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.

Monday, May 23, 2016

More on Jack's Rock, Formerly Known as Van Cott's Grove, a Popular 19th Century Excursion Destination in Pelham

During the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century before Robert Moses filled in much of Pelham Bay and created Orchard Beach, bathers and day excursionists thronged the shores of Pelham Bay and that portion of the Bay some called "Le Roy Bay" on warm days.  There were a host of lovely places to enjoy the waters of the Bay and the views toward City Island and Hunter's Island.  None, perhaps, were as lovely as the place known as "Jack's Rock."  

I have written about Jack's Rock before.  The area was known for many years as "Van Cott's Grove" and was a famed picnic area and swimming site in the Town of Pelham.  See Fri., Dec. 26, 2014:  Van Cott's Grove: Once a Famed Picnic Destination in 19th Century Pelham.  

Jack's Rock was a rocky promontory that extended into Pelham Bay and ended with a giant boulder adjacent to comparatively deep water.  It was a favorite destination of bathers and day excursionists.  Jack's Rock clearly was a special place with gorgeous views of Hunter's Island and City Island.  See IT'S A GREAT COLOR SHOW -- The Autumn Spectacle of the Parks Beyond the Harlem, The Sun [NY, NY], Oct. 27, 1895, p. 6, col. 2 ("Hunter's Island, as seen from Jack's Rock, is as a perpetual sunset.").  Indeed, Jack's Rock was so notable that a successful local artist named William Sylvester Budworth (1861-1938) of Mount Vernon, New York painted a watercolor entitled "Jack's Rock" and exhibited it in 1895.  See ARTIST BUDWORTH'S WATER COLOR EXHIBITION -- A Display of Special Merit, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Dec. 7, 1895, Vol. XV, No. 1125, p. 3, col. 3.  The whereabouts of the Budworth painting are unknown.

Precisely where is Jack's Rock?  I still have not been able to answer that question with precision.  Analysis suggests that it may have been adjacent to the old Rapelje Estate on Pelham Neck.  Catherine Scott concluded in a story published in The Island Current published on City Island in 1990 that "The Rapelje estate was located close to Jack's Rock, a waterfront boulder buried by landfill when the Orchard Beach parking lot was created." (Emphasis added.)   Jack's Rock clearly extended into the bay.  A review of period maps, however, has not revealed the precise location of Jack's Rock.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog offers a rare treat regarding Jack's Rock.  An engraving included among images on a newspaper page published in 1907 may offer the only known image of Jack's Rock.  (See below.)  Thus, today's posting includes not only that image, but also additional information about Jack's Rock.

On March 15, 1905, the Stuyvesant Yacht Club leased property located at Jack's Rock and operated it as its headquarters for nearly the next thirty years until the creation of Orchard Beach filled in a portion of Pelham Bay.  See The City of New York Department of Parks Annual Report 1914, p. 168 (NY, NY:  City of New York Department of Parks, 1915) (indicating lease began on March 15, 1905); Ultan, Lloyd & Olson, Shelley, The Bronx:  The Ultimate Guide to New York City's Beautiful Borough, p. 107 (Rutgers University Press, 2015) (noting the club had to move to new quarters in 1934 when a portion of the bay was filled to create Orchard Beach).

Additionally, Jack's Rock was such a popular bathing spot that it was included among the locations along Pelham Bay and City Island with a designated lifeguard station for many years.  The area was within District No. 2 of The United States Volunteer Life Saving Corps in the early 20th Century.  According to one report, District No. 2 was: 

"one of the best organized districts in the Greater City [of New York] due to the energy, interest and enthusiasm of Com. Augustus G. Miller through whose efforts, a complete organization has been effected, giving a total of ten stations and 2 sub-stations to the district, with a membership of approximately 400 men.  This district is one much frequented by yachtsmen, row boat parties, fishermen and bathers, needing constant supervision of the watchful eyes of the volunteers.  It takes in all of the waterfront from Fort Schuyler on the Sound to City Line, including Eastchester Bay, Pelham bay, the Hutchinson river, and many minor bays and coves.  The Throggs' Neck, Pelham Bay Park, Orchard Beach, and City Island sections are those most frequented by the public and were the scenes of a number of daring rescues."  

Source:  Annual Report of the United States Volunteer Life Saving Corps of the State of New York for the Year Ending October 31, 1907, p. 19 (Albany, NY:  J. B. Lyon Company, 1908).  

Among the many life-saving stations for which Commodore Miller was responsible in District No. 2 were two stations located at Jack's Rock.  Id. at 20.  A few of the many others were stations at Belden Point, the East Shore of City Island, Rodman's Neck, Orchard Beach, and Le Roy Bay.  Id.  

Clearly the area around Jack's Rock, once known as Van Cott's Grove, was long an important place.  Native American remains and artifacts have been found there.  As one report noted:

"Ancient encampments were plenty in what is now Pelham Bay Park, and shell heaps attesting the fact are scattered all along the shores.  One of these, near 'Jack's Rock' was explored for the Museum in 1899.  The shell heap itself yielded little, but the pits near by and on the adjoining knolls contained much of interest, including three skeletons and a quantity of pottery, together with many bone and stone implements.  These knolls are mentioned by R. P. Bolton in his 'History of Westchester County' as a burial place of the Siwanoy Indians -- one of the few cases in which 'Indian Cemeteries' have proven anything but the burial grounds of the early White settlers.  The collection found here is now at the Museum."

Source:  Harrington, M.R., "Ancient Shell Heaps Near New York City" in The Indians of Greater New York and the Lower Hudson edited by Clark Wissler - Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. III, pp. 167, 175 (NY, NY:  American Museum of Natural History, 1909).

Immediately below is the image of a newspaper page published in 1907.  The images on the page include one near the top with a sailboat adjacent to Jack's Rock.  This is the only image of Jack's Rock and the area around Van Cott's Grove that I have been able to locate so far.  The same page includes an image of The Marshall Mansion (later, the Colonial Inn) as well as other important images of the region.    

1907 Article that Includes a Rare Image of "Jack's Rock"
Near Top with Sailboat Nearby.  Source:  Where Nature Still
LIMITS -- No. 1 Pelham Bay Park, N.Y. Herald Magazine Section,
Jul. 7, 1907, p. 8, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Detail from 1905 Map of Pelham Bay Park Showing Pelham Bay
Park Area Where Jack's Rock (Once Known as Van Cott's Grove)
Was Located.  Source: Office of the President of the Borough of
the Bronx Topographical Bureau, Topographical Survey Sheets
of the Borough of the Bronx Easterly of the Bronx River, Sheet 29
(Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public
Library). NOTE: Click Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Transcribed below is the text of a couple of additional sources that mention Jack's Rock.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Pleasant Walks that May Be Taken There at This Time of the Year.

Nobody visits Pelham Bay Park these days, though to the man who loves to feel turf beneath his feet it is a pleasant place to walk at almost any time of year.  It is the only one of the city parks where one may take a really long walk without doubling on one's tracks.  It is larger than Central Park and Bronx River Park put together, and nearly double the area of Van Coutlandt Park, and it so lies that one has the choice of four fine walks, any one of which will occupy about two hours.  It is well to choose for a walk in Pelham Bay Park at this season the morning after a hard 'black' frost, when the roads and the spongy meadows of the park shall be frozen dry, and thus afford good footing.

The New Yorker who goes to Mt. Vernon by the New Haven Railroad will find before him a trolley ride of ten minutes to East Chester, and thence a walk of fifteen minutes by the old Boston Road to the entrance of the park.  The first turn to the east beyond East Chester bridge brings the park into view, and the visitor should lose no time in getting off the road and into the park.  The meadow here slopes through a cedar grove to the hard marsh on the left bank of East Chester Creek.  Because the soil is damp and spongy the slope of the meadow is green all winter long.  The sun falls pleasantly through the dense bower of the cedar grove and rests in broad floods upon the East Chester marsh.  The color of the marsh is the marvel of the early winter landscape in Pelham Bay Park.  Just now mmen are still reaping and stacking the long, dead marsh grass, and no words can quite convey the mellow richness of the smooth-shaven marsh meadows, or the soft golden brown of the stacked harvest.  The marsh spreads nearly a mile in width, and winds for fully two and a half miles with the winding of the stream.  A break in the cedar grove here and there reveals the full sweep of the march, the sun-burnished surface of the streamm, at high tide lyi9ng in broad, golden skeins, and beyond a horizon dense with wood and dim with frost.

The walk of half a mile through the sloping edow brings one to a neglected apple orchard, overgrown with goldenrod and briars, and that to a low, breezy meadow, treacherrous with wet hollows to careless feet, and a narrow, sluggish stream, but rich in color and good enough wlking for the really active pedestrian.  Less than half a mile of this brings one to the embankment of the New Haven Railroad's suburban branch.  Here the railroad crosses on an iron trestle one of the main roads through the park, and a little further on one must choose whether he will go north-ward to Hunter's Island or southward to Jack's Rock, City Island, Bartow Station, or the village of West Chester.  The walk to Hunter's Island is a full mile and a half by a well-made road, with the park on each side.  It gives one another inspiring view of the marshes, as well of the Sound, flecked at all times with moving craft fr and near.  The rocks at the Twin Island, reached by way of Hunter's Island, and still in the park, go sheer down to the water at some points, but afford an excellent promenade and sunny nooks where it is warm at noon of a winter's day, if the wind be not from the east.  The Sound, the Long Island shore, and the irregular coast of the park, lie in full view from this spot, and the outlook is scarce more beautiful in summer than in winter.

If the walker's choice at the forks of the road fall to the southward, he finds himself with Jack's Rock scarce a mile distant, and quaint little City Island a matter of perhaps two miles.  The scene from this island is repeated at Jack's Rock with variations, and few views are more delightful than that from Jack's Rock toward City Island, while the Sound is peopled with brilliant colored rocks, vitreous and reddish yellow with iron.  Southward again lies nearly two miles of the park bordered with a broad road that crosses the mouth of East Chester Creek at a point where the stream is about widening to a great bay.  The eastern horizon is forever ghastly with phantom sails that seem refined to gossamer and appear to follow one another in an orderly nautical procession.  Inland stretch broad marshes of the same delightfully mellow tint as before, and the uplands gird them round with a leaden horizon of forest tops soft with entangled frost.  Nearly everything in sight from the bridge is park land, a noble domain of marsh, meadow, inhabited upland dotted with fine old ansions, and glorious bits of timber.  Bartow Station and the New Haven's suburban line offer an easy way home from Jack's Rock or the East Chester Bridge, but there is a pleasant two-mile walk from the latter to the village of West Chester, with the broadest and richest marsh meadow view the whole way from the little bridge that leads into the village.  Thence one has the choice of the suburban road or the trolley homeward.

The good walker who hits upon just the right day for this expedition may well explore Hunter's Island and Jack's Rock and still have time for the walk to West Chester.  It is a comfortable trip of two and a half hours from the Mount Vernon station to Hunter's Island, though any rapid walker may do it in less than two hours.  Thence to Jacks Rock is about forty-five minutes, and thence to West Chester the better part of an hour.  There are houses of entertainment scattered along the way, and one may easily time his journey so as to have a comfortable nooning ten minutes from Jack's Rock.  In the course of the journey one comes upon a tempting old inn whose signboard proclaims the house to have been built in 1735."

Source:  PELHAM BAY PARK -- Pleasant Walks that May Be Taken There at This Time of the Year, The Sun [NY, NY], Dec. 26, 1894, p. 2, col. 2.    

"Stuyvesant Yacht Club, 10 Centre Street at the western edge of the street on the north side of the street two blocks west of City Island Avenue, is a private member-owned yacht club with a restaurant and bar open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday and for dinner on Wednesday and Friday.  Visits must be arranged in advance.  Dress is casual, but bathing suits and bare feet are not permitted and shirts are required. . . . The club was chartered in 1890 using the ferryboat named Gerard Stuyvesant as its clubhouse, beached along the East River at Port Morris on the southern coast of The Bronx.  Membership growth led the club to move to Jack's Rock on Pelham Bay in Pelham Bay Park, but a short time later, in 1934, it was compelled to move when the bay was filled in to create Orchard Beach.  The club then moved into a tent on what had been a coal yard at the end of Centre Street on City Island.  Members pitched in to build a permanent home with improvements over the years.  However, a fire in 1968 destroyed the clubhouse and the current one was erected on the site.  The club sponsors and participates in several maritime events and races.  Sailboats and motorboats fill the marina behind the club."

Source:  Ultan, Lloyd & Olson, Shelley, The Bronx:  The Ultimate Guide to New York City's Beautiful Borough, p. 107 (Rutgers University Press, 2015).  

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