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, September 09, 2016

An Illuminating Excursion to Belden Point in Pelham in 1892

During the early 1890s, William Belden of City Island in the Town of Pelham oversaw a summer resort and amusement park on his Belden Point property located at the southern tip of City Island.  William Belden was a financier and real estate developer who clearly was a rather shady character.  

Belden may be best known as one of three principal financiers (the others being Jay Gould and Jim Fisk) involved in a scheme in the late 1860s to inflate the price of gold.  When the scheme (and the price of gold) collapsed, the stock market panic of September 24, 1869 followed, wiping out the fortunes of many and leading to an ugly Congressional investigation.  

Belden was in and out of court for the next two decades and found himself involved in a host of financial and personal difficulties.  In 1885 Belden scraped together the funds necessary and purchased "The Mansion" on the southern tip of City Island.  "The Mansion" had been built in the mid-1870s by Stephen Decatur Horton and his wife, Caroline Lucilia (Skidmore) Horton.  I have written before of The Mansion, a Pelham and City Island landmark for nearly 150 years before the structure burned in a devastating and tragic fire on March 10, 2006.  See Fri., Jul. 10, 2015:  The Mansion Built by Stephen Decatur Horton and His Wife on Belden Point, City Island, Town of Pelham.

By the late 1880s, Belden's many misdeeds caught up with him.  He was forced into bankruptcy.  As he struggled to regain his financial footing, he converted The Mansion and its surrounding property into a "summer resort."  As period advertisements indicate, the main home (i.e., The Mansion) became a French restaurant.

Given the spectacular location of Belden Point, Belden soon was able to expand his restaurant and resort in significant ways.  He built a six-lane bowling alley.  He built a billiard table hall with a host of tables.  He expanded into family entertainment with the construction of "Eugene Block's merry-go-round," Dr. Hanway's "exhilarating toboggan slide" (which was a fascinating early version of a roller coaster), and much more.

During the 1892 summer season, a New York City newspaper known as The Evening World decided to create a "Sick Babies' Fund" to aggregate donations and send weary mothers (accompanied by only a single child) on a healthful excursion.  The site chosen for the inaugural excursion was Belden Point.  

The newspaper's extensive account of the inaugural excursion included several sketches of amusements at the site and interesting descriptions of the day at Belden Point.  The sketches and the account provide a fascinating glimpse into an earlier time in the history of Pelham.  

Clearly the ride up the East River and the Sound was a treat for the large group.  Early on the schedule was a fabulous luncheon in George Murray's Shore Dinner House restaurant at 12:30 p.m.  The lunch included chowder, sandwiches of ham and tongue and other meats, crackers and butter, milk and tea, coffee, beer, and pie.  The Chef was from George Murray's restaurant named "Sherwood," on Fifth Avenue, and presented a wonderful menu.  

According to the newspaper account, "Most of them found greatest pleasure, as do all other visitors to Belden Point, in sitting on the rustic settees under the row of grand, silver-leaf poplars about the sea wall at the south shore of the Point watching the wonderful living, moving panorama before them."  That panorama included rolling hills and villages on Long Island across the Sound, steamships, sailing ships, rowboats, canoes, and hundreds of other vessels passing back and forth.

That panorama could not, however, hold the attention of adults with their youngsters for long.  Both adults and youngsters enjoyed Eugene Block's merry-go-round and Dr. Hanway's exhilarating toboggan slide.  The youngsters also enjoyed a tiny playhouse described by the newspaper as "a fully appointed cottage built by William Belden for his own feeble and crippled daughter, now dead."  

There were six bowling alleys.  The attendees certainly watched "bowlers in the alley" according to the report.  They may have bowled as well.  It appears that in the case of the "Billiard Hall," however, they only watched "billiardists in the big billiard hall." 

Though the report of the excursion by The Evening World does not mention any additional activities during the excursion, newspaper advertisements at about the same time leave little doubt that the mothers and their children also experienced music by "Liebold's famous Military Band and Orchestra" as well as music from the famous "giant organ" in The Mansion often played by Frank Taft.  At the time, the resort also offered boating, bathing, and fishing.  The advertisement below provides a summary of what was offered at Belden Point at the time.

1891 Advertisement for Belden Point
Summer Resort.  Source:  BELDEN POINT!
[Advertisement], The Chronicle [Mount Vernon,
NY], Jul. 24, 1891, Vol. XXII, No. 1422, p. 4,
col. 6.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The text of the advertisement immediately above (for search purposes) is as follows:

The Coolest and Most Delightful of Summer Resorts.

Six miles from Mount Vernon.  Ample provision for horses and carriages.

Music from 11 A.M., to 10 P.M. by Liebold's famous Military Band and Orchestra.  Giant Organ played by Frank Taft, Etc.  Genuine Rhode Island Clam Bake by Marsh, from Rocky Point.  Carousel and Amusements, Boating, Bathing, Fishing, 6 Bowling Alleys, Etc.  French Restaurant.  Steamers to and from New York every hour.  Admission to grounds, 10 Cents."
*          *          *          *          *

Below is the text of The Evening World article about the outing to Belden Point on July 22, 1892 as well as several sketches that were published with the article.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"LOVELY BELDEN'S POINT."  Notice the Landing
Dock, the Line of Poplars, the Long Bowling
Alley on the Right, the Carousel, and the Various
Pavilions and Buildings that Made up the Resort.
Source:  BREATHED NEW LIFEThe Evening
World [NY, NY], Jul. 23, 1892, Evening Edition
Extra, p. 1, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.

"ENJOYING THE AIR."  This Image Shows
the "Toboggan Slide," an Early Form of
Roller Coaster that Once Stood on Belden
Point.  Notice the Second "Toboggan
Coming Down the "Slide" in the Background.
Source:  BREATHED NEW LIFEThe Evening
World [NY, NY], Jul. 23, 1892, Evening Edition
Extra, p. 1, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.

Another Image of the "Toboggan Slide," an
Early Form of Roller Coaster that Once
Stood on Belden Point.  Source:  BREATHED
NEW LIFEThe Evening World [NY, NY],
Jul. 23, 1892, Evening Edition Extra,
p. 1, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.

NEW LIFEThe Evening World [NY, NY],
Jul. 23, 1892, Evening Edition Extra,
p. 1, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.

NEW LIFEThe Evening World [NY, NY],
Jul. 23, 1892, Evening Edition Extra,
p. 1, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.

Weary Mothers and Sick Babies Have a Day at Belden Point.
First of 'The Evening World's' Sick Babies' Fund Excursions.
A Glorious Sail Up the Sound and Happy Hours at the Point.

The first of THE EVENING WORLD outing parties for weary and wornout mothers was enjoyed yesterday.  Each mother was permitted to bring one child, usually the youngest or most helpless of her brood.  The excursion was under the auspices of THE EVENING WORLD's Sick Babies' Fund, and the mothers were looked after by a chaperone.

The physicians who have for four years studied the conditions of poor-life agreeing that one of the very best ways of assisting the babes of Poverty Row to healthfulness would be to build up their worn out mothers, these excursions were arranged for.

The Iron Steamboat Company carried the party.  The trip was up the East River and the Sound to Belden Point, one of the most delightful family day resorts about New York, and William Belden, beaming with benevolence and with a heart full of kindness received and did all in his power to entertain these poor creatures at that beautiful spot.

The tickets to the excursion were distributed by THE EVENING WORLD free [to] physicians, and they went to those who were in immediate need of relief.  The number was limited in order that there should be no crowding, and in order that, mingling in the crowd of pleasure-seekers on the Point, no one should be able to point them out as objects of charity.

There is many a Betty Higden in real life.  She needs help, and it is most difficult to reach her, poor, proud child of poverty!  But her stout heart could never bear the sting of public commiseration joined with curiosity.

Betty might have been in the party with the 'orphing' and nobody the wiser.

Promptly at 9 o'clock in the morning these wan mothers were on the pier at the foot of East Thirty-first street, though the steamer Bishop did not come along for some minutes after.

A sight they were.  Here was a poor, thin woman with a teething, fretful babe in her lap, and six others at home.  She leaned her head back against the wall of the pier-house and closed her hollow eyes while she waited for the boat.  

'Yes, sir,' she said to THE EVENING WORLD representative, 'we have seven children and one dead.  I left the other six to be minded by the neighbors in Grand street.  My husband said I should, for I am so worked out I can hardly drag one foot after the other.  The doctor said it was not charity that I was taking -- only my right.  My share in the world, and that THE EVENING WORLD and its readers were bound I should have it.

'The baby is that fretful I don't get much sleep at night, and any woman that looks after seven children will tell you she is kept pretty busy in the daytime.'

You should have seen that mother and babe on the homeward trip.  Why, the mother was as lively and 'sprinkety' -- that was her word for it -- as a girl.  And the baby.  Well, that baby actually sat on the deck of the Bishop and crowed.

It would have amply repaid the giver of a dime, a dollar or a larger sum to THE EVENING WORLD Sick Babies' Fund just to see the effect of a day's outing upon this one pair.

The ride up the river and Sound was a treat to these mothers equal to a month at Long Branch or Saratoga to some folks.  It was as good as a season in Europe to some of them.

How they marvelled [sic] at the length of the city of their homes, for their whole lives had been confined to a little section only a few blocks wide and long.

It was a beautiful day.  There was just enough breeze to cool the air without chilling, and the green fields of Long Island, the smoothly shorn lawns of Blackwell's, Ward's and Randall's Islands -- all these were dreams of Fairyland to these women.

And then the broad Sound!  As the Bishop passed between Forts Schuyler and Grant, Throgg's Neck and Willet's Point, out into the broader sea beyond, the mothers went into ecstasies of delight.

All about them plied the white sailed or brass-turretted [sic] pleasure craft of the luxurious, and it is doubtful if the listless idlers on board the little fleet got a tithe of the enjoyment out of their cruise that these women, looking on and marvelling [sic], did.

Arrived at Belden Point the happy band of mothers was met by William Belden himself, and his manager, Mr. Walker.  From that moment the dubious, half-defiant look on the faces of the excursionists gave place to one of unalloyed happiness.

Nobody on Belden Point suggested by word or look or deed that these were different from the others in the throngs of people on a day's outing bent.

To begin with, every baby that was hungry got its little stomach distended with pure, wholesome country milk.

Then the mothers, with an injunction to appear at the big pavilion of George Murray's restaurant at 12.30 o'clock for luncheon, began the business of a tour of the attractions of the place.

Most of them found greatest pleasure, as do all other visitors to Belden Point, in sitting on the rustic settees under the row of grand, silver-leaf poplars about the sea wall at the south shore of the Point watching the wonderful living, moving panorama before them.

The scene was indeed beautiful.  Far more beautiful than can be seen on the seashore, for there the eye wanders over a waste of water, boundless and unrelieved.  Here the woods and hamlets on the Long Island shore two miles away rest the eye, while the constantly moving crafts of the Sound fleet lends constant variety to the scene.

Here were rowboats of industrious fishermen, dories and yachts; naphtha launches and steam yachts big enough to carry a hundred passengers across the wide sea; sloops, schooners, barks, barkentines and full-rigged ships; the pleasure resort steamers that ply to the forty point and coves of Long Island and Westchester, and the big, big passenger crafts that carry their thousands from New York to New London, Bridgeport, Stamford, Stonington, Providence, Fall River, to Boston and Beyond.

Before you is the famous Stepping-Stone Light.  Far to the right are the grim fortresses Grant and Schuyler, and to the left is the long stretch of Long Island shore.

Why, City Island got its name more than a century ago, when the good people thought it was destined to be the site of a metropolis and held their lands at a figure ridiculously high.

To the extreme eastern side of Belden's Point one may look across a roadstead to Hart Island, that place of the unknown dead, and listen to the story of the old fisherman about an incident of forty years ago.

Capt. Charlie McLennon -- he is living yet, in New York -- had a cottage on City Island.  One night as he knocked the ashes from his pipe preparatory to going to bed, he stepped to the door of the hut, as fishermen are wont, to look at the skies and determine the hour for the morning's tide.

Looking out he discerned over the rise of Hart Island the tops of the masts of a schooner.  As he looked they slowly disappeared downward.

Capt. McLennon was wondering at this when the sound of oars struck his ears.  He crept stealthily along the shore in the direction of the sound, and saw a tall, powerful figure step upon the beach from a skiff.

Now, Capt. McLennon was a giant himself.  He had trained for prize-fighting, and he was looked upon as 'a mighty tough man to handle.'

He halted the intruder, but got no response.  Then he knew there was something wrong and he tackled the stranger.

It was a terrible struggle that followed.  The giant of City Island had never before met his match.  For an hour they fought, but the Captain won at last.  Not a word was spoken, but at the end McLennon bound his man tight and fast.  Then, by the light of a lantern, he discovered that his antagonist was a big, brutal-faced negro.

Next morning he turned him over to the Westchester County authorities.  It was discovered that the negro had been cook on a schooner.  He had murdered the Captain and two hands, robbed the ship and then scuttled her.

The negro was hanged at White Plains on conviction, and only the fishermen who occupy City Island for a mile north of Belden Point cherish the memory of the tragedy.

The mothers listened to this tale and drank in the healthful, strengthening breeze the while.

Then the call for luncheon came and there was a world more energy in the movements of these lately listless creatures as they arose, babes in arms, in answer to the call.

Such appetites!  George Murray never catered to more appreciative guests.

There was chowder, rich and delicious, and sandwiches of ham and tongue and other meats, crackers and butter, milk and tea, coffee or beer, take your choice and send up your mug as often as you like, and pie.

Well, well, well!  But didn't those 'kiddies' -- that's what an East Sixtieth street mother of six bairns called them -- didn't they stow away the milk!  Most of 'em were too small to care much for chowder and such things, but their mothers made sure to eat enough for both -- yes, and for the other kiddies left at home -- for the cutting was for the mothers, and THE EVENING WORLD physicians wouldn't allow the mothers to take along enough children to wear them out 'minding 'em.'

Just one baby apiece, only one faithful little woman of Forsyth street did smuggle in a neighbor's baby, suffering with Summer complaint, and stood sturdily ready to plead, argue or fight for the privilege when the chaperon of the party, Miss Martha, went about among them before the start.

There was one little girl of eight, Miss Nellie, a sunny-faced, blue-eyed little minx, out of sorts when the excursion started, but able to eat a bushel at luncheon, and to boast on the homeward-bound boat that she had had three rides on Eugene Block's merry-go-round and two on Dr. Hanway's exhilarating toboggan slide.

Of course, the mothers, too, rode the toboggan, holding each other's babies the while, and some of those little ones who were not big enough to know it took a spin on the flying horse in the arms of their mothers.  Master Theodore, a five-year-old with a pinched face and a wistful eye, got $100 worth of solid enjoyment out of a ride on a pink charger with a yellow tail.

He and fairy Nellie, the two thinking children of the party, revelled [sic] in the tiny playhouse, a fully appointed cottage built years ago by William Belden for his own feeble and crippled daughter, now dead, and they watched the bowlers in the alley and billiardists in the big billiard hall back of the shore dinner house with childish interest.

Chaperon, artist and reporter dined on the plaza of the restaurant with Mr. Belden, and the chef, from Mr. Murray's Sherwood, in Fifth avenue, presented as fine a menu as one could wish to discuss.

But there is an end to all things, even to a day at Belden Point, and as the sun was going down the party of EVENING WORLD excursionists bid farewell regretfully to this pleasantest of quiet family resorts, for there are no objectionable features here, Mr. Belden's aim being to make it a resting place for jaded people, -- a place for the wife and mother, and the child.

The homeward journey was full of novel pleasure and excitement, for the Bishop met all the great Sound steamers setting out from the city -- floating cities themselves -- and overtook and passed a dozen picnic parties, none happier, you may wager, that THE EVENING WORLD sick babies and their mothers.

The mothers chatted and the children chattered, and one and all, each after his or her own fashion, blessed the good people who built the EVENING WORLD Sick Babies' Fund and made this day of pleasure possible for them, watered this one oasis in the desert of their lives of work, want and woe.

The parting with the grateful ones at Thirty-first street was a work of time and tearfulness for them and the gentle woman who had acted as their chaperon and whom they had learned to love.

The experiment was such a splendid success that there will be many more such outings during the next few weeks of heat and illness, for THE EVENING WORLD Sick Babies' Fund is to save life and restore health by any and every method available."

Source:  BREATHED NEW LIFE -- Weary Mothers and Sick Babies Have a Day at Belden Point -- First of 'The Evening World's' Sick Babies' Fund Excursions -- A Glorious Sail Up the Sound and Happy Hours at the Point, The Evening World [NY, NY], Jul. 23, 1892, Evening Edition Extra, p. 1, cols. 1-3.  

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