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, September 14, 2016

Northeast Gale with Hurricane Force Winds Hammered the Pelham Region on November 23, 1901

On the evening of Saturday, November 23, 1901, a northeast gale with brutal winds that reached category one hurricane strength of seventy-five miles an hour raged over Long Island Sound and smashed into the New York City region including Pelham and lower Westchester County.  This is the story of that savage storm.

Located on Long Island Sound, Pelham has been in the cross-hairs of many brutal nor'easters, hurricanes, and storms.  I have written before, for example, about the "Great Hurricane of 1938."  See Bell, Blake A., Pelham and The Great Hurricane of 1938, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XV, Issue 29, Jul. 28, 2006, p. 8, col. 1.  More recently, think of Super Storm Sandy that rolled over Pelham beginning October 28, 2012 causing extensive damage to homes, trees, the electrical grid, and more.  These are but a couple of the many, many brutal storms that have rolled over the New York City region in the last few hundred years.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog describes a the brutal gale that raged over the region in 1901 at a time before such storms were named.  The storm struck while New York City was in the midst of replacing the old wooden City Island bridge with a new steel bridge (which, in turn, is in the midst of being replaced today).  The storm was so severe that what was left of the old wooden bridge "was completely carried away."  

On Thursday, November 21, 1901, the northeast gale was blowing along the Atlantic Coast with winds up to fifty miles per hour.  After raging along the coast for forty-eight hours, the storm went on the move on Saturday, November 23rd.  During much of the day on Saturday, Pelham and the surrounding region were peppered with a steady, drizzling rain that persisted until the evening.  Late in the afternoon and during the early evening, the wind "steadily freshened."  On the evening of Saturday, November 23rd, the storm gained strength and moved ashore in the New York City region.  According to one account, the storm "became a raging hurricane.  Rain fell in torrents, and the streets became rivers of black water."  The storm raged for twelve hours Saturday night, into Sunday morning and caused some of its heaviest damage in the Pelham region along the shores from City Island and Pelham Bay Park to about Larchmont.  

Some tales of survival and stories of the power of the storm were quite compelling.  On City Island, a woman named "Mrs. Klause" lived in a home with her three sons.  As the gale reached its height, the family heard beams in the house beginning to crack.  The family "took warning" from the cracking and scrambled out of the home into the raging storm just as the house "was torn from its foundation and carried away."

Raging waters and high tide rolled over portions of the region.  At the Macedonian Hotel, again on City Island, waves were so high that they swept glasses and decanters from the bar on the first floor inside the building.  In New York City, the winds raged so severely that a woman walking on a sidewalk at 59th Street "was blown off the sidewalk and carried under the wheels of a passing wagon."  

By late Sunday, November 24th, the storm began to blow itself out.  Winds fell to about thirty-six miles an hour.  By noon that day, more than two inches of rain had fallen.  As the storm slowly departed, Pelham, City Island, and many along the Westchester shores were left to clean up the aftermath of yet another difficult storm.

"THE PIONEER, Owned by Inspector Byrnes, of
the City Sewer Department.  The boat was swept
from the ways in Robertson's yard, City Island, and
carried fully three hundred feet along the shore, and
is badly broken up."  Source:  THE PIONEER, New-
York Tribune, Nov. 26, 1901, Vol. LXI, No. 20099,
p. 1, cols. 3-4.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Byles's and Hanson's yards.  The steam launches, the
1492 (in foreground) and the Olga, were taken from
their ways by the storm of yesterday in Hanson's yard,
fully 500 feet away.  The line of wreckage is 150 feet from
the water."  Source:  VIEW OF THE BEACH AT CITY
ISLAND, New-York Tribune, Nov. 26, 1901, Vol. LXI, No.
20099, p. 1, cols. 3-4.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *

Though there are countless news articles about the impact of the storm on the region, below is the text of a handful of such articles.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.


A hurricane swept over Westchester, the Long Island shore and the Jersey coast on Saturday night, doing great damage on sea and land.  Vessels were torn from their moorings, landed high and dry in streets or on the shore, cast on rocks or blown out to sea, after running down other craft.

The country estates of wealthy New-Yorkers along the shore in Westchester suffered severely, and clubhouses and hotels in the same section were torn from their foundations, unroofed or damaged in other ways.

Similar conditions prevailed in New-Jersey, where, in some instances, people were imprisoned in their houses by floods.

Railway trains and trolley cars in the sections covered by the hurricane were forced to cease running on account of washouts, undermined tracks and destroyed bridges.  

In the city the tide rose higher than has been known in many years.  Low lying streets along the river fronts were submerged for blocks and many cellars were flooded.  Passengers had to be landed by rafts from some steamers.  The rapid transit tunnel was considerably damaged, and the work will be somewhat impeded.



A northeast gale, blowing at the rate of seventy-five miles an hour, raged over Long Island Sound on Saturday and yesterday morning, and did damage to the extent of $350,000 along the northern shore.  At City Island, New-Rochelle, Larchmont, Orienta Point, Davenport's Neck and Premium Point the shore was strewn with wreckage, and old residents say it was the worst storm seen in forty years.  It is feared, when all reports are in, that they will show that a number of lives have been lost, as several yachts have not been accounted for.  The big country estates of wealthy men on Davenport's Neck, Premium Point and Orienta Point were badly damaged by the great combers, which ruined high retaining walls and flooded Italian gardens, while the cellars of many houses near the Sound were flooded.  At City Island the storm was so severe that yawls and catboats were torn from their moorings and dashed on the City Island and Westchester meadows far inland.  The damage to yachts and hotels at City Island alone is estimated at $100,000.


The New-Rochelle Rowing Club was damaged to the extent of $1,500 by the wind, which tore off a new addition and tossed it in pieces fifty feet away.  The tide was so high that the floor of the clubhouse was flooded to the depth of three feet, while great rollers knocked out all the windows on the lower floor and greatly damaged a number of sculls which were stored on the floor.

The New-Rochelle Yacht Club house, on Harrison Island, was also affected by the wind, which moved the eastern side of the building half a foot out of place, while the floors were heaved up in the centre.

The Peggy, a 40-foot yawl, which cost more than $5,000, owned by F. S. Hastings, a son-in-law of E. C. Benedict, the banker, at Greenwich, lies a wreck on the rocks of Hudson Park, at New-Rochelle.  She had been brought from Greenwich to Echo Bay last week, where she had been anchored preparatory to being placed on the ways in 'Larry' Huntington's shipyard.  The Peggy had never been beaten in the 4--foot class, and was considered the fastest yacht of her class on the Sound.  Her hollow boom was snapped in two as though it was a clay pipestem, while her cabin and hull were crushed in and damaged almost beyond repair.  The cabin catboat Tom Cod, owned by T. H. Davis, of New-Rochelle, was carried half a mile down the Sound and then blown on Potter's Hill, thirty feet above the Sound level.

The retaining wall surrounding the estate of Howard N. Potter, on Davenport's Neck, was damaged to the extent of $2,000, while the cellar of M. Turner's house, on the Neck, was filled with water.


The hennery and duck house owned by C. Oliver Iselin, on Echo Island, opposite the Premium Point house, was washed into the Sound ,and all of Mr. Iselin's Italian gardens were badly damaged, while the bridge connecting the island on which his house is, was flooded, and for hours he was cut off from reaching the mainland.  His private dock and float were carried out to sea.

The Potter house, occupied by H. P. Wickes facing Keho Bay, was caught in the thick of the storm, and the water washed into the house, flooding the dining room and filling the cellar.


The storm centre seems to have been at City Island, the shore front of which is a mass of wreckage.  The wind blew there eighty miles an hour.  Yesterday morning, when the residents awoke, they found the highways leading to the place covered with from two to four feet of water.  What was left of the old City Island bridge, which was being removed owing to the construction of a new steel structure, was completely carried away.  The water also filled the horsecar stables and washed away the tracks, so that the novel scene was witnessed of people going to church in rowboats.  In some places the water on the highways was so deep that the mounted police from the West Chester station found it up to the bodies of their horses.  The heaviest damage was done to the shipyards and hotels.  At the Jacobs, Hawkins, Woods and Robinson shipyards boats and pleasure craft were blown from their ways and moorings and stranded on the beach.


The cup winner Columbia, it is reported, was blown from her ways at the Hawkins yard [on City Island] and had a hole stove in her.  At Robinson's yard, a steamboat owned by Thomas Burns, of the Department of Highways, was torn from the ways and left on the beach, where she was hopelessly wrecked.  A large bark, the name of which cannot be learned, is reported to have been blown ashore at Hart's Island.  Communication with the island has been cut off, and it cannot be learned whether or not any lives were lost.  Other smaller boats are strewn along the beach and on the salt meadows all the way from Larchmont to City Island.


While the gale was at its height at City Island the home of Mrs. Klause, on the point, was torn from its foundation and carried away.  Mrs. Klause and her three sons were in the building, and when they heard the beams cracking they took warning, and got out just in time to save themselves.  Woolley's Hotel, near by, was also washed from its foundations, and the pavilions around it were wrecked.  Other hotels that suffered damage at City Island were the Mace-

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donian, the Angus Inn and Jordan's.  In the Macedonian Hotel the waves were so high that they swept glasses and decanters from the bar.  The water was nearly a foot deep in the other hotels, and the guests got out, fearing that they would be carried away.  Nearly all of the hotels lost their pavilions and bathing houses, and sustained other damages.

Henry Lohbar, of the Fort Schuyler Road, in Westchester, is mourning the loss of a hotel.  The police at West Chester report that the hotel which has for years been the resort of artillery-men garrisoned at the fort, was swept from its foundations and wrecked.  All of the pavilions, bathing houses and outbuildings were also blown into the Sound.


Private bathing houses owned by wealthy people on Premium Point and at Larchmont were washed out to sea and pounded to pieces.  The dock at Fort Slocum, on David's Island, was so badly damaged that the yachts were unable to land, and no one was able to leave the garrison.  At Larchmont the large spindle at the breakwater at the entrance to the Larchmont Yacht Club harbor, was missing yesterday morning.  An empty three thousand gallon naphtha tank is also floating somewhere in the Sound.  The wind wrested it from a small island near the yacht club, and took it seaward.  At Beck's Rye Beach the waves demolished a part of the long pier running into the Sound, and carried away bathing houses and pavilions.  The lower floor of the Rye Beach Hotel was flooded with water two feet deep.  The high tide extinguished the fires in the power house of the Union Electric Railway system at West Farms, and for seven hours traffic on the road from West Farms to Mount Vernon was at a standstill.  Thousands of passengers were forced to leave the cars and walk miles through the rain to their homes."

Source:  WRECK AND RUIN ON SOUND -- BUILDINGS TORN FROM FOUNDATIONS -- PAVILIONS AND YACHTS BLOWN TO SEA -- COLUMBIA INJURED, New-York Tribune, Nov. 25, 1901, Vol. LXI, No. 20098, p. 1, col. 6 & p. 2, col. 1.  


With a wild rush of devastation the northeast gale, which for forty-eight hours had been bowling along the Atlantic Coast at the rate of fifty miles an hour, settled on Manhattan, and for twelve hours Saturday night and Sunday morning held undisputed sway over the waters of New-York Bay.  Ferryboats were unable to reach their piers, barges were wrenched from their moorings and set adrift and the low lying shore was covered by the highest tide known in this city in many years. 

On shore the storm king was equally supreme.  Early on Saturday night the drizzling rain which had persisted throughout the day suddenly took on a new and violent character.  The wind, which had steadily freshened in the afternoon, became a raging hurricane.  Rain fell in torrents, and the streets became rivers of black water, which swirled angrily against the curbs.  Late wayfarers were almost lifted from their feet by the violence of the storm, hats were whirled into the streets, umbrellas were suddenly wrenched out of people's hands by the wind, and at Fifty-ninth-st. a woman was blown off the sidewalk and carried under the wheels of a passing wagon.

During the early morning hours great trouble was caused the ferryboats, the tide flooding the pier slips and preventing the boats from landing.  Passengers from the Fall River steamer Priscilla were obliged to land in hacks, so high was the tide, and even these vehicles proved unsatisfactory, as the water rose above the seats and threatened to swamp them.  Rafts made of barrel staves were also used to land the passengers.  

About 8:45 yesterday morning a barge was noticed in a dangerous position off Sixty-eighth st.  Three men could be plainly seen huddled in the stern and constantly being drenched by the waves that broke over the boat.  The fireboat Zephar Mills was called to her assistance, and after several hours of work succeeded in rescuing her from her dangerous position.

In the East River also the tide reached a record breaking height.  The Boys' Farm on Randall's Island was submerged to a depth of over two feet.  On Ward's Island six bathing pavilions were wrenched from their moorings and converted into kindling wood by the mighty current which passed through Hell Gate.  At its highest point the tide washed the flooring of the lighthouse on the northern end of Blackwell's Island, which usually towers far above the waters.

For hours the Sixth and Eighth ave. cars were unable to run below Canal-st., as the water backed up in the sewers and flooded the power house at No. 13 Front-st. by the blocking up of a sewer.  In Varick-st. the pavings had been taken up and the horses on the crosstown line floundered up to their knees in the muddy water.

The most serious damage done by the storm was along the line of the new rapid transit tunnel.  All along the line work will be considerably impeded by the tons of dirt and rock washed into the excavation.  Near the Harlem River, where the tunnel is to go under the river, the water flowed into the trench and completely filled it.  The contractors yesterday estimated that $10,000 was the extent of the damage there.

Along West-st. many cellars were flooded, and considerable loss was suffered by the saloon-keepers, grocers and marketmen of that neighborhood.  A restaurant at No. 165 West-st. was so completely surrounded by the high tide that its owner could not get out to it during the morning.  

A number of minor accidents occurred.  Along Broadway several windows were blown in.  At One-hundred-and-thirty-fifth-st. and Lenox-ave. a billboard fifteen feet high and over two hundred feet long was blown over into the street.

Late in the afternoon the storm rested on its laurels, and the velocity of the wind dropped from fifty-two to thirty-six miles an hour.  The total rainfall at noon yesterday was over two inches."

Source:  CITY SUFFERS HEAVILY -- MIGHTY RUSH OF WATER DAMAGES THE SUBWAY, AND WORK WILL BE IMPEDED, New-York Tribune, Nov. 25, 1901, Vol. LXI, No. 20098, p. 1, col. 5.  


The gale which began on Saturday night and did thousands of dollars' worth of damage along the northern shore of Long Island Sound continued to blow over the Sound yesterday, and considerable wreckage was washed ashore at City Island, Hart's Island and New-Rochelle.  A big oyster sloop was blown on the Westchester sand bar, opposite City Island, late on Sunday night.  A crew of five men had a narrow escape from death, and only saved themselves from being drowned by seeking refuge in the rigging, where they were lashed for several hours.  The sloop was the Natalie, and was bound from Great South Bay to New-Haven.  Early this morning the Boat, which was partly filled with water, was pumped out and a tug pulled her off the bar.

A brig bound for New-London, which grounded on Hart's Island, was saved by the quick action of a tug's crew her dragged her into deep water just as she was heading for the rocky coast.  The Olga, a 40-foot steam yacht owned by a Boston man, and another steam yacht, the 1492, were both found wrecked in a salt meadow by the City Island Road.  They had been blown 150 feet out of the water.

It developed yesterday that the Cup defender Columbia had a narrow escape from injury.  Although wreckage was piled all about her at Hawkins's Pier, and the water rose to a depth of eight feet around her underbody, her immense keel proved sufficient to keep her down on the ways.  At one time the storm was so fierce that it threatened to carry away a long pier on her starboard side.  Had this pier given away both the Columbia and the Mineola, which were cradled near by, would have been doomed.  Captain Hawkins and his crew realized the danger, and at the risk of their lives set out to save the two vessels.  By wading through water waist deep they dragged heavy iron chains and anchors on the quaking pier, and prevented it from collapsing and being swept against yachts.  Not fifty feet away the steamboat Pioneer was driven ashore and pounded to pieces.

Driftwood, the country place of Henry Siegel, at Orienta Point, Mamaroneck, was badly damaged.  Mr. and Mrs. Siegel recently built an old Roman bridge to Crab Island, where they laid out Italian gardens and constructed pagodas and a bathing house.  The island was swept clean by the huge breakers that plunged over it on Saturday night and Sunday, and the loss will aggregate  several thousands of dollars.  Peter F. Meyer, the auctioneer, and partner of Richard Croker, who also lives at Orienta Point, lost several hundred tons of bluestone which he was about to have distributed on his property.  The bluestone was piled on Mr. Meyer's private pier, and was washed into the Sound."

Source:  SHIPS BLOWN INLAND -- WRECKAGE PILED HIGH AND DRY ON SOUND SHORE -- THE COLUMBIA'S NARROW ESCAPE, New-York Tribune, Nov. 26, 1901, Vol. LXI, No. 20099, p. 2, col. 4.  

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