Mount Vernon Fire Department which sent two steam engines to the scene.  The two streams of water soon brought the fire under control.  Although the main Iden mansion was saved, the carriage house originally built as a home for James Myers was destroyed.

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Immediately below is the transcribed text of an article describing the events that are the subject of today's article.  Following the text are a citation and link to its source.

Mount Vernon Fire Department goes to Pelham.
Blaze Started by Some Boys Who Set Fire to Dry Grass in a Lot Next Door.  Owing to Friction Among the Pelham Firemen They Didn't Respond Promptly.

Fire, Wednesday afternoon, destroyed the old Meyers mansion at Pelham Manor.  It was owned by Henry Iden and until recently had been occupied by his brother-in-law.  The house was a frame structure and of antique design.  It has quite a history.  It was built about thirty years ago by James Myers,  a wine merchant of New York city.  The adjourning [sic] property was owned by Mr. Coudert.  When the house was built Coudert learned that the eaves projected four inches on his property.  He brought suit and demanded Myers to move his house.  Myers refused to do so and Coudert ordered the sheriff to saw four inches off the eaves, which he did.  Myers later sold the house to Henry Iden.  After Mr. Iden's brother-in-law moved out he used it as a carriage house.

Wednesday, it is alleged, some boys in that neighborhood set fire to the dry grass.   heavy wind was blowing and the sparks from the flames caught on the house.  An alarm was sent to Pelham [Editor's Note:  actually the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department] and the Hook and Ladder and Hose companies attempted to respond.  It is said that one brave fireman turned out and with the assistance of a number of boys dragged the hose carriage to the scene.  Meanwhile the flames had spread rapidly and the fire was now beyond control.  An impromptu volunteer fire department was organized on the spot among bystanders and work was commenced to keep the flames from spreading.  It was feared that the sparks might set fire to Mr. Iden's big residence which is nearby.  The firemen worked earnestly but the flames kept spreading.  Word was sent to Mount Vernon asking for assistance.  Niagara and Steamer No. 3 responded.  Two streams of water were now playing on the fire and it was soon gotten under control.  Chief Jewell and his men did excellent work.  The loss is about $2,000.  The fire probably would not have gained much headway had the fire department at Pelham been united.  A disruption occurred about a year ago over the action of the fire commissioners in taking the power to elect a chief away from them and only seven members remained.  When the alarm sounded Wednesday most of the men were out-of-town and the others who had resigned would not give any assistance, there was much delay in getting to the fire.  The term of office of the present fire commissioners expire this spring.  New commissioners will be elected and probably the companies will be reorganized."

Source:  CALLED FOR HELP -- Mount Vernon Fire Department goes to Pelham -- A FAMOUS HOUSE BURNED DOWN -- Blaze Started by Some Boys Who Set Fire to Dry Grass in a Lot Next Door.  Owing to Friction Among the Pelham Firemen They Didn't Respond Promptly, Mount Vernon News, Apr. 2, 1897, Vol. IV, No. 217, p. 1, col. 3.  

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