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, June 10, 2016

Why Did the Development of Pelhamville Stop at the Railroad Tracks Despite Plans to Develop South of the Tracks?

Think, for a moment, of the lovely neighborhood known today as Pelham Heights.  Think of its lovely streets:  Boulevard, Corona Avenue, Monterey Avenue, Loring Avenue, and others.  These are a few of the loveliest residential streets in our Town.  

Think, as well, about Coppinger's Avenue, Duncombe Avenue, Elizabeth Street, Adelaide Street, Pacific Street, Horatio Street, Grove Street, High Street, and Rail Road Place.  Have you never heard of any such streets in Pelham Heights?  They were planned, but never built.  It turns out that in 1851, two groups planned to develop Pelhamville.  One group planned to develop the settlement north of the railroad tracks.  The other group planned to develop lands south of the tracks that we know today as Pelham Heights. The first group succeeded.  The other failed.  Why?

The Initial Development of the Settlement of Pelhamville

Between 1826 and the 1880s nearly 100 independent railroads were constructed in southern New England according to a "History of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad" prepared by the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center of the University of Connecticut Libraries.  According to the same history, "[t]he New Haven traced its founding to 1826, when one of its predecessor companies originated."  

The "main line" of the New Haven opened in December, 1848.  The "station" located within today's Village of Pelham soon was called "Pelhamville."  The little station became merely a "flag stop" on the New Haven Line.  This meant that trains on the New Haven Line did not stop there regularly.  Rather, a "flag" was raised as a signal to the engineer to stop the train so that passengers at the station could embark.  According to Thomas Fenlon in his book on the history of Pelham, "[w]hen the flag stop was instituted [well after the little station was built], Pelhamville had 245 residents.  On the south side of the tracks, in what was later to be incorporated as the Village of Pelham, the only residents were living on Wolfs Lane, on the Sparks farm west of Wolfs Lane, and in the old McLellan and Corlies homes East of it." Fenlon, Thomas B., Pelham New York Memories of a Century After Incorporation, pp. 32-33 (Klein Information Resources, Inc. 1996).  

Soon, land speculators converged on the region.  In 1850, a building society named the United Brothers' Land Society (occasionally referenced, erroneously, as the Pelhamville Village Association) was organized to develop certain tracts of unincorporated property in the Town of Pelham lying north of the railroad tracks and east of the Hutchinson River.  The association purchased the Anthony Wolf Farm (John Anthony Woolf) north of the railroad tracks and arranged for surveyor William Bryson to survey and prepare a development plan for the development of Pelhamville by mapping proposed streets and building lots.  Bryson completed two maps.  The first, Map 346 of Pelhamville dated August 4, 1851, depicted the planned development north of the New Haven line railroad tracks.  This map eventually governed the development of Pelhamville.  

The Pelhamville Extension Map Dated October 11, 1851

The second map prepared by Bryson was dated October 11, 1851.  It is entitled "MAP OF BUILDING LOTS Being a Continuation of PELHAMVILLE Westchester County N.Y. The Property of John B. Coppinger.  Scale 132 feet to one Inch."  According to the map, it depicted plans for the development of lands that were not part of the United Brothers' Land Society's purchase of the Anthony Wolf farm.  Rather, the map depicted proposed development of "The Property of JOHN B. COPPINGER" located south of the railroad tracks.

An image of this second map appears immediately below.  A discussion of this fascinating map follows the image.  

Westchester County N.Y. The Property of John B. Coppinger.  Scale
132 feet to one Inch."  Source:  Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But
Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient
Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One
Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The
Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, Plate VII between
pp. 28-29 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

The Pelhamville extension map is interesting.  First, the roadway we know as Wolfs Lane on the west (left) side of the map is marked "Fifth Avenue" as an extension of Fifth Avenue on the northern side of the railroad tracks.  That, of course, did not come to pass as the extension now is named Wolfs Lane.  Second, the "Railroad Depot" shown is the original wooden station shown at its original location.  That location is where the old Pelham National Bank building located at One Wolfs Lane now stands.  Third, and most interestingly, there is only one structure shown on the map south of the railroad tracks.  It is a structure on a lot designated "Hotel Ground" near the railroad tracks.  It appears, of course, that the structure is a hotel, although I was unaware of the existence of one at that location at that time.  

The Pelhamville extension map depicts lands south of the railroad tracks roughly bounded by today's Wolfs Lane on the west, the railroad tracks on the north, today's Cliff Avenue on the east, and today's East 2nd street on the south.  The proposed roadway adjacent to the railroad tracks along much of the route of today's East 1st Street is designated as "Rail Road Place."  Other streets depicted on the map are Coppinger's Avenue, Duncombe Avenue, Elizabeth Street, Adelaide Street, Pacific Street, Horatio Street, Grove Street, and High Street.

Development of Lands North of the Railroad but Not South of the Railroad

The United Brothers' Land Society proceeded with development, albeit slowly.  Pelhamville began to develop north of the railroad tracks.

There was, however, no development south of the tracks.  What happened?  Research suggests an answer to this question, although the matter is far from certain.

It appears that John B. Coppinger, who was designated on the Bryson map as the owner of the property, became involved in some fashion with a man named Alfred H. Duncombe in connection with development of the property.  (Hence, Coppinger's Avenue and Duncombe Avenue in Bryson's proposed development map.)

It appears that the relationship between the two men soured.  Duncombe filed a lawsuit against Coppinger and others.  No record of the lawsuit has yet been uncovered, so it is not known with certainty when it was filed and what were the claims asserted in the action.  There is, however, a legal notice published in the April 29, 1860 issue of the Eastern State Journal indicating that Duncombe had obtained a judgment against Coppinger and the other defendants.  Significantly, the notice further provided that pursuant to "and by virtue of" that judgment, Coppinger's land reflected on the October 11, 1851 Bryson map would be sold at auction to be held at the Pelhamville train station the following month.  

Soon, of course, the Civil War erupted, likely further delaying any potential development of the old Coppinger lands as part of Pelhamville.  The lands remained undeveloped until the early 1890s when Benjamin L. Fairchild and Benjamin F. Corlies bought large tracts in the area and combined to develop the lands as Pelham Heights.  Thereafter, had the development incoporated by special legislation as the smallest village in the State of New York.

Had Coppinger, Duncombe, and their compatriots succeeded in developing Coppinger's property as part of Pelhamville, the tiny little Village of Pelham (today's Heights), likely never would have been created and "The Pelhams" would only have consisted of two villages rather than three:  Pelham Manor, North Pelham, and Pelham.

Map of Pelhamville Published in 1868 Showing Development North
of the Railroad Tracks But Not South of the Railroad Tracks.
Source: Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity from Actual
Surveys By and Under the Direction of F.W. Beers, Assisted By A.B.
Prindle & Others, pg. 36 (NY, NY: Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1868) (Detail
N.Y. (With) Pelhamville").  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

"SUPREME COURT -- COUNTY OF WESTCHESTER. -- Alfred H. Duncombe, plaintiff, against John B. Coppinger and others, defendants.

In pursuance and by virtue of a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of New York made and entered in the above entitled action, and bearing date of the sixth day of February, 1860, will be sold at public auction by or under the direction of the Sheriff of the county of Westchester at the depot station house of the New York and New Haven railroad company, in the village of Pelhamville in the Town of Pelham, in said county, on Saturday the [illegible] day of May next, at ten o'clock in the forenoon of that day, the following described premises, to wit:  All that certain piece, parcel, or tract of land, situate lying and being in the town of Pelham, in the county of Westchester, and State of New York, bounded and described as follows:  Beginning at the southwesterly corner of said lands and corner of the land lately belonging to William W. McClellan, deceased, on Wolfe's avenue; thence by and along Wolfe's avenue north three-quarters degrees east two chains; thence north three and three-quarter degrees east three chains; thence north thirteen and one-half degrees east three chains; thence north twenty-six and three-quarter degrees east ten chains and twenty-five links, to the lands belonging to the New York and New Haven railroad company; thence by the lands of said New York and New Haven railroad company, south sixty-two degrees east three chains; thence south seventy degrees east two chains; thence south three chains; thence south sixty-seven degrees east six chains and sixty links; thence south fifty degrees east one chain and fifty links; thence south sixty-four and one-half degrees east four chains and forty links, to lands of H. Grenzbach; thence by and with said Grenzbach's lnd south one degree east nineteen chains and ten links; thence north eighty degrees west seven chains and twenty links; thence north seventy-six and one-half degrees west two chains, to the land late of William W. McClellan, deceased, north fifty-eight and one-quarter degrees west seven chains and twenty-eight links; thence north fifty-eight degrees west ten chains and thirty links, to the place of beginning -- containing within said boundaries forty-five acres and seventy-seven one hundredths of an acre, or forty-six acres and twenty-two one-hundredths of an acre, including to the centre of Wolfe's avenue -- be the contents thereof more or less.  -- Dated April 2, 1860.

WILLIAM H. PEMBERTON, Pl'ff's Att'y.          48w7"

Source:  SUPREME COURT -- COUNTY OF WESTCHESTER. -- Alfred Duncombe, plaintiff, against John B. Coppinger and others, defendants [Legal Notice], Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Apr. 29, 1860, Vol. XV, No. 50, p. 4, col. 1.  

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