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 21, 2016

St. Louis Newspaper Described the "Exclusivity" of Pelham Manor in 1892

"Fully nine-tenths of Pelham Manor is tolerably safe from people of modest means, the land being held by rich owners, who will sell only in tracts of not less than an acre and then only to 'desirable' parties."

"Pelham Manor, in addition to its scenic beauty, offers about every other inducement that people of refined taste and long purse could well ask."

"Pelham Manor people are more sociable than is usual among folk so exclusive."

          -- St. Louis Post Dispatch, Nov. 27, 1892.

In 1891 when the Village of Pelham Manor was first incorporated, there were only about fifty homes in the new Village.  There was, however, a great deal of marketable land in and around the new village held by a variety of local land speculators who hoped to "make a killing" carving up their holdings and selling lots to prospective Village residents.  

By 1892, a public relations "machine" seeking to whip up interest in the "exclusive" and tony New York City suburb known as Pelham Manor was in high gear.  Brochures, pamphlets, real estate guides, and articles in publications distributed throughout the United States touted the attractions of Pelham Manor.  Many of the real estate "puff pieces" make modern Pelhamites of ordinary sensibilities cringe.  For example, such pieces assured prospective purchasers that sales would only be made to "desirable parties" and that the sale of mostly large, expensive tracts would keep out the "hoi polloi."  

One such fascinating "puff piece" appeared in the November 27, 1892 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a newspaper distributed nearly one thousand miles away from Pelham in St. Louis, Missouri.  The timing of this puff piece and other such puff pieces is particularly intriguing.  The United States economy was humming along in 1892.  Real estate prices in Pelham Manor were rising in leaps and bounds despite the wide availability of building sites.  Pelham Manor families including the Black, Secor, Rodman, and Donlan families had large tracts they were trying to carve up and sell in 1892.  Other large tracts owned by Harlem investors and the department store business Lord & Taylor likewise were offered for sale.  In short, Pelham Manor real estate speculators had dollar signs in their eyes as the local economy hummed along like the national economy.

Pelham Manor land speculators, it turns out, came too late to the party.  Less than three months after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puff piece appeared (as well countless others), the Economic Panic of 1893 began, setting off a profound economic depression in the United States that lasted until 1898.  Real estate sales in Pelham Manor slowed tremendously and growth throughout the entire town slowed.  In 1890, the population of the entire town was about 3,900 people.  Although New York City admittedly annexed a large portion of the population located, principally, on City Island in 1895, the population of the entire town in 1900 was only about 1,600 people.  Indeed, it would not be until the Roaring Twenties when the population of the Town of Pelham grew to nearly 12,000 that extensive portions of Pelham Manor were finally developed as residential tracts.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch real estate "puff piece" touting the supposed virtues of the new Village of Pelham Manor is quite fascinating.  It demonstrates how at least some of the Village real estate interests wanted the community to be perceived:  as elite, wealthy, and exclusive.  The article speaks of a member of the socially-prominent "Four Hundred" and touts residents such as "Fifth avenue jeweler" Robert C. Black.  It emphasizes how much is being spent by notable Pelham Manor residents to erect or to improve their homes.  And, perhaps more than anything, it tries to leave the impression that real estate prices in Pelham Manor are headed up, up, and up.

The article is notable as well because it included two sketches of notable residences in the Village of Pelham Manor:  the Priory (about which I have written extensively) and the Mansion of Henry B. B. Stapler.  The Stapler mansion was known as "Stone Croft."  Like the Priory, it still stands.  I have written about Stone Croft as well.  See Tue., Jan. 13, 2015:  "Stone Croft" on the Esplanade, Once the Home of Henry B. B. Stapler.

Transcribed below is the text of the article that appeared in the November 27, 1892 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch touting the new Village of Pelham Manor.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source, and includes images of the two sketches that were published with the article.


Special Correspondence SUNDAY POST-DISPATCH.

NEW YORK, Nov. 25. -- Delightfully situated on the northern border of Pelham Bay Park, the biggest of Gotham's greenwood possessions, on a high bluff quietly sloping to Long Island Sound, is Pelham Manor -- picturesque, fashionable, exclusive.  It is on the Harlem River branch of the New Haven Railroad, three miles north of the village of Westchester, and one mile south of bustling New Rochelle.  It is just above the line of the proposed annexation of Westchester County to the metropolis.

It would be difficult to find a more ideal spot for  luxurious home.  The scenery is unsurpassed.  The Manor lies on a romantic piece of ground several miles in diameter, at a high elevation, gradually rolling down to the Sound, which at this point is dotted with green isles.  Below is the park with its 1,750 acres of natural woodland beauty.

Pelham Manor is one of the few exclusive suburbs of New York.  Here those able to do so erect mansion homes on wide expanses of land and then beautify their possessions to their hearts' content.  It is the one place within easy reach of the city that has baffled the real estate speculator with his 25 x 100 foot lots and $2,500 cottages.

It is true that two energetic Harlem real estate women have secured a slice of land there and are cutting it up and laying it out in defiance of the exclusive atmosphere of the place.

Pelham Manor, in addition to its scenic beauty, offers about every other inducement that people of refined taste and long purse could well ask.  It has fashionable boarding schools; it has a feudal-looking manor house, the country seat of a real duchess; the blue blooded New York Athletic Club has here its grounds and most of the residents are rich and of good stock.

Pelham Manor people are more sociable than is usual among folk so exclusive.  They have a village club-house, where everybody makes merry with everybody else.  Here they have amateur theatricals once a month.

The village manor house, as this clubhouse is called, is a long, narrow, one-story building of unique design, half of stone and half of wood, with unstained shingle exterior.  It was built thirteen years ago at a cost of $10,000.  The main floor is an amphitheater, with a stage and gallery.  In the basement is a brilliant hall for the men folk, who must, however, submit to having their tables shoved into the corners when sociables are held and dancing room is needed.  A bowling alley and a kitchen are also on the premises.  The building is on the Esplanade, the most fashionable thoroughfare in the village, and stands on an acre and a half of land.

Fully nine-tenths of Pelham Manor is tolerably safe from people of modest means, the land being held by rich owners, who will sell only in tracts of not less than an acre and then only to 'desirable' parties.

It was in 1872 that Pelham Manor sprang into existence.  The Huguenot Heights Association, composed of the Stevens Bros. and S. H. Witherby [sic], the latter an iron miner, of Port Henry, sunk [sic] all their money in the enterprise.  They bought at the start some two hundred acres.  Four years later came the panic of 1876, and then land could be bought at $200 per acre -- a little over $14 per lot.  Witherby bought out his two partners, and his daughter, Mrs. Mary George W. Black, is one of the largest owners of Pelham Manor property to-day.

One year ago Pelham Manor was incorporated, with James N. Townsend, Jr., the well-known Broadway lawyer, as its President.

The Esplanade is the central street in Pelham Manor.  It is 90 feet wide.  One side is macadamized, but the other isn't.  This is because Mrs. Black owns nearly the whole side of the street, and she had it macadamized at her own expense.  The Esplanade runs from the railroad station to the Boston Post Road, and along it are built some of the finest residences.  Twenty villas, each standing on a plot of from sixteen to forty lots, take up the whole thoroughfare, and there is no land here for sale.  There is not even a fence on the street or between the plots.  Land here is considered to be worth whatever the owner may ask for it.  The last sale occurred two years ago when R. R. Haydock bought an acre for $6,000 and on it built a $12,000 house.

Assistant District Attorney Stapler owns a two acre plot.  He paid $15,000 for it four years ago, including the house which stood upon it.  This was calculated to be at the rate of about $4,000 per acre for the land.  He has since purchased an acre and a half more and has spent $20,000 in improvements.  The house was designed by Richardson and is perhaps the finest in Westchester County.  Its lower story is built of field boulders.

Not a mark of a chisel is to be seen on any of these stones which project boldly with plaster slapped in between in a way that looks careless, but isn't.  The house is two and a half stories high and has a variety of porches, verandas and piazzas.  It occupies a slight eminence and is admirably suited to its surroundings.  It has some twenty rooms.  In it reside Mr. and Mrs. Stapler and their five bright children.

At the rear of the house is Mr. Stapler's private club-house, a story and a half in height, and built of the same material as the house.  It has a large billiard hall.

"'The Priory,' at Pelham Manor."  Source:  PELHAM MANOR --
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis, MO], Nov. 27, 1892, p. 12, cols. 1-3.
This Image Shows the Home, Known as "Stone Croft," from an
Interesting Perspective from the Side.  NOTE:  Click on Link to Enlarge.

In Pelham Manor there is no place pointed to with more pride than the Priory, a gray stone mansion a century old and having a history.  It is situated on top of a high bluff overlooking the Sound in a delightfully laid out park of fifteen or twenty acres.  The wood is one of the most picturesque in the vicinity and is laid out in circular drives and walks with gardens, lawns and groves.  The Priory is two and a half stories in height and looks like a feudal castle with its two quaint turrets.  Mrs. Bolton [sic] was one of its earlier occupants.  She kept a young ladies' seminary, and here some of the women of the Knickerbocker stock of the metropolis received their education.  After her came John C. Furman, a brother-in-law of John C. Waterbury, President of the Country Club and member of the Four Hundred.  Mrs. Stevens, who married the Duke de Dino and who was formerly a pupil in the seminary, purchased the old manor ten years ago.  F. M. Jenks of the Four Hundred leased it and lived there awhile.  The next occupants were the Van Cortlandts, after whom Van Cortlandt Park was named.  They moved two years ago, and now the house is being made ready for the Duchess de Dino's daughter, who lately married Fred H. Allen.  There are several cottages on the grounds for the servants, and here also stands the old Priory Church, which has been presented to the Presbyterian [sic] parish.

"'The Priory,' at Pelham Manor."  Source:  PELHAM MANOR --
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis, MO], Nov. 27, 1892, p. 12, cols. 1-3.
NOTE:  Click on Link to Enlarge.

On the northwest boundary of the village on the old Boston road is a three-story, perfectly square gray cut-stone house with a flat roof and a piazza, in which Frederic R. Coudert was brought up.

The largest house in Pelham Manor is that of Robert C. Black, the Fifth avenue jeweler.  It stands on a four-acre plot.  It was bought at the rate of $200 an acre, and has increased in value to over $6,000 per acre.  The house is three stories in height, and is of the colonial style, with a broad piazza running all the way round it.  The house cost some $30,000, and is the most handsomely furnished in the Manor.  

Benjamin F. Corlies of Corlies, Macy & Co., of Nassau street, lives in a quaint house of colonial type on the Esplanade.  It is a 'shingle and field-stone' house, a species Pelham Manor is partial to.  Near Mr. Corlies' house are two boarding schools erected by him t a cost of $10,000.  Mrs. Hages [sic; should be Hazen] conducts the schools, and has forty-five young ladies in her charge.  

Joseph Arthur, author of 'Blud Jeans' and 'The Still Alarm,' lives in a $10,000 cottage that stands on an acre and a half of land fronting on Wolf's lane.  He can often be seen driving behind the two well-trained horses used in 'The Still Alarm."

Alongside Mr. Arthur's house is the home of E. T. Gillilande [sic] of the Edison Co.  The house and the acre of land on which its stands cost $21,000.  Mr. Gillilande has since built an office and work-rooms on the premises.  He is an electrical expert and spends his time experimenting on inventions.

The land in the market in and about the village is for sale mostly in big tracts only.  On the northwest part of the Manor, beyond the Boston turnpike, Isaac Rodman owns between fifteen and twenty acres, on which stands the Coudert mansion.  House and land are in the market at $75,000.  Next, on the south, is a tract of about thirty acres, owned by Lord & Taylor, which is for sale at $30,000.  Then comes a tract owned by Secor of about seventy acres, which is not very high land, and is in the market at from $3,000 to $5,000 per acre.  Along the western boundary is the Ropes property, consisting of ten acres, owned by Isaac Rodman.  This land has no improvements and is offered at $1,000 per acre in a lump.

Prospect Hill is next in order and it breaks the icy reserve of exclusiveness.  Here stand a dozen neat cottages, which cost from $1,500 to $3,500 each.  Land on the hill can be bought in half-acre plots.  The Parkside Land Co., just outside the boundaries of the Manor, is in the hands of M. J. Donlan, Pelham Manor's real estate man.  Here lots can be had of almost any size.  25 x 100, 50 x 100, 100 x 100, half-acre and acre plots.  Twenty-five-foot lots can be had at $350, and larger tracts are offered for sale at the rate of from $2,500 to $3,500 per acre.  

To the south is the Black property, some fifty acres.  It is in the market for sale in acre tracts.  A dozen handsome cottages, costing from $4,000 to $10,000 each, have been erected here, most of them standing on one-acre plots.  The Priory property adjoins this, and then comes a tract of twenty-five acres owned by Mr. Roosevelt.  This is being cut up and is for sale in not less than acre plots at $4,000 and upward.  Mr. Roosevelt has another ten-acre tract between the Black property and the Sound, which will be cut up in the spring, and to give it a good send-off and show what he thinks of it the owner will erect a $15,000 house and spend $10,000 on the grounds.

The section owned by the Pelhamdale Land Co., represented by Mrs. Theresa Crocauer and Mrs. Adela Payn, is an eyesore to the owners of mansions, because it is in the heart of the Manor and so can't be overlooked.  It consists of a dozen acres and has been sliced up into several hundred lots, 25 x 100, 25 x 115, 50 x 50, etc.

It was three years ago that this land was cut up.  Most of the lots were sold at $800 each.  At this figure these enterprising women have been doing a rushing business.  Since September lots here are quoted at $400 each.

Westchester County up to the northern limit of Pelham Bay Park will doubtless soon be annexed to New York City, which will give the people of Pelham Manor the advantage of city improvements without expensive city assessments.

The Westchester Water Co. began laying a main line of water pipes here a year ago and is now laying out branches.  With the $40,000 recently voted great improvements will be made in the streets.  There are hourly trains over the Harlem River branch road and trains every half hour are promised next season.  It is but thirty minutes to Harlem by train, and the fare is 22 cents a day by commutation.  The New Haven road will, it is said, make this branch its main line."

Source:  PELHAM MANOR -- AN AMERICAN VILLAGE HELD EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE RICH, St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis, MO], Nov. 27, 1892, p. 12, cols. 1-3.  

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