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, July 04, 2016

19th Century Fourth of July Celebrations in the Town of Pelham

Happy Independence Day Pelham!  Like most small towns in America, the Town of Pelham has a long and honorable tradition of celebrating the Fourth of July in grand style.  Indeed, this evening much of Pelham gathers in Shore Park to continue this tradition as they witness the spectacle of an awe-inspiring fireworks display above the New York Athletic Club facility on Travers Island.  

The 19th century citizens of Pelham were no different in their national pride and their desire to celebrate Independence Day.  Indeed, they celebrated the holiday in ways that were surprisingly similar to our own celebrations of the holiday today.  This article collects three examples of 19th century Independence Day celebrations in the Town of Pelham.

July 3, 1894:  Pelham's Fourth of July Parade in 1894 -- The Last One Held on City Island Before Its Annexation by New York City

The citizens of City Island celebrated their last Independence Day as part of the Town of Pelham in 1894.  The celebration actually was held on Fourth of July Eve.  It began at 8:45 p.m. and included a grand parade and fireworks.

The parade included the new Minneford Engine Company and the newer Hook and Ladder Company.  The firemen towed the new steam engine and marched from the City Island bridge to the foot of City Island and back to the Minneford Engine Company firehouse.  The firemen were accompanied by the Judson Kilpatrick Drum Corps of New York in the lead.  According to one account, "the route of the procession was lined with spectators in whose faces the enthusiasm of the occasion was visible."

The marchers "burned" red lights "to exhibit more clearly the lines of the engine and ladder."  As they passed the center of the settlement on City Island, they were greeted with a fireworks display and flags.  

The entire parade lasted a little more than one hour.  According to the local newspaper, "by ten o'clock all was quiet again."

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Below is the text of a newspaper article describing the parade, followed by a citation and link to its source.


The greatest excitement that has been of public interest in our midst for some time occurred on the eve of the 'Fourth', when the firemen turned out in a body and hauled their egnine the length of the village twice.

This was done in order to greet the new Hook and Ladder Company which was recently formed and to exhibit to the people concerned, the apparatus we have in our midst for fighting fires.

The line of march started from the bridge at quarter to nine, with the Judson Kilpatric Drum Corps of New York in the lead.  The Minneford Engine Co. fell in after them twenty strong, with their engine in tow.  Then came the Hook and Ladder Co., the heroes of the evening, with their new apparatus.  Red lights were burned to exhibit more clearly the lines of the engine and ladder.  As the procession came near the center of the village fireworks and flags greeted it, and was continued for some time.  The route of the procession was lined with spectators in whose faces the enthusiasm of the occasion was visible.  The length of the island was traversed, and returning the firemen stationed themselves near the engine house and cheered the new company as they passed.  Here, wet and dusty, the crowd disbanded and by ten o'clock all was quiet again."

Source:  THE PARADE!, City Island Drift, Jul. 7, 1894, p. 6, cols. 1-2.  

July 4, 1887:  Grand Flag Raising in Pelhamville

In 1887, the tiny little settlement of Pelhamville in the Town of Pelham planned a grand celebration of Independence Day. Local leaders arranged for the erection of a massive 61-foot flagpole at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Fourth Street (today's Lincoln Avenue).  The planned program for the day involved a "grand flag raising" at the new flagpole at 6:00 a.m.  The newly-established Pelhamville Brass Band that later became a Pelhamville institution at such celebrations, planned to "play for the first time in public."  There were, of course, addresses by local civic leaders and "singing of national airs."

Although the massive flagpole was donated by Mr. S. Bernstein of Chester Hill in Mount Vernon, a group of Pelhamville residents raised subscriptions to fund the program.  A local newspaper reported that after the celebration "The flag and pole will be given to the proper authorities in Pelhamville." 

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Below is the text of a brief article regarding the planned program.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.


-- There will be a grand flag raising July 4th, at 6 A.M., on the corner of Fourth street [today's Lincoln Avenue] and Fifth avenue.  The pole is sixty-one feet long.  The Pelhamville Brass Band, Prof. H. J. Hunt instructor, play for the first time in public, and there will be addresses and if possible, singing of national airs.  Messrs. Brotherton, and the old Mexican hero, Justice Paterson and John Godfrey, are raising subscriptions and preparing the programme.  The flag and pole will be given to the proper authorities in Pelhamville.  The pole is donated by Mr. S. Bernstein, of Chester Hill, Mt. Vernon. -- Record." 

Source:  PELHAMVILLE, New Rochelle Pioneer, Jun. 25, 1887, Vol. XXVIII, No. 13, p. 3, col. 5.  

July 4, 1856:  Steamboat Excursions from New York City to Pelham 

On the Fourth of July, 1856, Americans celebrated the eightieth anniversary of American Independence.  Many New Yorkers decided to celebrate that holiday with a "GRAND EXCURSION" on the steamer IOLAS to Pelham Bridge in the Town of Pelham.  

By 1856, the Pelham Bridge, Pelham Neck, and City Island region of the Town of Pelham already had become a popular destination for excursionists seeking to escape the city for a day of picnics, swimming, boating, fishing, and the like.  An advertisement for the IOLAS excursion on July 4, 1856 promised that the excursion to City Island and Pelham Bridge would offer "Fine fishing and swimming at City Island" and "Fine groves at Pelham Bridge!"  At the end of the day, the steamer positioned itself to permit viewing of a grand fireworks display to mark the occasion.  Immediately below is an advertisement for the excursion which cost 25 cents per person.

Advertisement for the "GRAND EXCURSION" to Pelham
Bridge on the Steamer IOLAS with Captain Dolton on
July 4, 1856.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.


GRAND EXCURSIONS--On FOURTH JULY, 1856 -- The favorite steamer IOLAS, Capt Dolton, will make a trip to City Island, Pelham Bridge Westchester County.  Fine fishing and swimming at City Island.  Capt. McClelland will make all at home at his fine hotel.  Fine groves at Pelham Bridge!  This boat will not be crowded, I pledge myself.

Fare for the trip, 50 cents.  The boat will land at Fort Schuyer and Stratonport [sp?].  Leaves foot of 30th st., N. R., at 7 o'clock; Amos st. 7 1/2; Spring st., 7 1/2; Pier 3, 7 3/4; Catherine Ferry 8 o'clock; Broome st., 8 1/2; South 3d st., Williamsburg 8 3/4; 10th st. at 9 o'clock.  Refreshments on board.  The boat will make all the landings.

The boat will return to witness the Fireworks -- fare 25 cents.  This will be the best place to see the Fireworks.  A fine Band will accompany the boat.


Source:  GRAND EXCURSION -- On FOURTH JULY, 1856, New-York Daily Times, Jul. 3, 1856, p. 5, col. 3 (access via available link requires paid subscription).

Cover of the Program for the July 4, 1907 Celebration.  Source:
Original Held in Private Collection, But Image Provided to The
Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

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