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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

More About Gouverneur Morris Jr. Who Lived and Died in Bartow-on-the-Sound in the Town of Pelham

Gouverneur Morris Jr. was the son and namesake of Gouverneur Morris, a founding father of the United States who was a signer of the Articles of Confederation, author of sections of the United States Constitution (and a signer of the document), a member of the Continental Congress, a United States Minister to France, and a United States Senator, among other accomplishments.  Gouverneur Morris Sr. was the owner of the estate known as Morrisania in lower Westchester, part of an area that was annexed by New York City in 1874. 

Gouverneur Morris Jr. became a major railroad entrepreneur and a proponent for industrialization in the Bronx.  He was born on February 9, 1813, the son of his namesake father and of Anne Cary Randolph Gouverneur.  Gouverneur Morris Jr. was known by the nickname "Gouverno" for much of his life.  He married a distant cousin named Martha Jefferson Cary, a daughter of Wilson Jefferson Cary and Virginia Randolph Cary.  The couple had five children including one, Anne Cary Morris, who edited and published some of her grandfather's (Gouverneur Morris Sr.'s) papers.  Gouverno served as Vice President of the New York and Harlem River Railroad and oversaw the construction of the rail lines that run beneath Park Avenue in New York City.  According to one source, in 1840 "he donated St. Ann's Church [in Morrisania] as a family memorial.  He promoted Port Morris as a commercial port, and donated land to skilled workers in 1848, to create an ideal workingman's village if it were called Morrisania.  That is today's Morrisania neighborhood [in the Bronx]. He spent much of the later part of his career in Vermont, as president of the Vermont Valley Railroad."  Gouverneur Morris Jr., Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia (visited Aug. 21, 2016).  Gouverneur Morris Jr. died the morning of August 20, 1888 in a Morris family home in the area known as Bartow-on-the-Sound in the Town of Pelham.

I have written about Gouverneur Morris Jr. of Bartow before.  See Thu., Aug. 28, 2014:  Gouverneur Morris Jr. Lived His Later Years, and Died, in Bartow-on-the-Sound in the Town of Pelham.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides a watercolor-on-ivory portrait of Gouverneur Morris Jr., an additional obituary with more information about him, and speculates regarding the location of the Pelham home in which he lived his later years and died.  

Watercolor on Ivory (With Human Hair) Portrait
of Gouverneur Morris Jr. Painted by Thomas Seir
Cummings (1804-1894).  Collection of the Walters
Art Museum, Call Number 38.492.  Source:  
Gouverneur Morris Jr., Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia
(visited Aug. 21, 2016).  NOTE:  Click on Image To Enlarge.

Only recently has research revealed an image of the so-called "Gouverneur Morris" house that once stood in Pelham on lands that are now part of Pelham Bay Park.  That image appears immediately below.

Herald, Apr. 26, 1896, Sixth Section, p. 13, cols.
2-5.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

At least one source has described this structure as a pre-Revolutionary War home.  See Obituary . . . GOUVERNEUR MORRIS in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. XIX, No. 4, Oct. 1888, pp. 177, 179 (NY, NY: New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Oct. 1888) (stating "When the lower portion of West Chester County became a part of New York city, Mr. Morris, who had an inherent objection to being one of a million people in a city, left Morrisania and made his home in a quaint anti-revolutionary [sic] house at Pelham, belonging to members of his family. Here he lived quietly owing to failing health, among his books and papers, and surrounded by friends").

Although research has not yet revealed the precise location of this home, the above-quoted report indicates that it was owned by members of Gouverneur Morris's "family."  There were, at the time, several Morris family homes in the area of Pelham Neck and Bartow-on-the-Sound.  When comparing the image above to images of the Dr. Richard L. Morris home on Shore Road that later was used as the clubhouse of the "Country Club" at Pelham, it seems certain that Gouverneur Morris did not live in that home.

A review of period maps suggests to this author that the most likely location of the Morris home in which Gouverneur Morris Jr. lived and died stood on the upper part of Pelham Neck on the southwestern side of City Island road.  The Beers map of the area published in 1868, six years before Gouverneur Morris moved to Pelham, indicates that at that location was the "R. Morris" Estate.  (See immediately below.)

Detail from 1868 Beers Map Showing
"R. Morris Est." Southwest of City Island
Road on Upper Part of Pelham Neck.
in Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity
from Actual Surveys by and Under the Direction
of F. W. Beers, p. 35 (NY, NY:  Beers, Ellis &
Soule, 1868).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Placing the Gouverneur Morris Jr. home at this location would be consistent with one account indicating that the Morris home was not far from the Marshall Mansion known as Hawkswood that once looked out over City Island Bridge.  See CITY TO REFORM AS A LANDLORD, N.Y. Herald, Apr. 26, 1896, Sixth Section, p. 13, cols. 2-5 ("One of the noblest old mansions is just off the City Island road, and looks to the Sound across a great rolling lawn [i.e., the Marshall Mansion]. The former owner has remained as a tenant. Not far away is the charming old Gouverneur Morris house, high roofed and shingled, with dormer windows, charming verandas and great low studded rooms.").

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Below is the text of an additional obituary of Gouverneur Morris Jr.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

"At Bartow-on-the-Sound, N Y., on Monday died Gouverneur Morris, aged seventy-five years.  He was the son of the noted Gouverneur Morris of New York City, who was Minister to France, Senator from New York, and one of the projectors of the Erie Canal.  The subject of this notice was one of the earliest railway projectors and constructors in the country.  His railroad career began in the early days of the New York and Harlem Railroad, about 1838, and terminated with his resignation of the presidency of the Vermont Valley Railroad in 1880.  During these years he was connected with the Erie and New York Central roads, and served as president of the Harlem.  He was one of the originators of the Illinois Central and the Iowa system of roads, and an original suggestor of the Union Pacific road.  His mother was a niece of Thomas Jefferson; and, in early life, he married Patsey Jefferson Carey, of Virginia, a grand-niece of Jefferson.  His second wife, who died about four years ago, was Miss Anna Morris, also a cousin.  The children, all from his first marriage, who survive him are two sons and three daughters.  He divided his large estate between his children some years ago."

Source:  [Untitled], The Times-Democrat [New Orleans, LA], Aug. 24, 1888, p. 4, col. 4 (NOTE:  Access via this link requires paid subscription).

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

News Reported by the Pelham Press on February 13, 1897

For a brief time in the late 1890s, Pelham had its first local newspaper named the "Pelham Press."  I have written before of the founding of that little newspaper and have quoted the following account of its creation written by J. Gardiner Minard of the Village of North Pelham:

"During the winter of 1895-96, the late Mark A. Hanna, chairman of the Republican National Committee was forcing the presidential nomination of Governor William McKinley, of Ohio. There was much opposition to McKinley and Hanna with his millions was purchasing the support of certain newspapers. There lived in Stamford, Conn., a tall old gentlemen [sic] by the name of John T. Trowbridge. He resembled Charles Evan Hughes with his flowing beard. Trowbridge saw that Hanna was proceeding with a very expensive program and getting audience with the political leader unfolded the scheme which brought the Pelham Press into being, as well as several other weekly newspapers along the Long Island Sound shore from the Bronx to Milford, Conn. 

These newspapers were to sponsor the McKinley cause. A representative in each city, town and village would edit his particular sheet. All the papers would be printed alike with the exception of the heads, and subheads on the editorial page. Each group of news would be printed under the heading of the locality where it was to be circulated. The papers were printed in New York City and delivered in the various communities by train. The only expense to the editor was the fifty cents express charges. 

Mr. Trowbridge came to Pelham hoping to establish a link of his chain journalism here. I was recommended for the position as editor and I accepted the very flattering offer. 

It was never intended that these newspapers should survive the election, but the Pelham Press had made its mark and when the time for suspension came, the circulation list was rather substantial, and although I pocketed everything, Trowbridge continued to supply me with papers". 

Source: Minard, J. Gardiner, MANY NEWSPAPERS HAVE ENTERED PELHAM FIELD SINCE PELHAM PRESS WAS PUBLISHED IN 1896, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 5, 1929, p. 9, cols. 1-6.

Although copies of the Pelham Press no longer exist, The Pelham Sun periodically published the contents of the tiny little newspaper in the late 1920s as a column entitled "Pelham 30 Years Ago."  By republishing the news of the day thirty years previously in such a fashion, The Pelham Sun created a series of tiny, written time capsules that are the only record of certain happenings in Pelham during 1896 and 1897.

In its February 11, 1927 issue, The Pelham Sun published the Pelham Press news of the week ended February 13, 1897.  Much of the news summarized developments relating to the local fire department including election of leaders of the Relief Hook and Ladder Company as well as an upcoming special election of voters to approve the fire fighting budget for the ensuing year.  

The reports also remind us of a simpler time when the ice man made horse-drawn deliveries of large blocks of ice for placement in wooden "ice boxes" in nearly every home, forerunners of modern refrigerators.  The reports mention the ice houses that once stood near First avenue to store harvest of ice blocks cut from the Reservoir.  

The news of Pelham for the week ended February 13, 1897 offers a fascinating and entertaining glimpse of the nature of our Town shortly before the turn of the 20th century.  Below is the news of that week.

(Pelham Press February 13, 1897)

Prof. Van Buskirk of River avenue, North Pelham, for whose benefit a show was given at the town hall last Saturday night, moved with his family to New York City last Monday.


Willis Morse, a young lad living on Loring avenue, Pelham Heights, has placed on sale at Lyman's pharmacy a number of 'Cuba Libre' buttons with a miniature Cuban flag.  The money derived from the sale of them will be devoted to the assistance of the sick and wounded patriots.


The Christian Endeavor Society of the Church of the Covenant held a very enjoyable social at the church on Second avenue last Wednesday evening.


Monday night a party of North Pelham men suddenly decided to have a good time, so they engaged two large sleighs in Mount Vernon for a straw ride; telephoned Thomas McMahon, proprietor of the Neptune house on Shore road for a beefsteak supper and dance.  'Aunt Jane' Burnett of Prospect Hill was asked through a messenger to collect about twenty dancing partners for the men for a dance to follow at the Burnett residence.  A long drive began at 8 o'clock which led through New Rochelle and landed the party at McMahons at 9 o'clock where a fine supper was awaiting.  After eating the party continued to Aunt Jane's where the dancing partners were waiting and dancing was kept up until 2 a.m.  It was unanimously voted a complete success.


At the regular meeting of Relief Hook and Ladder company held at the fire house last Monday, James W. Penny was nominated for chief and Walter Barker was nominated for assistant chief.  Louis Epple was elected a member and William Edinger, who resigned last year was re-elected to membership.


Notices have been posted for a special election of the taxpayers of the first fire district to be held at the fire house next Monday evening to vote upon the following proposition for the maintenance of the department for the ensuing year:  $50 for a new hose rack on which to dry the hose; $50 for premium on the fire insurance policy which is now due; $50 for lighting and heating the fire house; [illegible] for bills now due and overdue, and $75 for running expenses and repairs.


The ice houses on First avenue having been filled with the last big crop from the reservoir and the prospects for another crop good, Lawrence B. Holler has started work on a second building to immediately adjoin the present structure.


The U.S. Senate on February 9th confirmed the reappointment of Mrs. Katherine L. Merritt as postmaster at the Pelham station.  The local station is at present fourth class and the postmaster is dependent upon the number of stamps and postal orders sold for salary, so all residents are urged to buy at the Pelham office.


Both Democrats and Republicans will hold their annual spring primaries for the nomination of town officials next week.


The Pelham Social club has tickets out for a Calico Hop to be given at the court house on February 25.


William H. Cars and family of Sixth avenue and Third street, moved last Monday to the Hiawatha-Evangeline apartments and store on the corner of east Third and Fourth streets, Mt. Vernon.  Mr. Cars also moved all his machinery from the Gurney hall and will re-establish his printery at the new location.  All the labels used by the Fleischmann Yeast company are printed at this plant.  Mr. Cars possesses a patent gum which causes paper to stick to tin foil."

Source:  PELHAM 30 YEARS AGO -- (Pelham Press February 13, 1897), The Pelham Sun, Feb. 11, 1927, p. 11, cols. 1-2.  

Detail of 1910 Map Showing Pelham Reservoir,
Filter Beds, and Area Where Ice Houses Once
Stood.  Source: Bromley, George W.
& Bromley, Walter S., Untitled Map Bounded by
Town of East Chester, City of New Rochelle,
Pelham Station, Clarefmont Avenue and Central
Boulevard in Atlas Of Westchester County, Vol. One,
p. 17 (Philadelphia, PA: G. W. Bromley & Co., 1910).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Home Page of the Historic Pelham Blog.
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."

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Monday, August 29, 2016

President Grover Cleveland Passed Through Pelham Waters on August 22, 1894

A number of American Presidents have visited Pelham or have had connections to our community.  I have written before of George Washington who, yes indeed, slept here (and visited our community a number of times).  I also have written of Martin Van Buren who visited Hunter's Island in 1839.  I have written of Warren G. Harding who was an honorary member of the Pelham Country Club.  Additionally, Chester A. Arthur is believed to be the namesake of today's Chester Park, developed in the 1890s.  I also have written about the day that the funeral train procession bearing the body of Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed through Pelham as the town mourned his death.  Although there are many posts on these topics, for a couple of examples, see:  

Mon., Feb. 21, 2005:  Presidents Day Post: American Presidents and Their Connections To Pelham

Wed., Mar. 25, 2015:  Pelham Mourned the Death of FDR as His Body Passed Through the Town by Train on April 15, 1945.  

We can add to the list of American Presidents who have passed through Pelham, however briefly, President Grover Cleveland who served as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.  

President Grover Cleveland on August 9, 1892.
Source:  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs
Division, Digital ID cph.3a10549.  NOTE:  Click on
Image to Enlarge.

On August 22, 1894, President Grover Cleveland passed through Pelham waters off the shore of City Island at 10:40 a.m. while traveling on the lighthouse tender John D. Rodgers.  The John D. Rodgers was "purposely run at slow speed" as the President passed on his way to Jersey City, New Jersey.  

President Cleveland was returning from a very brief trip to his summer home known as "Gray Gables" located in Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts.  He was traveling with his physician because he recently had suffered from Malaria and was recovering slowly.  

Exactly one week later on August 29, 1894, President Cleveland passed City Island at 3:45 p.m. in the lighthouse tender John D. Rodgers again as he and his party returned to Gray Gables for a much longer vacation.  

For each of his trips, President Cleveland traveled on the lighthouse tender John D. Rodgers, captained by W. S. Schley of the Lighthouse Service.  The John D. Rodgers was an iron hulled, side-wheeled steam tender that was 160 feet long.  It launched in about 1882-83 for use in the Third District of the Lighthouse Service.  

Undated Post Card View of "Gray Gables" at
Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts, the Summer
White House of President Grover Cleveland.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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Light-House Tender John Rodgers Passes City Island.

NEW YORK, Aug. 22. -- The light-house tender John Rodgers, with President Cleveland on board, passed City Island at 10:40 a.m.  As far as can be learned no special preparations have been made at the Pennsylvania Depot in Jersey City for the transportation of the President to Washington, but it is believed he will travel from Jersey City to the capital by the Congressional limited, which leaves at 3:20 p.m."

Source:  CLEVELAND ON BOARD -- Light-House Tender John Rodgers Passes City Island, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 22, 1894, p. 2, col. 2 (NOTE:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

The President Returns Quietly to His Duties in Washington.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22. -- President Cleveland returned to Washington to-night from his outing at Gray Gables.  Mr. Cleveland seemed in the best of health.

The Congressional Limited train, to which the President's private car was attached, arrived at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station at 8:25 o'clock, exactly on time.  Private Secretary Thurber had arrived early at the station, and went down the platform to meet the President.  Some of the White House ushers and a few policemen in citizens' clothes were also there.  Mr. Cleveland walked down the long platform to the station entrance with Mr. Thurber.  Behind were Secretary Lamont, who had joined the party in New-York, and Dr. O'Reilly of the army, who accompanied Mr. Cleveland to Gray Gables.  The crowd pressed closely about the President, but made no demonstration, and he entered the White House victoria with Mr. Thurber and was driven away in the quietest manner possible.

JERSEY CITY, N. J., Aug. 22. -- President Cleveland arrived here at 3:15 o'clock this afternoon on the lighthouse tender John Rodgers, on his way to Washington from Buzzard's Bay.

The President landed at the Adams Express Company's wharf and walked directly to the private car of President Roberts of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The car, which was in charge of a special crew, was attached to the limited express train which left at 3:32 o'clock P.M.  A large crowd was present to see the President.

The John Rodgers left Buzzard's Bay at 3:30 o'clock Tuesday afternoon, and was reported off City Island at 10:40 o'clock this morning.  The boat was expected to arrive at Jersey City at noon, and no special reason was given for the delay, except that the boat was purposely run at slow speed.  Lunch was served on board.  A squad of policemen, under command of Sergt. McGinnis, had been waiting all the morning to escort the President to the train.

The President was accompanied by Capt. Winfield S. Schley, United States Navy, and his physician, Dr. O'Reilly.  After walking with the President and Dr. O'Reilly, to the car, Capt. Schley returned to the lighthouse tender.

At the car the President was met by Secretary of War Lamont, who went with him to Washington.

It was said that President Cleveland was greatly benefited by his outing at Buzzard's Bay."

Source:  MR. CLEVELAND IN THE WHITE HOUSE -- The President Returns Quietly to His Duties in Washington, N.Y. Times, Aug. 23, 1894.  

Off to Gray Gables for a Rest of Several Weeks -- In Excellent Health.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29. -- Before Washington was fairly awake this morning.  President Cleveland had eaten breakfast and been driven to the Pennsylvania Railroad station, where he took a train for New York, en route to Gray Gables for a long rest.

It was 7 o'clock when Mr. Cleveland left the White House, in company with Dr. O'Reilly, the army surgeon who attends the Presidential family in Washington, and on whose advice Mr. Cleveland made his recent short trip to his seaside home to counteract the effects of malaria.  Secretary Lamont and Private Secretary Thurber joined the President at the station, which was crowded at that early hour with visitors to the Pythian celebration, and the four walked slowly and unconcernedly down the platform to President Roberts's private car, which had been attached to the first section of the New-York express for the accommodation of Mr. Cleveland's party.  Some people recognized the President and pressed closely about him, but they made no demonstration.

Mr. Cleveland was in excellent humor and evidently felt well.  'Good-bye, boys,' he said to the gatekeepers, whose faces have become familiar to him during the last nine years.  The train left Washington at 7:20 o'clock.

JERSEY CITY, N. J., Aug. 29. -- President Cleveland and his party arrived in this city at 1:05 this afternoon, and were escorted directly to the lighthouse tender, John D. Rodgers, which lay at the end of the Adams freight dock.  Capt. W. S. Schley of the Lighthouse Service, met the party as they left the car.  When they reached the elevator leading from the train shed to the pier, Secretary Lamont took leave of the President and crossed the river on his way to Bayside, L.I., where his family is spending the Summer.  The Rodgers was detained for nearly an hour, awaiting the arrival of the President's baggage.  This had been placed on the second section of the train, which was nearly an hour late.

During the walk from the elevator to the tender the President was surrounded by a small knot of persons, among whom were several reporters.  One of them asked the President if he expected any further action in regard to the tariff, but the President merely replied that he had left all thought of that behind him.  As to the length of his stay at Gray Gables, he said he was not certain.  He would rest at Buzzard's Bay several weeks and might spend some time with his family elsewhere before returning to Washington.  As to his health, he said it was 'first-rate.'

The President's baggage arrived at 2 o'clock, and as soon as it was received on board, the Rodgers steamed away for the East River, and at 3:45 P. M. had passed City Island on its trip up the Sound."

Source:  MR. CLEVELAND TAKES A VACATION -- Off to Gray Gables for a Rest of Several Weeks -- In Excellent Health, N.Y. Times, Aug. 30, 1894, p. 4, col. 6 (NOTE:  Access via this link requires paid subscription).

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

The Days of Four Quart Bobby Helmets Worn by the Pelham Manor Police

There was a time, more than a century ago, when the police of the Village of Pelham Manor wore uniforms inspired by English Bobbies.  Their uniforms included the well-known "four quart" Bobby hats.  

In 1927, Pelham's local newspaper published an early photograph of two of the most notable members of the early Pelham Manor Police Department wearing their four quarts shortly after each of the pair joined the department more than twenty years earlier:  Philip Gargan and James Butler.  The photograph, which was published by The Pelham Sun repeatedly over the years, appears immediately below, followed by a citation and link to its source.

Chief of Police Philip Gargan and Desk Officer
James Butler as they looked when they first joined
the Pelham Manor police department in 1907.
Imagine wearing that four quart helmet on a hot day.
Source:  TWENTY YEARS AGO, The Pelham Sun,
Jul. 22, 1927, Vol. 18, No. 22, p. 1, cols. 4-5.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

I have written before of these early heroes of the Pelham Manor Police Department.  See:

Wed., May 04, 2005:  Philip Gargan, Chief of Police of Pelham Manor, New York.  

Wed., Sep. 10, 2014:  An Account [by James Butler] of the Pelham Manor Police Department in 1906.

Philip Gargan rose from the ranks of rookie officer to Chief of Police of the Pelham Manor Police Department.  His name appears in hundreds of local articles about his police exploits.  Many such articles appeared during the years he had to enforce Prohibition when those laws were so unpopular and Pelham was a hotbed of illegal stills and illicit bootlegging.  
James Butler became an unofficial historian of the police force who served for more than thirty years.  According to one account, the day Jim Butler joined the Pelham Manor Police Department:  

"the police headquarters was in a small shack at Pelhamdale and Black street, and therein lies an amusing incident, for a few days later Jim reported for duty and found the shack missing. After a frantic search, Jim finally located 'Headquarters.'  The officials had decided to move to the present site on Penfield Place and Jim came across the shack, mounted on planks, moving slowly towards the new location.  The village was divided into 5 posts.  One man patrolled each post and the fifth officer remained at headquarters to receive complaints.  The patrolman stationed at headquarters slept there during the day-time.  That was the 24-hour police protection."

Source:  Jim Butler Recalls Pelham Manor Police Dept. In 1906, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 13, 1936, Vol. 27, No. 32, Second Section, p. 9, cols. 2-3.

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I have written about the early days of the Pelham Manor Police Department as well as a few of the police officers who served the Village and its citizens. Seee.g.

Wed., May 13, 2015:  Accounts of Village Police Departments of Pelham Manor and Pelham Published in 1925.

Wed., Sep. 10, 2014:  An Account of the Pelham Manor Police Department in 1906.

Wed., Apr. 30, 2014:  Gun Battle on Witherbee Avenue in 1904 Results in Wounded Pelham Manor Police Officer.

Mon., Apr. 21, 2014:  Early History of the First Years of the Pelham Manor Police Department.

Thu., Jan. 07, 2010:  Pelham Manor Police Establish Speed Traps on Shore Road in 1910 to Catch Those Traveling Faster than Fifteen Miles Per Hour

Wed., Aug. 09, 2006:  The Saddest Day in the History of Pelham Manor's "Toonerville Trolley".

Wed., May 04, 2005:  Philip Gargan, Chief of Police of Pelham Manor, New York

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pelham's Thriving and Living Memorial to the Pell Treaty Oak That Once Stood on the Grounds of the Bartow-Pell Mansion

On June 27, 2004, hundreds of Pelhamites gathered on the grounds of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum for a dinner, party, and dance to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Thomas Pell's purchase of the lands that became the Manor of Pelham on June 27, 1654.  The celebration, held only a few dozen feet from the site that according to tradition was where the Pell Deed was signed by Native Americans and Englishmen, was part of a year-long celebration that included dozens of major events, gatherings, and commemorations.  According to tradition, the Pell Deed was signed beneath the spreading branches of a massive White Oak that came to be known as the Pell Treaty Oak.

During the celebrations on the grounds of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum that day, a few dozen attendees were given White Oak seedlings a few inches tall to take home after the festivities and plant as a living memorial to, and reminder of, the great White Oak once known as the Pell Treaty Oak.  Immediately below is a photograph of the seedlings that day, collected on a table next to the mansion, awaiting their new owners.

White Oak Seedlings Given to Some Attendees
of the 350th Anniversary Celebration of the Pell
Deed Held on the Grounds of the Bartow-Pell
Mansion Museum on June 27, 2004.  Photograph
by the Author.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

It is not known how many of the seedlings were planted nor, among those, how many flourished and have survived.  At least one seedling awarded that day has thrived and serves as a living memorial to the Pell Treaty Oak.  That seedling, as one might suspect, was given to the author and was planted in his yard where the White Oak now has grown to a height of about twenty feet, standing as a silent reminder of the history of Pelham.  An image of the White Oak appears immediately below.

White Oak in the Author's Yard Grown from
a Seedling Given During the 350th Anniversary
Celebration of the Pell Deed Held on the Grounds
of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum on June 27,
2004.  Photograph by the Author.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

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I have written extensively about the legend of what came to be known as the "Pell Treaty Oak" including a book on the topic published in 2004 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Pell purchase.  For examples, see:

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2004). 

Bell, Blake, Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 28, Issue 3, pp. 73-81 (The Westchester County Historical Society, Summer 2002). 

Wed., Aug. 24, 2016:  Washington Post Report of the Final Destruction of the Pell Treaty Oak in Pelham Bay Park in 1909.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Washington Post Report of the Final Destruction of the Pell Treaty Oak in Pelham Bay Park in 1909

According to legend -- likely apocryphal -- Native Americans signed the "Indian Deed" granting to Thomas Pell the lands that became the Manor of Pelham under the branches of a massive oak tree that continued to stand on the grounds of today's Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum for nearly three hundred years thereafter until the dying tree was destroyed by fire in the early twentieth century.  I have written extensively about the legend of what came to be known as the "Pell Treaty Oak" including a book on the topic published in 2004 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Pell purchase.  For examples, see:

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2004). 

Bell, Blake, Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 28, Issue 3, pp. 73-81 (The Westchester County Historical Society, Summer 2002). 

Tue., Jan. 05, 2016:  Donation of a Piece of the "Pell Treaty Oak" to the Manor Club in 1940.

Tue., Oct. 16, 2007:  Information About Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak Published in 1912.

Tue., Jul. 24, 2007:  Article About the Pell Treaty Oak Published in 1909

Mon., Jul. 23, 2007:  1906 Article in The Sun Regarding Fire that Destroyed the Pell Treaty Oak

Wed., May 2, 2007:  Information About Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak Published in 1922.

Fri., Jul. 29, 2005:  Has Another Piece of the Treaty Oak Surfaced? 

Tue., Jun. 14, 2005:  Ceremony in 1915 to Open Bartow-Pell Mansion as Headquarters of International Garden Club Marred by Tragedy.

It is, of course, a misnomer to call the oak "The Pell Treaty Oak."  Even assuming there is some kernel of truth to the story, the document signed on June 27, 1654 was not an agreement between two nations but, rather, was a simple deed, often referenced in the literature as an "Indian Deed."

In any event, for much of the history of Pelham, the story has been told that the deed was signed beneath the spreading branches of the Pell Treaty Oak.  That mighty oak, however, was near the end of its life in the early twentieth century when a fire near its base roared into the hollow of the tree and killed it.  Not long thereafter, in 1909, a windstorm blew the remnants of the tree down.  Curiosity-seekers descended on the site, sawing off pieces of the oak, many of which made their way into local collections including those of the New-York Historical Society and the Manor Club in Pelham.

The final destruction of the Pell Treaty Oak captured national attention.  Articles with photographs of the tree appeared in newspapers throughout the United States.  Indeed, today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text and provides an image from one such article that appeared in The Washington Post on April 25, 1909.  The text and the image are followed by a citation and link to the source.

Where Thomas Pell Met with the Indians
By John M. Shinn"

Fragment of the Pell Treaty Oak in the Collection of the
Manor Club.  Photograph by the Author
Taken on January 24, 2004.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Detail from the Image Immediately Above Showing the
Silver Plaque Affixed to the Fragment of the Pell Treaty
Oak in the Collection of the Manor Club.  The Plaque Reads:
"A piece of the 'Treaty Oak' under which Thomas Pell made
a treaty with the Indian Sachems for the Manor of Pelham.
Nov. 14, 1654.  Wm. Cruger Pell from Howland Pell.  -- 1890 --"
Photograph by the Author Taken on January 24, 2004.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *


After taking the blows of the elements for several hundred years the old Pell treaty oak in Pelham Bay Park tumbled over a month ago, the victim of a gale, and there remains now nothing but an old stump to mark the spot where it is believed the first Westchester real estate deal was put through two and a half centuries ago.  

It was under the leafy shade of the old tree that Thomas Pell negotiated this little real estate deal, standing there with a few companions who had journeyed with him from Connecticut while the sachems inspected gravely his collection of beads, blankets, and 'gunnes,' and decided that they were worth a large part of what is now Westchester county.  The sachems took the blankets and the beads and Pell took the real estate.  He was thus apparently the first speculator in suburban real estate.  And a pretty successful one at that for those times.  

The old tree under which Pell is supposed to have driven his bargain with the Indians in 1654 made a valiant fight for life in the two centuries and a half that have since passed.  Decapitated and dismembered a good many generations ago, it defied the attempts of the elements to complete its destruction, and with its days seemingly done for, it surprised all those who watched it in recent years by putting out new branches to be covered with green leaves each spring like the youngsters around it.  It seemed to be making another attempt to grow and reassume the place it once had as one of the monarchs of the primeval wilderness.

Tried to Preserve Tree.

A few years ago some of the patriotic societies decided to do what they could to preserve it, and at their expense they erected an iron fence around it, but this did not suffice to keep off the vandals.  Last fall somebody built a fire near it and it roared up the hollow trunk.  That fire ended the old tree's fight.  There was no more life in it after that, and with its trunk scorched and its new branches withered it fell an easy victim to one of the last month's storms, taking part of the fence with it as it fell.

In recent years, with the iron fence marking its nobility, the old tree has been visited by many who have seen it in passing along the Eastern boulevard.  It stood only a short distance from the road on the grounds of the old Bartow place, now occupied as a hospital for crippled children.

That it was no common tree one could easily tell from its size.  Its diameter several feet above the ground was over 2 feet, and the stumps of some of its mighty branches 26 feet or more from the ground, were 2 feet through.

Too Old to Estimate.

Sawed off fresh, these stumps showed so many rings that it was hopeless to ascertain its age by any such method.  Once the park department tried it, but the man who essayed to count the rings, first trying to distinguish them, gave it up in despair.  They have part of this enormous branch preserved up in Commissioner Berry's office now, so that any one who wants to try it again can do so.

The tree experts of the park have guessed at its age at anywhere from 300 to 500 years.  How many years its trunk had been hollow nobody knows, for hollow it was, and one could climb up to the very top of the huge cylinder.

In the case of a good many trees supposed to mark historical spots, there have been some who have had doubts as to the authenticity of the old oak and its connection with the Pell treaty, but near it are some of the graves of Pell's descendants [sic], and if there is anything in the legends of that part of Westchester, the old tree saw the bargain driven.

A short distance to the southeast from where the tree stood is the old Bartow mansion, and behind this is the Pell graveyard, containing six moss-grown tombstones.  They are the graves of Pells born years after the man who decided to take a chance on Westchester real estate, descendants who no doubt came to respect their ancestor's judgment and were glad of his shrewdness.  The oldest tombstone bears the inscription:  'Here Lyes Isec Pell D. Dec. 24 No. 1748.'

Original Land Speculator.

At a time when most men were thinking of hewing their own homelands out of the wilderness old Thomas Pell apparently was animated by the same object which today leads many a man to invest in property above the Bronx.  He didn't want a home; he bought land to sell.

That Pell was the original speculator in Westchester real estate is borne out in history.  One of the histories of Westchester county says of him:

'Pell himself does not even appear to have become a resident of Westchester.  He evidently regarded his purchase as a real estate speculation, selling his lands in parcels, at first to small private individuals and later to aggregations of enterprising men.'

A good many similar deals have been made since with some of the land Pell bought, only you pay a little more for it now.

Pell had tried several other ventures in the way of land purchases before what is now West Chester caught his eye, and his home was really at Fairfield, Conn., according to the best accounts.  Like a lot of the Englishmen in those parts, he decided that New York and its vicinity were altogether too good for the Dutchmen.

Followed the Fishhawks.

Perhaps he saw with the eye of the shrewd real estate speculator what splendid villa sites lay along the sound.  At any rate he and a few companions in 1654 made their way through the wilderness, took a look at the country lying between Bronck's River, as it was then called, and the Sound, and told the sachems that they wanted to buy some of it.

According to one of the West Chester legends concerning the old treaty tree he and his friends saw a lot of fishawks making their nests in the trees there and made up their minds that the birds would bring them good luck.  That was why they got the sachems Ann-Hoock and Wampage to meet them there and talk business.

The treaty provided that Pell was to get 'all that tract of land called West Chester, which is bounded on the East by a brook called Cedar Tree Brook, or gravelly brook, thence northwest, as the said brook runs, into the woods 10 English miles, thence west to Bronck's River to a certain bend in said river, thence by marked trees until it reaches the Sound.'

This land extended from East Chester to New Rochelle, and Pelham, Pelham manor, and Pelham bridge have taken their names from the purchaser of it.  Pell was made a lord of the manor by royal grant in 1666, and before he died he had already unloaded several parcels, presumably at a handsome profit.  One of the first sales he made was that consisting of the old settlement of East Chester.

Although Lord Thomas Pell as he afterward became, didn't settle on this property himself, his nephew and heir, John Pell, did, and he carved up more of the property, selling New Rochelle to some of the Huguenots.

According to Randall Comfort, one of the local historians, the old Pell manor house stood near the old tree facing what is now a thoroughfare for automobiles, and for years was supposed to be full of ghosts, so that lonely travelers along the lane gave it a wide berth.

Mr. Comfort and others who have taken an interest in the old tree have asked the park department to mark the spot where it stood with a tablet, telling the story of the little real estate deal supposed to have taken place there."

Source:  BRONX BOOM TREE BLOWN DOWN, Washington Post, Apr. 25, 1909, p. 4, cols. 1-4.  

"The Pell treaty oak in Pelham Park before it was blown down."
Post, Apr. 25, 1909, p. 4, cols. 1-4.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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