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.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pelham Manor Dutifully Extinguished a Fire That Nearly Burned Down its Hated Wooden Train Station in 1896

An important development in the transportation history of the Town of Pelham was the opening in 1873 of the so-called Branch Line that included two new train stations in the Town of Pelham:  Bartow Station near City Island along today's Shore Road and Pelham Manor Station that once stood at the end of the Esplanade near today's Manor Circle. 

The Branch Line opened for passenger traffic in November, 1873.  Its opening prompted real estate speculation in the area as well as major efforts to develop new suburban subdivisions that came to be known as Bartow (or, Bartow-on-Sound) and Pelham Manor.

The 12-1/4 miles long Branch Line was built and owned by the Harlem and Portchester Railroad Company which promptly leased the line for operation by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company.  (The short Branch Line extended from the Harlem River to a junction with the main New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad at New Rochelle.)  The formal name of the Branch Line was "The Harlem River Branch of the New Haven Railroad."

Upon opening of the Branch Line, the railroad constructed a tiny wooden railroad station at the end of the Esplanade in Pelham Manor.  The map detail below, published in 1881, shows where the wooden train station was located.

Detail from 1881 Bromley Map Showing Location of
Pelham Manor Depot on The Harlem River Branch
of the New Haven Railroad.  Source:  "Town of Pelham
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).

At the time the wooden Pelham Manor Station was built, there were only a handful of residents in the area that became the Village of Pelham Manor and, of course, even fewer commuters.  By the mid-1890s, in contrast, after the Village of Pelham Manor was incorporated, the area had about 300 residents and a much larger group of commuters.  By that time, the wood station known as Pelham Manor Depot had worn out its welcome.  

Pelham Manor residents felt the tiny wooden station was ugly and inadequate.  They believed it was inadequate for its purposes.  The lack of aesthetics was deemed inconsistent with the idyllic beauty of the tiny village.  The entire village began clamoring for the railroad to construct a new, larger station.

The railroad, according to one report, was "obdurate."  In its view, there were only 300 residents in the village with an even smaller number of commuters.  The cost of building a new station at Pelham Manor simply was not worth it.

The Village of Pelham Manor was so insistent regarding the need for a beautiful new station that it offered to provide the railroad with the stones necessary to construct a beautiful new station.  Still, the railroad remained "obdurate" and unwilling to construct a new station.

Pelham Manor residents grew to hate the decrepit old wooden station.  Burglars constantly broke into it and even used explosives several times to blow open the station safe.  

On Sunday, July 19, 1896, however, things looked a little brighter for those who hated the wooden station.  At about 5:20 p.m., the decrepit little station caught fire. . . . 

What was Pelham Manor to do?

An alarm was sounded and the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department turned out.  Upon arrival, members of the Department were "of divided mind" regarding whether to fight the fire.  Nearby residents who turned out for the spectacle, however, were not of divided mind.  They wanted the Fire Department to let the tiny wooden structure burn to the ground.  

As newspapers from New York City to San Francisco subsequently reported, "[t]he habit of devotion to duty triumphed . . . over the incendiary spirit of Pelham Manor."  The Village firemen rushed in and put out the fire.  Although the structure was badly damaged, all the money and papers in the station were saved.

Once the fire was out and the firemen and spectators began to depart, they reportedly "mourned the fact that the water supply had not been interrupted long enough to give the fire a fair chance."

The little wooden station was repaired.  It would not be until 1908 that the railroad built the lovely stone railroad station that Pelham Manor wanted.  It was designed by nationally-renowned architect Cass Gilbert and, indeed, was quite beautiful.

Image of the New Pelham Manor Depot Shortly After It
Was Built in 1908.  Source:  Source: "Along the Harlem River
Branch", The Architectural Record, Vol. XXIII, No. 6, Jul. - Dec.,
pp. 422-23 (NY, NY: McGraw Hill Publishing Co. Dec. 1908).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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"Fire in the Pelham Manor Station.

MOUNT VERNON, N. Y., July 19. -- Fire almost destroyed the Pelham Manor railroad station about 5:20 o'clock this afternoon.  Pelham Manor is a station of a branch of the New Haven road between West Chester and New Rochelle.  All the money and papers in the station were saved."

Source:  Fire in the Pelham Manor Station, The Sun [NY, NY], Jul. 20, 1896, p. 5, col. 5.

It Triumphs Over an Incendiary Spirit.

Pelham Manor's Fire Department was of divided mind on Sunday, when a fire alarm sounded and the local station of the New Haven Railway's suburban branch was found to be on fire.  Meanwhile residents of Pelham Manor outside the Fire Department were not of divided mind touching the fire, but were unanimous in the wish that the station might be damaged beyond repair.  The habit of devotion to duty triumphed, however, over the incendiary spirit of Pelham Manor and the fire was put out.  When all was over the firemen and every one else went belated to supper and mourned the fact that the water supply had not been interrupted long enough to give the fire a fair chance.

Pelham Manor, which is the most beautiful suburb of New York, has long been at odds with the railway company over its ugly wooden station.  Pelham Manor has offered to furnish stone for the building of a station that should be in keeping with the many beautiful stone houses of the place, but as Pelham Manor has but 300 inhabitants and comparatively few commuters, the railway company has remained obdurate and rested content with its ugly wooden station.  Virtue through force of habit triumphed on Sunday to the rescue of the threatened station, but when it next catches fire strong arms may hold back the firemen, and the structure mmay perhaps burn to the ground. -- New York Sun."

Source:  PELHAM MANOR'S VIRTUE -- It Triumphs Over an Incendiary Spirit, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 16, 1896, p. 28, col. 4.  

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For additional information about the early days of the Pelham Manor Depot and the Pelham Manor Post Office, seee.g.:  

Tue., Jan. 28, 2014:  The Pelham Manor Post Office.

Wed., Feb. 10, 2010:  Train Station Safe at Pelham Manor Was Blown Open with Dynamite Yet Again on April 24, 1902.  

Tue., Nov. 17, 2009:  1883 Advertisement by Pelham Manor Protective Club Offering Reward for Information About Pelham Manor Depot Burglary.  

Tue., Aug. 11, 2009:  News of Pelham Manor and City Island Published on July 14, 1882.

Fri., Mar. 6, 2009:  Burglars Blow the Safe at the Pelham Manor Post Office in 1894.  

Mon., Jan. 28,, 2008:  1884 Burglary and Gun Fight at the Pelham Manor Depot.  

Fri., Jan. 18, 2008:  Studies Created by Noted Architect Cass Gilbert for the Pelham Manor Station.  

Tue., May 22,, 2007:  Photograph of Pelham Manor Station on the Branch Line Published in 1908.  

Tue., Mar. 29, 2005:  The Earliest Telephone in Pelham Manor?  

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