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, August 19, 2016

More on the Battle Over Widening Shore Road Waged in 1927

For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Shore Road was a major thoroughfare for traffic headed along Long Island Sound.  Consequently, portions of the roadway in and around Pelham were widened on at least two occasions:  once in1869 and, later, in 1927.  I have written about such widening projects before.  See:

Mon., May 14, 2007:  Plans to Widen Shore Road in the Town of Pelham in 1869.

Wed., Jun. 15, 2005:  The New York Athletic Club Saved a Portion of the Kemble House Property on Shore Road in the 1920s.  

Efforts by New Rochelle to widen the road during the late 1920s led to a monumental battle between Pelham and New Rochelle.  The City of New Rochelle decided to widen Pelham Road (known as Shore Road within the Town of Pelham).  To widen the road, Westchester County and New Rochelle decided to arrange the exercise of eminent domain to take a large strip of land in front of the Kemble House, one of Pelham Manor's only two pre-Revolutionary War homes that still stand. 

A portion of the Kemble House -- so-called because it long was owned by members of the Kemble family in the 19th and 20th centuries -- was a Pell family farmhouse built in about 1760 along Long Island Sound.  The home and the property on which it sits lies half in Pelham and half in New Rochelle.  

The Kemble House is located at 145 Shore Road in Pelham Manor. It stands adjacent to, and immediately north of, the gasoline and service station near the intersection of Pelhamdale Avenue and Shore Road.  The decision to take land from in front of the home caused an outcry among historically-minded citizens of Pelham.  A fight ensued.  Finally, the New York Athletic Club (which owned land on the opposite side of the roadway across from the Kemble house) stepped forward to quell the outcry.  It donated a strip of realty on the east side of the roadway to save the land belonging to the Kemble House. 

Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting sets forth a few additional newspaper articles that appeared at the time describing developments related to the matter.

Photograph of the Kemble House at 145 Shore Road Taken
By William R. Montgomery in 1923 and Painting by John M.
Shinn Based on the Photograph.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

"Manor Residents Protest Against Disturbing Of Historic Landmark
New Rochelle Proposes to Cut a Path Across Historic Kemble Property in Plan to Eliminate Curve on Shore Road.  Property Famed for Many Indian Legends.  Was Once Home of Joseph Pell.

Unwilling to sacrifice ground cherished for its historical sentiment, in payment for street improvement, residents of Pelham Manor have entered protest against the widening of Shore Road in New Rochelle and have appealed to the Pelham Manor trustees to refuse to carry out the program planned for their village.  The plan as proposed would mean the sacrifice of the major portion of the ground at the Kemble residence, one of the oldest buildings in the village.  It was at one time the home of Joseph Pell, fourth Lord of the Manor of Pelham.

Plans have been approved by the City of New Rochelle for the widening of the Shore road in front of the Kemble residence.  The present proposal is to condemn a large part of the property in order that a curve in the roadway way be eliminated.  The measure is blocked however by the failure of the Village of Pelham Manor to agree to continue the roadway from the New Rochelle line, which divides the Kemble property.  Under the plan the highway would be within three feet of the historic building.  

Announcement of such a plan has aroused deep sentiment among the older residents of Pelham Manor who feel that the historic landmark should not be disturbed.

Village Attorney Edgar C. Beecroft in a communication to the Mayor of New Rochelle suggests a substitute plan of taking property from the opposite side of the road.  

His letter follows:

'Hon. Benjamin B. Badeau,
Mayor of the City of New Rochelle,
City Hall, New Rochelle, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Mayor:

Our Village Engineer has drawn my attention to the application of one of your Departments for co-operation by the Village of Pelham Manor in the widening of Pelham (Shore) Road.

(Continued on page 8)

Protest Against Disturbing Of Historic Landmark
(Continued from page 1)

The proposition as submitted to me, seems entirely without justification and I write to advise you that I shall certainly do my utmost to prevent this Village co-operating in the proposed plan.

Your widening contemplates the destruction of one of the historic landmarks in the Town of Pelham, which taking and destruction are wholly without justification for two reasons.  First because of the great additional expense thereof, and secondly, because in my opinion these old pre-revolutionary landmarks should not be disturbed if there is any practical way of avoiding same.  

In the present instance there is a very practical way of avoiding the damage to this landmark and that is by taking the property on the opposite side of the road.  This property is undeveloped and can be acquired on a square foot basis without the payment of any consequential damages.

The Board of Trustees of the Village of Pelham Manor has not formally passed on this matter.  I am, nevertheless, writing to advise you that I shall do my utmost to prevent the trustees co-operating with your present plan, for the very simple reason that the widening can be effected by taking the property on the opposite side of the street at a very much less cost than will be incurred in the taking of the proposed property, and at the same time we will be able to preserve this old Pell homestead.

I trust your Common Council will reconsider the matter and in so far as the widening at this particular point is concerned, will arrange to take the property on the opposite side of the street.

Very truly yours,
Village Attorney.'

The Kemble residence was built many years before the Revolutionary War.  It was planned as a home for Joseph Pell when he became Lord of the Manor.  After his death his son, Joseph Pell Jr., lived there.  At his death it was left to Sarah Pell his daughter who married William Bayley.  At this time the estate extended almost to Split Rock Road.

In the early part of the Nineteenth century Elbert Roosevelt owned the property on which the house stands.  Later there is a record of it being transferred to the Emmett family.  It remained the Emmett home until 1889 when Lydia H. Emmett sold it to Sophia M. Burrill, the mother of the present owner Mrs. R. L. Kemble.

On the grounds stands one of the two famous rocking stones.  The other is on the Bolton Priory property a short distance away.  There are many Indian legends connected with these rocking stones.  The best known tells of the God of War who crossed Long Island Sound with a large boulder in each hand in pursuit of the warring tribes from Wappinger's Falls, who had for many years molested the Siwanoy Indians.  The stones were left near the camps of the Siwanoys as warnings to the marauding tribes that the God of War would return.

There are many other interesting stories told about the place and it is these coupled with the living history of the Manor of Pelham that the villagers are reluctant to sacrifice that modern motorists may not be slightly hampered in their progress along the highway."

Source:  Manor Residents Protest Against Disturbing Of Historic Landmark -- New Rochelle Proposes to Cut a Path Across Historic Kemble Property in Plan to Eliminate Curve on Shore Road.  Property Famed for Many Indian Legends.  Was Once Home of Joseph Pell, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 17, 1927, Vol. 18, No. 17, p. 1, cols. 4-7 & p. 8, cols. 5-7.  

"Manor Trustees Will Block Sacrifice Of Historic Property
President House Will Refuse to Entertain Proposal of City of New Rochelle in Shore Road Widening

The Pelham Manor Village Trustees will not entertain any proposal to sacrifice the historic Kemble property in the widening of the Shore road.  Village President Elliott C. House assured The Pelham Sun this week that the plan of the City of New Rochelle does not meet with favor in his eyes and all effort would be devoted to block the move.  With the Village of Pelham Manor refusing to join in the plan, there is little likelihood that New Rochelle will go ahead with the original program.

The Rev. J. McVickar Haight, rector of Christ's Church has joined those who have voted strenuous protest against any disturbance of the Kemble property.  

'Revolutionary houses are fast disappearing before the onrush of modern improvements' said Mr. Haight.  'Every time that such a house is demolished there is taken from us one more visible link with the past history of our country.

'There are times when it seems necessary that the old should yield to the new, but when the old may easily be retained it is a crime against the past to destroy wantonly an old dwelling with its associations of a century or more.

'The old Pell mansion, situated on Pelham road on the western boundary of New Rochelle is one of the quaintest buildings of pre-revolutionary days in our community, and is still in a wonderful state of preservation.  Yet it is seriously proposed to destroy the beauty of this house in order that Pelham road may be widened.

'It is necessar to widen that road, and I heartily approve of doing so, and it can be done without in any way injuring the old dwelling if the unimproved land across the road from it be cut into.

'Let all those who revere the past unite and rise up in protest against the proposed mutilation of this charming old house.'

The city of New Rochelle has made no additional proposals to the Village of Pelham Manor after Village Attorney Edgar C. Beecroft made his first protest in a communication to Mayor Benjamin B. Badeau."

Source:  Manor Trustees Will Block Sacrifice Of Historic Property -- President House Will Refuse to Entertain Proposal of City of New Rochelle in Shore Road Widening, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 24, 1927, Vol. 18, No. 18, p. 1, col. 5.  

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