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.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Research Reveals Earliest Reference Yet to Football Played in Pelham

The Town of Pelham long has been a sports-crazy town.  From its hockey and baseball, to its football, soccer, basketball, tennis, rowing, swimming and, yes, even diving (among many other sports), Pelham residents long have devoted amazing amounts of time, money, and effort to sports of every type.  Chief among the crown jewels of Pelham sports have been the many world-class athletes of the New York Athletic Club who have trained and competed on the club's grounds on Travers Island in Pelham Manor during the last 125 years.

No history of Pelham would be complete without considering the evolution of sports and recreation in our region and its impact on the development of our town.  Among such notable sports is football.  As with baseball, I have tried to document early instances of football games played in Pelham.  Until now, the earliest game I have been able to document was played on Thanksgiving afternoon in 1894.  To learn more about early football in Pelham, see:

Wed., Dec. 02, 2015:  Earliest Football Games Played in Pelham.

Thu., May 08, 2014:  Thanksgiving Day Football Game in 1895 Between Pelham Manor and Mount Vernon Teams.

Today's evidence of football played in Pelham admittedly is based on a brief, passing reference.  Yet, it provides evidence that football was being played recreationally in our Town as early as 1877, albeit merely at the equivalent of a company picnic on City Island!

On Wednesday, September 26, 1877, about one hundred people associated with the "Wm. Cook Association" of the Eleventh Ward in New York City traveled to the Minnieford Shore House on City Island for a large social gathering.  Research has not yet revealed the nature of the organization referenced as "Wm. Cook Association," although the reference to its being from the "Eleventh Ward" suggests it may have been a political organization.  (The Eleventh Ward was a 19th century Manhattan political district covering much of today's Lower East Side.)  A man named William Cook was involved in New York City politics and was paid by the city for "fitting up" polling booths in the Eleventh Ward at about this time.

I have written before about the Minnieford Shore House run by Charles McClennon where the football games were played.  It was located at the steam boat landing on City Island before.  See:

Fri., Mar. 21, 2014:  Examples of Very Early Merchant Advertisements in the Town of Pelham.  

 Thu., Feb. 11, 2016:  Was a City Island Hotel Keeper Among the First to Learn of the Great Oyster Bed Discovered in 1859?

During the gathering on Wednesday, September 26, 1877, according to a brief newspaper reference quoted in full below,  "[a]mong the diversions employed to while away the time" were "baseball, football matches, boat races, foot races, etc."  (See below.)

Thus, it seems, football was being played on City Island in the Town of Pelham as early as 1877.  Of course, the rules of football were still developing in 1877.  The year before, the American Intercollegiate Football Association had been created in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The Association adopted rules that were a modified version of Rugby Union Rules.  In 1877, when the "football matches" were played near the Minnieford Shore House on City Island, teams consisted of fifteen players with nine on the so-called "rush line," a quarterback, two halfbacks, a "1 three-quarter back" and two fullbacks.  Games where ninety minutes long.  Players wore no helmets and uniforms were archaic by today's standards.    

The sport of football, in short, was developing.  There were only eight college football teams in 1877.  According to the Official NCAA Division I Football Records Book, there was no clear national collegiate champion team that year with both Yale and Princeton selected as national champions.  That year there was a major dispute over whether the Intercollegiate Football Association rules should be amended to reduce the number of players per team on the field from fifteen to eleven.  Only a couple of years before the rules had been changed to reduce the number of players on the field per team from twenty five to fifteen.

One thing is certain, however.  By 1877 enough excitement regarding the young sport of football had developed in the New York City region so that young men from New York City gathered on City Island in the Town of Pelham to play football matches.

Engraving Depicting a Late 19th Century Football
Game. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

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Below is the text of the brief newspaper references to football matches played on City Island in the Town of Pelham on September 26, 1877.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"City Island.

The Wm. Cook Association from the Eleventh Ward, New York City, about 100 strong, visited McClennon's Minneford Shore House [sic; the business was named "Minnieford Shore House"], last Wednesday, and had a jolly good time.  Among the diversions employed to while away the time were baseball, football matches, boat races, foot races, etc.

Messrs. Liming & Co. of the City Island Hotel, have just fitted up a very neat and tasty ladies' and gents' oyster and dining room adjoining the barroom of the hotel.

The yacht Ambassadress, which was so successively [sic] launched on Saturday last, was towed from Carll's ship yard to New York on Wednesday last.

Get your rods and reels ready, bass are beginning to bite and Flynn can furnish you with bait."

Source:  City Island, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 28, 1877, Vol. IX, No. 419, p. 1, col. 6.  

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