Early History of Pelham's Ancient Shore Road, Long an Important Pelham Thoroughfare Along Long Island Sound
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Today there is a very short stretch of roadway at the end of Pelhamdale Avenue parallel to Long Island Sound that runs a few hundred yards within Pelham Manor known as Shore Road. Shore Road continues into Pelham Bay Park, once part of the Town of Pelham, to Pelham Bridge and beyond. The roadway is ancient. Indeed, much of it is prehistoric. This is the story of its early history.
Pelham Portion of Shore Road Began as Native American Trail
The Pelham portion of Shore Road (including that portion within Pelham Bay Park, once part of Pelham), began as an Indian trail. A number of scholars have traced the origins of this ancient Native pathway. You must use your imagination a little to understand how this trail began.
In long ago times, if a Native were making his or her way from the mainland above Manhattan trying to proceed on the mainland parallel to Long Island Sound, that Native would reach the mouth of today's Hutchinson River at Eastchester Bay which could not be crossed. The Native would have had to continue on the mainland along today's Hutchinson River on the side opposite from Long Island Sound all the way upriver to the first shallow location where it might be waded across at low tide. That location is the place where the original Old Boston Post Road crossed the Hutchinson River (where today's Colonial Avenue crosses the Hutchinson River).
In those days, Natives would ford the river at that spot. From there they could proceed toward Long Island Sound. The pathway followed today's Colonial Avenue a few hundred feet to the roadway known today as Wolfs Lane. The Indian pathway then followed today's Wolfs Lane through today's Village of Pelham Manor, roughly parallel to the Hutchinson River until it reached a little jog and proceeded along today's Split Rock Road. Split Rock Road was an important part of the ancient pathway.
The Native footpath followed today's Split Rock Road across the New York City Boundary, continuing across today's New England Thruway into today's Pelham Bay and Split Rock Golf Course Property, headed toward today's Shore Road. The Split Rock Road portion of the pathway, followed by a Native trying to get to Long Island Sound, reached a junction with a pathway parallel to the Sound (today's Shore Road) at about the spot known today as the driveway entrance to the clubhouse for the Pelham Bay and Split Rock Golf Course complex. At that junction, of course, a Native could turn left or right (that is, could turn north or south) on what we know today as Shore Road. If the Native turned left (north), travel would proceed toward today's Pelham Manor border with New Rochelle beyond. If the Native turned right (south), travel would proceed toward today's Rodman's Neck (also known as Pelham Neck) and Pelham Bridge.
Why Was the Native American Trail Known Today as Shore Road There?
Why was the Native American trail that we know today as Shore Road there in the first place? First and foremost, of course, it allowed travel along the edge of Long Island Sound without traveling by dugout canoe in waters that could be icy or treacherous during storms. It is also evident that the path connected a number of Native American villages, encampments, and gathering places along Long Island Sound waters in the area.
For example, a known Native American village once stood along today’s Shore Road not far from the driveway entrance to today’s Bartow-Pell Mansion. There also is evidence to the north of that location of a major encampment or village near Roosevelt’s Brook. Roosevelt's Brook is the area we all know where today's Shore Road dips (and, thus, frequently floods) shortly after one leaves Pelham Manor traveling into Pelham Bay Park. The encampment or village was in the area of Pelham Bay Park immediately adjacent to the Pelham Manor boundary at Shore Road. This is the "northern section" of Pelham's Shore Road near Christ Church and the New Rochelle border.
Additionally, Native American burials have been excavated at the other end (the southern end) of today's Shore Road near and on Pelham Neck. Furthermore, 17th century documents make clear that Native Americans planted corn in that area.
Moreover, between the northern end and the southern end, shell middens (indicative of Native occupation) may still be found on the shoreline near Bartow-Pell and have been identified along the shoreline up and down Shore Road in Pelham Bay Park. This author has explored such shell middens over the years.
With such Native occupation well-evidenced up and down Shore Road, it should come as no surprise that there was a pathway parallel to the waters of Long Island Sound on the mainland that ran between, and connected, all these locations. That pathway is known today as Pelham's "Shore Road."
The Native American Footpath Grew Into a Rough Roadway During Colonial Days
The pathway along Shore Road seems to have grown into an unpaved rural roadway during colonial days. There is evidence, for example, that Pelham Founder Thomas Pell’s nephew and principal legatee, John Pell, built a home along the roadway in the early 1670s. See Mon., Nov. 03, 2014: More on the 17th Century Location of the Manor Home of John Pell of the Manor of Pelham. With no bridge over Eastchester Bay at the time, to proceed to New York City by land, John Pell would have had to leave his home near today's Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, proceed north on the rough roadway to its juncture with what became known as Split Rock Road and proceed up that rough roadway onto what is known today as Wolfs Lane until reaching the wading ford where the Hutchinson River was shallow enough to cross (where today’s Colonial Avenue crosses the waterway) and then proceed on the old Boston Post Road toward New York City.
Revolutionary War Maps Clearly Show Shore Road
Early colonial maps prepared during the Revolutionary War clearly show what we know today as Shore Road. One example is a map prepared by British engineer Charles Blaskowitz in 1776 entitled "A survey of Frog's Neck and the rout[e] of the British Army to the 24th of October 1776, under the command of His Excellency the Honorable William Howe, General and Commander in Chief of His Majesty's forces, &ca, &ca, &ca." A detail from that map appears immediately below, followed by a brief discussion.
Shore Road may be seen in the upper right quadrant of the Blaskowitz Map detail above. It disappears off the page headed toward New Rochelle as the map ends at that spot. When the road reaches the upper portion of Pelham Neck (today's Rodman's Neck), it dips downward, following what is known today as Orchard Beach Road headed toward Eastchester Bay. Before the roadway reaches the upper portion of Pelham Neck on the map, the roadway once known as Split Rock Road may clearly be seen branching off of Shore Road.
The Roadway Becomes More Important with Construction of the First Pelham Bridge
True development of a major roadway parallel to Long Island Sound seems to have been prompted principally by early efforts to build the Pelham Bridge over the Hutchinson River where it flows into Eastchester Bay. Such a bridge was built by early 1815 but, within months, was destroyed by an “extraordinary storm and flood.” [Citation to Historic Pelham Blog article.] There were, however, proposals to rebuild the bridge by August 1, 1817. Though the proposals do not seem to have come to fruition, it was about this time that a company named the “Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Road Company,” was incorporated on April 5, 1817. According to one historian, “The Shore Road was made into a real road by the Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Co., incorporated April 5, 1817.” Barr, p. 51.
Lockwood Barr may have overstated the point a little. It appears that the Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Road Company was incorporated to build a road from the causeway at the Village of Westchester (near today's Westchester Square in the Bronx) to the Pelham Bridge -- not beyond the Pelham Bridge onto today's Shore Road between the bridge and the Pelham Manor border. In any event, it is clear that construction of the road between the Village of Westchester and Pelham Bridge connected Pelham to what were then more populated portions of lower Westchester County, making the colonial roadway known today as Shore Road in Pelham Bay Park all the more important.
The roadway built by the Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Road Company came to be known as the "Westchester Turnpike." Occasionally, portions of today's Shore Road between Pelham Bridge and the Pelham Manor border were also referred to as Westchester Turnpike. See, e.g., SUPREME COURT -- John Hunter, Plaintiff vs. Robert R. Hunter, Deforciant [Legal Notice], New-York Evening Post, Nov. 19, 1818, p. 3, col. 2 (referencing "the highway leading from the Westchester turnpike road in Pelham to Rodman's Neck, (so called)").
Construction of New Pelham Bridge in 1834 Further Increased the Importance of Shore Road
Clearly, by 1834, Pelham citizens were clamoring for an improved bridge connection between Throggs Neck and Pelham over the Hutchinson River at Eastchester Bay. Pelhamites petitioned the State of New York to authorize George Rapelye of Pelham to build a new bridge connecting the Westchester Turnpike leading to the Village of Westchester with Shore Road in the Town of Pelham. See Wed., Oct. 12, 2016: More on the Early History of Pelham Bridge Including Ownership of the Bridge Between 1834 and 1860.
Once that new Pelham Bridge was completed, Shore Road in Pelham became all the more important and, indeed, began to see increased traffic. The unpaved roadway grew to be a constant headache for the Town of Pelham. City Islanders controlled Town Government and maintained tight purse strings when it came to maintaining roadways on the mainland. Consequently, there are constant references to begrudging appropriations to maintain the roadway that was becoming increasingly busy.
Shore Road Takes the Shape We Know Today
It was not until 1869 that Shore Road took the shape that we know today. On May 6, 1869, New York enacted a statute authorizing work to begin immediately on a large section of roadway referenced as Eastern Boulevard including today's Shore Road in the Town of Pelham. According to one newspaper account:
"The people on the Sound and shore from Pelham [to] Morrisania are perfectly jubilant over the idea of having their long neglected district opened by means of one of the most magnificent boulevards in Westchester county. The line of the road is to commence at Pelham bridge, following and widening the old Pelham road as far as the residence of John Hunter; thence in a southerly direction through the lands of John Farnham and John Van Antwerp to the Arnow homestead, on Willow lane; by and along Willow lane, following the same and widening it to 100 feet, its entire length to Schuylerville, at McGroey's Hotel, on the Fort Schuyler road, then crossing the same and running in a direct line to the southerly side of the Oakland (Ferris!) Nursery, on Westchester creek. A drawbridge one hundred feet wide is to be built here to cross into Unionport, following Sixth street and widening the same; thence through Unionport and the lands of Francis Larken, Bradish Johnson and R. H. Ludlow, to the southern boulevard at Morrisania, thus making a splendid drive, on a road one hundred feet wide, direct from the new Harlem bridge." (See full article quoted below.)
With completion of this work, that section of the roadway known today as Shore Road, though still unpaved, looked much like it looks today -- a beautiful drive along Long Island Sound.
* * * * *
April 5, 1817:
AN ACT to incorporate the Westchester and Pelham turnpike road company.
Passed April 5, 1817.
I. BE it enacted by the people of the state of New-York, represented in senate and assembly, That Herman Le Roy, Thomas C. Taylor, William Edgar,, and all such other persons as shall associate for the purpose of making a turnpike road, to begin at the causeway leading from the village of Westchester to Throgsneck, at some point east of the bridge over Westchester creek, and to run from thence on the most convenient route to the bridge lately erected over the mouth of Eastchester creek, be and they are hereby created a body corporate and politic, in fact and in name, by the name of "the Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Road Company,'
and by the name shall have continual succession, and be persons capable in law of suing and being sued, pleading and being impleaded, answering and being answered unto, defending and being defended, in all courts and places whatsoever, in all manner of actions, suits, complaints, matters and causes, and by the same name and style shall be in law capable of purchasing, holding and conveying any estate, real or personal, for the use of the said corporation: Provided, that such estate, as well real as personal, so to be purchased and held, shall be necessary to fulfil [sic] the end and intent of the said corporation.
Shares. Commissioners to receive subscriptions
II. And be it further enacted, That the stock of the said company shall consist of one hundred shares, of thirty dollars each; and William Bayard, Thomas C. Taylor and Benjamin W. Rodgers are hereby appointed commissioners to receive subscriptions for the said stock, in the manner directed in and by the act, entitled 'an act relative to turnpike companies,' passed the 13th day of March, 1807.
III. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the company hereby incorporated, to exact and receive at the gate or turnpike to be erected on the said road, the following rates of toll, to wit: for every score of sheep or hogs, six cents; for every score of cattle, horses or mules, twenty cents; for every chair, sulkey, chaise or other two wheel pleasure carriage, with one horse, six cents; for every horse rode, three cents; and for every horse led or driven, two cents; for every stage waggon, chariot, coach, coachee, phaeton or other pleasure carriage, drwn by two horses, twelve and an half cents, and six cents for every additional horse; for every cart or waggon, drawn by one horse, six cents; for every cart or waggon, other than stage waggons, drawn by two horses, mules or oxen, eight cents, and two cents for every additional horse, mule or ox; for every sleigh or sled, if drawn by not ore than two horses, mules or oxen, six cents, and for every additional horse, mule or ox, once cent.
IV. And be it further enacted, That the company hereby incorporated shall have all the rights, privileges and immunities, which are given and granted in and by the aforesaid act relative to turnpike companies, and shall be subject to all the conditions, provisions and restrictions therein contained."
Source: 40th Sess., CHAP. CLVII., An Act to Incorporate the Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Road Company Passed April 5, 1817 in Laws of the State of New-York Passed at the Thirty-Ninth, Fortieth and Forty-First Sessions of the Legislature, Commencing January 1816, and Edning April 1818, Vol. IV, pp. 160-61 (Albany, NY: Printed for Websters and Skinners, by the Printer to the State, 1818).
July 3, 1817:
"NOTICE is hereby given, that an election of Directors in the Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Road Company will be held at the office of Thomas C. Taylor, situate at No. 41 Robinson-street, in the third ward of the city of New-York, on the first Monday of August next, at the hour of 12 o'clock at noon; at which time and place the subscribers of shares in the said company, are notified to attend accordingly. Dated this 3d day of July, 1817.
WM. BAYARD, )
B.W. ROGERS, } Commissioners.
THOS. C. TAYLOR, )
Source: NOTICE, Commercial Advertiser, Jul. 3, 1817, p. 3. The same notice also appeared on July 16, July 17 and July 22. See NOTICE, Commercial Advertiser, Jul. 16, 1817, p. 4; NOTICE, Commercial Advertiser, Jul. 17, 1817, p. 4; NOTICE, Commercial Advertiser, Jul. 22, 1817, p. 4.
"In 1817, Hermann Le Roy, Thomas C. Taylor, William Edgar and their associates were incorporated as a turnpike company to make a turnpike road beginning at the causeway leading from the village of Westchester, at some point on the east side of the bridge over Westchester Creek, and to run from thence in the most convenient route to the bridge lately erected over the mouth of East Chester Creek and were to be known as the 'Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Road Company.'
The Boulevard running from Pelham Bridge to the bridge south of Westchester village causeway is of recent origin, but the road which runs from Westchester village to the Bronx at the south end of the village of West Farms was originally known as the Westchester turnpike. The road known now as the East Chester road, extending from the Bleach to the East Chester line, and sometimes called the Boston road, is a continuation of the Coles road mentioned in the chapters on West Farms and Morrisania."
Source: Scharf, J. Thomas, History of Westchester County, New York Including Morrisania, Kings Bridge and West Farms which Have Been Annexed to New York City, Vol. 1, Part 2, p. 815 (Philadelphia, PA: L. E. Preston & Co., 1886).
May 8, 1869:
"THE EASTERN BOULEVARD.
The people on the Sound and shore from Pelham [to] Morrisania are perfectly jubilant over the idea of having their long neglected district opened by means of one of the most magnificent boulevards in Westchester county. The line of the road is to commence at Pelham bridge, following and widening the old Pelham road as far as the residence of John Hunter; thence in a southerly direction through the lands of John Farnham and John Van Antwerp to the Arnow homestead, on Willow lane; by and along Willow lane, following the same and widening it to 100 feet, its entire length to Schuylerville, at McGroey's Hotel, on the Fort Schuyler road, then crossing the same and running in a direct line to the southerly side of the Oakland (Ferris!) Nursery, on Westchester creek. A drawbridge one hundred feet wide is to be built here to cross into Unionport, following Sixth street and widening the same; thence through Unionport and the lands of Francis Larken, Bradish Johnson and R. H. Ludlow, to the southern boulevard at Morrisania, thus making a splendid drive, on a road one hundred feet wide, direct from the new Harlem bridge. The act passed the Legislature on Thursday, and by the terms of the bill the work is to commence immediately. The commissioners, Abraham Hatfielld, Thos. Jay Byrne, Wm. Watson, George Cooper and Hugh Lunny, have called a meeting, to be held at the office of Judge Byrnes, in Westchester, on Thursday next, the 13th inst., to organize and appoint officers and take action at once in furthering the work to completion. The road is to cost $20,000 per mile; and the commissioners are authorized to raise the amount by issuing bonds of the town, payable in equal portions yearly for twenty years. The work will be finished by the 1st of Septembert next, when a perfect 'belt boulevard' of Westchester county will be completed -- i.e., this boulevard through Unionport connects with the Southern Boulevard at Morrisania, the Southern Boulevard with the Great Central Boulevard at Fordham, it, in turn, running to Yonkers and White Plains.
The rise in value of property already is fabulous on the entire line of the road both at Throg's Neck and Unionport, the demand for lots at the latter place being almost incredulous. Two hundred per cent would be a low estimate of the advance in real estate since the news first came of the passage of the bill. Taken in connection with this that the Portchester and Second Avenue Railroad bill, passed a day or two since, received the Governor's signature and became a law, it is not difficult to estimate the sudden importance of landowners or the elation of the masses. In order to display action in the latter matter the directors have called a meeting for Wednesday next, with a view to not only break ground but to put six squads of laborers to work at once, for they declare it to be their determination to have the cars running through Unionport to New York six months from the first day of June.
And now that facilities for travel to and from the city have at last been opened the people may speedily expect to see Westchester, long noted for its beauty picturesqueness and salubriousness of climate, become one of the most famous and fashionable summer resorts in the State. Persons doing business 'in the city' have long felt the need of and desired just such a romantic spot as this, where they can remove their families during the hot summer months and enjoy with them the soft, balmy air, good bathing, &c., without the fear of fever and ague, or incurring the mosquito plague."
Source: THE EASTERN BOULEVARD, The New York Herald, May 8, 1869, p. 10, col. 2.
“In a region possessing such an extent of waterfront as Long Island sound and East river, the bay and its tributary inlets, with such excellent water-highways as the Hudson, the Raritan, and the Passaic, it might seem that the easiest and most popular method of travel would have been by canoe. But while the dugout was doubtless a favored means of transit, it had its limitations, by ice and storm, and by exposure to hostile attack. Thus the waterways are found to have been paralleled by paths of great length and common usage; such as the Shore path extending along the north shore of the Sound. . . .”
Source: Bolton, Reginald Pelham, “Indian Paths in the Great Metropolis” in Hodge, F.W., ed., Indian Notes and Monographs – A Series of Publications Relating to the American Aborigines, pp. 1 & 21 (NY, NY: Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation, 1922).
“Two blocks beyond the crossing of the Hutchinson River [where today’s Colonial Avenue crosses the Hutchinson River], in the village of Pelham Manor, there diverged from the Shore path another trail which led southwardly to Anns hook, or Pelham neck, and thus came back within the boundaries of the metropolis. . . . It became known as, and is still in part called Wolf’s lane, as far as the later or New Boston post-road. Its course on the opposite side of that road was recently traced by William R. Montgomery, of Pelham Manor, by means of the old bowlder fences and line of trees which he found in vacant lots, extending to the Split Rock road (once miscalled Prospect Hill road, but happily renamed), which is the continuation of the line of this old Indian pathway.
The line of this old trail passes the Split Rock, crossing the brook near the site (22) of Ann Hutchinson’s cabin (pl. xv). [sic] It dips under the New Haven Railroad’s Harlem Branch, just east of which it meets the modern Shore road or parkway. Here it doubtless branched north and south. In the former direction it led to the nearby site (103) of a considerable native station situated close to the entrance gate and driveway to the one-time Bartow estate. . . . A trail appears to have extended farther north along the shore-line of Pelham bay. It doubtless connected with a wading place used by those natives who visited or lived on Hunter island (25), and with those who were resident at a station (24) at Roosevelts brook, which runs into the Sound just below the boundary of the city and Pelham Manor, both of which localities bear abundant evidence of native occupancy. . . .”
Source; Bolton, Reginald Pelham, “Indian Paths in the Great Metropolis” in Hodge, F.W., ed., Indian Notes and Monographs – A Series of Publications Relating to the American Aborigines, pp. 123-25 (NY, NY: Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation, 1922).
“The Shore Road was made into a real road by the Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Co., incorporated April 5, 1817.”
Source: Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, p. 51 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).
“There are several undated maps showing Pelham and New Rochelle--being pages from books of real estate maps. Some of these maps can be dated after 1848 , for they show the main line of the New Haven Railroad, but surveyed before 1873, since they do not show the Harlem Branch Line. These maps show the boundary line clearly. The Shore Road has been widened and shifted since these maps were drawn.”
Source: Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, p. 73 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).
“From the tip of Pell's Point--where is now the Causeway to City Island--there was an Indian trail up to the Shore Road. There it connected with the trail skirting the ridge parallel to the Hutchinson River-- later Split Rock Road and Wolf Lane--up to the head of the Hutchinson Valley. When New York City developed Pelham Bay Park, famous old Split Rock Road was dosed and destroyed.”
Source: Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, p. 83 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).
“When the Town of Pelham was erected in 1788 there were then three old roads--originally Indian Trails--all near the outer edges of what is now the Village of Pelham Manor. These were: (1) the outside Shore Road, from the mouth of the Hutchinson River to the "Boat Landing," on the Sound near Glen Island in New Rochelle, (2) the Old Trail, which became Split Rock Road and Wolf Lane, parallel to the Hutchinson River, and (3) Westchester Path, from East Chester to New Rochelle. This was later known as Kings Highway in New Rochelle, and The Post Road in the Pelhams (now Colonial Avenue). In the early days there was no trail corresponding to the present Boston Post Road through Pelham Manor. When the Beech Tree Lane section of Pelham Manor was developed in 1926-27 there still remained an outline of an old dirt road, parallel to Park Lane, which could be traced by the line of Beech trees and old walls made of great glacial boulders, from Manor Circle down the valley of Nellie's Brook, to the Shore Road at a point just north of Hunter's Island.”
Source: Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, p. 117 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).
“John Hunter of Hunter's Island, in his will dated May 13, 1852, disposed of his large farm known as the Provost Farm, on the Mainland, in the Town of Pelham, at the Hutchinson River near the point where the Boston Post Road crosses the River. Hunter recognized the necessity of granting right of way and access from the Shore Road to that farm--across a second farm he owned, known as the Sackett Farm. So, in his will, he provided: ‘. . . right of way with Cattle and teams over the lane now used by me across my farm, commonly called and known as the Sackett Farm, situated in the said Town of Pelham, opposite Hunter's Island and between the farms of Mr. Thacker and Elbert Roosevelt, and also right of way from said lane through the woods of Said Sackett Farm to and from the Provost Farm. . .’”
Source: Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, pp. 117-18 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).