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 05, 2016

Pelham's Assessed Valuations in 1886 Didn't Quite Agree with New York City's Valuations for Park Land Acquisition Purposes

In 1886, New York City was in the midst of purchasing the land needed to create Pelham Bay Park.  It was engaged in the difficult process of valuing the land of property owners in the area to become the park (and, later, to be annexed by the city).  As the process progressed, however, it became clear that the assessed valuations of the same land by the Town of Pelham for property tax purposes didn't quite agree with the amounts the property owners were demanding -- and receiving -- from New York City as the metropolis purchased the various plots.

Before the annexation, the Town of Pelham encompassed about 3,166 acres of land encompassing Pelhamville, Pelham Manor, Prospect Hill, Bartow, and City Island.  In 1886, the City of New York was in the process of acquiring about 1,700 acres of that land for park purposes.  Tongues were wagging, however, because when the sworn returns prepared for Pelham's 1883 assessment were compared to the amounts sought by landowners in the proposed park area, the landowners were seeking amounts that were in some cases 200% higher than the assessed valuations of their properties.  Indeed, the 1883 assessed valuation for the ENTIRE Town of Pelham was $943,125.  In contrast, evidence provided to the city by property owners demanding compensation for their properties being taken by New York City for park purposes reached six million dollars.

1905 Map of Pelham Bay Park. 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
of the Bronx River" (1905) (Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map
Division, The New York Public Library). NOTE: Click Image to Enlarge.

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Below is the text of an article that addresses the differences between the 1883 Town of Pelham assessments and the 1886 valuations of the same properties for parkland acquisition purposes.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"Pelham Bay Park.

The town of Pelham, which has a population of 2,500 people, consists of 3,166 acres of land, and the number of acres to be used for park purposes is 1,700.  The assessed valuation of the entire town of Pelham for 1883, according to the sworn returns, was $943,125, and the assessment includes Pelhamville, Pelham Manor, Prospect Hill, and City Island, embracing by far the most valuable portion of the territory.  Judging by the valuations already proven by the witnesses of the property owners as to the amounts which the city should pay for the land required for the Pelham Bay Park, the total cost of the 1,700 acres as they stand will not be less than six million dollars, and may rise above that figure.  Incredible as these figures appear, they are fully borne out by the detailed figures which the arithmeticians [sic] have had the hardihood to use.  There are sixty-six several plots plots in the proposed park territory, in addition to the small lot owners at Bartow and Baychester.  The supposed present value of thirty-four of these plots of land has been proven by witnesses to be $3,802,495, though nineteen of them -- embracing all the larger plots -- are valued by the town assessors at only $249,890.  A comparison of these figures in individual cases is most instructive, as illustrating the difference between city and country experts, and the sudden rise of comparatively valueless salt meadow lands when the city proposes to become the purchaser.  The valuations proven by witnesses before the New Parks Commission have been made since June 14, 1885.

The 136 acres of Squire Charles Wood, with an old house and barn on the premises, were moderately rated by the town assessors at $23,000, but the expert witnesses promptly proved to the New Park Commissioners that the real value of the property is $400,796, an increase over the assessed valuation of two hundred per cent. in value in two short years.  The R. R. Morris estate of 187 acres, with old house and barn, was assessed in 1883 at $31,500; in 1885 it is proven to have grown to $451,000!  The town assessors valued the Bartow estate, with houses, barns, and 218 1/2 acres of land at $36,000; the proven valuation now is $430,532!  The Marshall estate, with 56 1/2 acres and house and barn, has grown from $27,000 to $240,974!  Mr. J. W. Hurst's 105 acres of land, inclusive of old farm house and barns, was assessed at $15,700, but the witnesses insisted it is worth every cent of $188,000.

Samuel B. Duryea is the lucky owner of an old farm-house and 92 acres of land, one-third of which is salt meadow, and the town assessors put the entire valuation at $16,975; but the experts ran the price up $185,500!  A house and 45 1/2 acres of land assessed by Westchester Co. authorities at $15,000, is set down for $150,700 ! and the 50 acres of George T. Anderson are lumped at $150,000.  An old house and 56 acres belonging to the Ward estate stand on the town assessment books for $20,200 and have been run up to $138,138.  The Provost farm, owned by John Hunter, was always supposed to be fairly assessed at $12,000, but although 10 of its 42 acres are salt meadow, the value is set at $130,000.  James Morris's house, barn, and 33 acres grow from a value of $15,000 to $93,200, and the P. Schuyler estate, half of whose 70 acres are salt meadow, increases fro $13,000 to $92,025!

Mr. James Steers is the possessor of 15 acres and a house and barn, all valued at $8,925 by the town assessors, but he proposes to ask the city $80,762 for his little place.  The house owned by John Monroe, with its 3 1/2 acres of land is only assessed $5,500 for living purposes, but for park uses appears to be worth $56,750.  Sophia M. Burrill's house and 2 3/4 acres, valued at $5,000 on the town books, are reported worth $28,750; Rebecca E. Ogden's house and 3 3/4 acres, valued at $6000, are run up to $25,000; Frank Beattie's house and 1 3/4 acres, valued by the town assessors at only $1,200, are put down on the new park's roll at $15,000; Robert H. Scott's store, barn, and lot, valued at $1,000, are put at $10,500; Michael Hagar's frame house and lot have grown in price from $700 to $7,500, and Adelaide Vickery's little house and lot, assessed at $300 must now be purchased for $8,300 by the city.  The values thus far proven by the expert witnesses of property owners, and not included above are as follows:

S. H. Witherbee, $114,000; John Hunter (Bayard Farm) $442,967; Peter Lorillard, Jr., $40,975; Henrietta Morris, $16,109; Mrs. John E. Ellis, $104785; John Hunter (Sackett Farm) $37,500; John Hunter 2 1/2 acres, $12,500; E. J. Roosevelt, $24,000; John H. Byron, $22,800; town of Pelham, town hall and lot, $9,500; J. Frank, Wright, 9 acres salt meadow, $2,250; James Farrington, 9 1/2 acres salt meadow, $2,375; Phoebe Lyon, 8 3/4 acres salt meadow, $2,187; Helen M. Hyde, $1,400; Oakley estate, $500."

Source:  Pelham Bay Park, The Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Jan. 9, 1886, Vol. XLI, No. 40, p. 2,  col. 4.  

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