Is It Possible The First Pelham Bridge Built in About 1815 Was Repaired After Near Destruction by a Storm?
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According to longstanding history of the Pelham Bridge, on March 6, 1812, the New York State Legislature enacted a statute incorporating the "Eastchester Bridge Company" to build a bridge over the Hutchinson River where it empties into Eastchester Bay. The bridge was built shortly afterward and is believed to have been completed by about 1815. In 1817, the Westchester and Pelham Turnpike Company was incorporated to construct a turnpike from the causeway at Westchester to the bridge. That bridge came to be known as "Pelham Bridge" -- the name it bears today. Even in its first iteration, Pelham Bridge was a draw bridge to permit masted ships to pass.
On April 12, 1816, the company was authorized by the Legislature to sell its property and toll franchise for a period of forty-five years. Within its first few years, however, the first Pelham Bridge was destroyed by a storm. The second bridge was built in 1834 by George Rapelje, with the right to charge tolls for a period of thirty years, but the supervisors of Westchester County purchased the bridge in 1860 and made it free. The bridge was replaced with an iron bridge constructed in 1869-1870. That bridge, in turn, was replaced by the present larger bridge, opened by the New York City Department of Bridges on October 15, 1908.
When Was the First Pelham Bridge Constructed?
A local real estate advertisement published on March 18, 1815 describes the bridge as "the new bridge lately erected across the mount of East Chester Creek." (See full advertisement quoted below.) Thus, it seems certain that the bridge was completed at least by mid-March, 1815.
The bridge, it seems, was built between June 4, 1814 and March 18, 1815. This can be deduced from an advertisement published on June 4, 1814 stating:
"EASTCHESTER BRIDGE COMPANY.
PROPOSALS will be received by the Company for the building of a Stone Bridge across Eastchester creek, from the town of Pelham to Throgs-neck, the distance across computed about thirteen hundred feet; any person inclining to contract for the erection thereof are desired to call on Mr. JAMES HARVEY, in the town of Pelham near New-Rochelle, county of Westchester, who will exhibit a survey of the creek, and enter into such other explanations as may be required.
May 13 -- 3w"
Source: EASTCHESTER BRIDGE COMPANY, New-York Evening Post, Jun. 4, 1814, p. 4, col. 5. See also EASTCHESTER BRIDGE COMPANY, New-York Evening Post, Jun. 2, 1814, p. 4, col. 5; East-Chester Bridge Company, Connecticut Courant, May 31, 1814, p. 4, col. 2.
When was the First Pelham Bridge Destroyed by a Storm and Flood?
Within about a year of the completion of the first Pelham Bridge and perhaps sooner, the new structure was destroyed by "an extraordinary storm and flood." The destructive storm may have occurred only a few months after the bridge was built. Indeed, on October 18, 1815, an illuminating advertisement appeared in the New-York Evening Post suggesting that something -- perhaps the storm -- had damaged the piers of the "East-Chester Bridge." The advertisement stated:
"NOTICE TO DOCK BUILDERS.
PROPOSAL will be received by Mr. James Harvey in the town of Pelham, to repair the damages done to the Piers of the East-Chester Bridge, if made immediately.
Pelham, October 16, 1815.
Oct 17 iw"
Source: NOTICE TO DOCK BUILDERS, New-York Evening Post, Oct. 18, 1815, p. 3, col. 4.
Certainly by March 11, 1816, the first Pelham Bridge had been destroyed. On that date, according to a newspaper report, the New York Assembly was referred a petition described as:
"Petitions referred -- . . . declaratory of an act, entitled an act to incorporate the East Chester bridge company, passed March 6, 1812 -- of Herman Le Roy and others, stockholders in the East Chester bridge Company, praying that a law may be passed, authorising them to make such sales as are therein mentioned, and upon certain conditions, there particulalry specified."
Source: Legislature of New-York, House of Assembly, Monday, March 11, New York Herald, March 16, 1816, p. 3, col. 2.
New York State soon passed such a law. Within a month, on April 12, 1816, it passed "AN ACT for the relief of the President and Directors of the Eastchester Bridge Company and their Creditors" with a preamble that stated, in part, as follows:
"it is represented to the legislature, by the stockholders in the corporation created by the act, entitled 'an act to incorporate the Eastchester bridge company,' that the bridge erected by the said company, over the Eastchester creek, in pursuance of the said act, has been destroyed by an extraordinary storm and flood; That the funds of the company are inadequate to rebuild it; and that the said corporation is moreover largely indebted to the builders and workmen who were employed in its erection."
The statute authorized the President and Directors of the Eastchester Bridge Company to sell at auction "the remains of the said bridge, and all the other property and estate of the said corporation, to the highest bidder or bidders." It further provided that the purchaser would be "authorized to rebuild the said bridge, in the manner required by the said act, provided the same be completed by the first day of August, in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventeen."
Only one week later, on April 19, 1816, notice appeared in a local newspaper whereby a committee consisting of Pelham residents John Hunter, James Harvey, William Bayard, and Tolbert Roosevelt provided public notice that "all the remains of the bridge lately erected by the said Company across the Eastchester Creek, and all the estate of the Company" would be sold at public auction "at the Tontine Coffee House, in the city of New-York, on Friday the seventh day of June next, at twelve o'clock at noon." No report of the resullt of the public auction, if it was held, has yet been found. That said, it certainly seems that the first Pelham Bridge was not rebuilt by August 1, 1817. There are, however, intriguing suggestions that some form of bridge, temporary or otherwise, may have been built on the site (or on the remnants) within five or six years.
Some Real Estate Advertisements Later Reference a Bridge at the Site
On March 31, 1821, a real estate advertisement offering the old George Rapalje estate on Pelham Neck for sale made no mention of a bridge across Eastchester Creek. In contrast, six years earlier when the bridge was first erected and before its destruction by an "extraordinary storm and flood," an advertisement for sale of the same property made much of the "new bridge lately erected across the mount of East Chester Creek." This certainly suggests -- but certainly does not establish -- that the first Pelham Bridge had not yet been rebuilt.
Nearly one year later, however, Peter and George Lorillard offered for sale a 105-acre tract in the same area by referencing in their advertisement the Pelham Bridge. The ad stated:
"Also, 105 acres of land in the town of Pelham, adjoining East Chester Creek, near the bridge; being about 18 or 20 miles from this city."
Was this merely an imprecise reference to the remnants of the first Pelham Bridge that had been destroyed by the storm? Alternatively, is it possible that a permanent (or even temporary) bridge had been constructed on the remnants or, perhaps, in place of the remnants?
A real estate advertisement apparently offering the same 105-acre tract two years later on February 2, 1824 once again made much of the fact that the tract adjoined "East Chester Creek and Pelham Bridge." Moreover, the following year on March 5, 1825, a real estate advertisement offering the Lorillard property at Eastchester Bay for sale once again referred specifically to the property as "adjoining East Chester Creek and Pelhams Bridge, bout 16 miles from this city."
Perhaps most intriguing, in 1827, a bridge referenced as the "East Chester Bridge" was offered for lease together with a "Toll House, shed and garden." Obviously an offer to lease a bridge -- rather than remnants -- strongly suggests the bridge was rebuilt in some fashion, temporarily or otherwise (assuming the reference to "East Chester Bridge" is a reference to the bridge over the Hutchinson River at Eastchester Bay). See below for quote of entire advertisement with link to source.
Until more dispositive evidence can be uncovered, we can only speculate. These real estate advertisements published in 1822 and later make specific reference to a "bridge" at the location -- not "remnants" or "remains" of any such bridge. Rather than simply omitting any such reference at all as seems to have been done when the March 31, 1821 advertisement offering the Rapelje tract was published, the later advertisements contain an express reference to such a "bridge."
Although no person or group seems to have purchased the bridge and the estate of the Eastchester Bridge Company and replaced the bridge by August 1, 1817 as required by the relief statute, it seems at least plausible to speculate that some form of bridge -- temporary or otherwise -- may have been crafted on the remnants of the bridge destroyed be the "extraordinary storm and flood" that occurred in about the first few months of 1816.
Whether there ever was a bridge at the site -- temporary or otherwise -- in the years shortly after the first Pelham Bridge was destroyed, it is clear that a replacement bridge was built at the site in 1834 by George Rapelje, with the right to charge tolls for a period of thirty years. Until dispositive evidence is located, we are left to wonder if the bridge built in 1834 was the second -- or third -- bridge on the site.
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Below is the text of a number of items on which today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog is based. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.
FOR SALE the valuable farm on which the subscriber now lives, (formerly the property of Geo. Rapelye, Esq.) on the manor of Pelham county, Westchester, 15, 1-2 miles from the city of New-York, and adjoining the new bridge lately erected across the mount of East Chester Creek, containing near 200 acres, and is bounded on three sides by the waters of the sound, of which there is a full view, and of all vessels passing up or down. There is on said farm a large well built dwelling house, and farm house, barn, carriage house, stable, grainery [sic], dairy, smoke house, sheep fold and house, with racks complete for 200 sheep, and other necessary out buildings, three orchards in full bearing, of the best grafted apples, with a great abundance of every other kind of fruit; 50 acres of fresh meadow, a proportion of salt meadow, about 30 acres of wood land, the rest under first rate pasture land, the whole capable of being made excellent meadow, and in quality of soil is surpassed by none in the county. Attached to which is a large body of sedge. 100 loads of drift stuff may yearly be collected from the shores, the waters of which abound with all kinds of scale and shell fish. For further particulars apply on the premises.
Feb 2 rf
Source: FARM [Advertisement], New-York Evening Post, Mar. 18, 1815, p. 4, col. 3.
AN ACT for the relief of the President and Directors of the Eastchester Bridge Company and their Creditors.
Passed April 12, 1816.
WHEREAS it is represented to the legislature, by the stockholders in the corporation created by the act, entitled 'an act to incorporate the Eastchester bridge company,' that the bridge erected by the said company, over the Eastchester creek, in pursuance of the said act, has been destroyed by an extraordinary storm and flood; That the funds of the company are inadequate to rebuild it; and that the said corporation is moreover largely indebted to the builders and workmen who were employed in its erection, and praying legislative aid and relief in the premises; Therefore,
Remains of the bridge may be sold
I. BE it enacted by the people of the State of New-York represented in Senate and Assembly, That it shall and may be lawful for the president and directors of the said company, to sell, at public auction, in the city of New-York, all the remains of the said bridge, and all the other property and estate of the said corporation, to the highest bidder or bidders, and thereupon to grant and convey the same to the purchaser or purchasers thereof; Provided, that six weeks notice of the time and place of such sale be given in the nearest newspaper printed in the county of Westchester, and also in two of the public newspapers printed in the city of New-York.
Avails to be applied to the company's debts.
II. And be it further enacted, That such conveyance being duly acknowledged or proved, shall be recorded in the clerk's office of the county of Westchester; and that the monies arising from such sale, after paying all incidental expenses attending the same, shall be applied in the first place to the payment of the debts of the said corporation, and that the residue and surplus of the said monies, shall be divided and paid to and among all the stockholders in the said company, in proportion to the number of shares which they may respectively hold therein.
The purchasers may rebuild the bridge.
III. And be it further enacted, That the purchaser or purchasers at such sale, and his or their assigns or associates, shall be and hereby are authorized to rebuild the said bridge, in the manner required by the said act, provided the same be completed by the first day of August, in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventeen; and in case the same shall be so completed by that day, then the said purchaser or purchasers, his or their assigns and associates, shall thereafter be considered as the stockholders of the said company, in proportion to the sums they shall respectively pay and advance towards the said purchase, and the rebuilding of the said bridge an other necessary objects:
And be a body corporate for 45 years.
And they and their successors shall be and continue a body corporate and politic, by the name, and with all the powers, privileges and immunities mentioned in the said act, and in the act to amend the same, for and during the term of forty-five years from the passing of this act, and no longer, any thing in the said acts, or either of them, contained, to the contrary notwithstanding: Provided always,
This act not to prevent prosecution against the former company.
IV. And be it further enacted, That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to bar or prevent any public prosecution, or any action or actions, which any person or persons would have if this act had not been passed against the said president and directors, or against all or any of the stockholders of the said company, or against any person or persons who is, are or have been in their employ, or to prevent the abating of any nuisance."
Source: "CHAP. CXXXII: AN ACT for the relief of the President and Directors of the Eastchester Bridge Company and their Creditors" in Laws of the State of New-York, Passed at the Thirty-Ninth, Fortieth and Forty-First Sessions of the Legislature From January 1816 to April 1818, Vol. IV, pp. 149-50 (Passed April 12, 1816) (Albany, NY: William Gould, and David Banks and Stephen Gould, 1818).
THE subscribers being a Committee, appointed for that purpose by the President and Directors of the Eastchester Bridge Company, hereby give notice, that in pursuance of an act of the legislature of this state, passed on the 12th day of April instant, entitled 'An Act for the relief of the President and Directors of the Eastchester Bridge Company and their creditors,' all the remains of the bridge lately erected by the said Company across the Eastchester Creek, and all the estate of the Company, will be exposed to sale at the public auction, at the Tontine Coffee House, in the city of New-York, on Friday the seventh day of June next, at twelve o'clock at noon.
The purchaser or purchasers at such sale, will be entitled to all the privileges and immunities heretofore granted by law to the said Company, for the term of 45 years from the 12th instant, on condition that the bridge is rebuilt by the 1st day of August, 1817. -- By order of the Board of Directors of the Eastchester Bridge Company.
JOHN HUNTER, )
JAMES HARVEY, } Committee
WM. BAYARD, )
TOLBERT ROOSEVELT, )
Pelham, April 19, 1816. ap 22law6w"
Source: NOTICE, New-York Evening Post, May 18, 1816, p. 4, col. 2. See also NOTICE, The Evening Post, May 9, 1816, p. 1, col. 4 (same text).
"Beautiful Country Residence
TO LET, (and immediate possession given,) the country seat of George Rapelje, Esq. in the Manor of Pelham, Westchester county, about 17 miles from the city of New York; containing about 65 acres in a good state of improvement, with a commodious mansion and suitable out houses, garden, orchard, &c. The premises being bounded on three sides by the waters of the Sound, can scarcely be excelled for combining beauty of prospect with ample facilities for fishing and fowling. Part of the furniture of the house will be let if required. Enquire at 234 Broadway.
Mb 29 tf"
Source: Beautiful Country Residence [Advertisement], New-York Evening Post, Mar. 31, 1821, p. 3, col. 4.
"ABOUT 280 ACRES OF LAND.
A valuable farm for sale, situated at the 14 mile stone, which is divided by the Boston Post Road, in the town of West Chester, containing a Farm House, and other out houses, all enclosed with good stone wall. The land is well calculated for a grazing farm.
Also, 105 acres of land in the town of Pelham, adjoining East Chester Creek, near the bridge; being about 18 or 20 miles from this city. For particulars, apply at No. 42 Chatham street.
PETER & GEORGE LORILLARD.
Jan 25 1m"
Source: ABOUT 280 ACRES OF LAND [Advertisement], New-York Evening Post, Feb. 8, 1822, p. 4, col. 2.
"FOR SALE. . . .
1 farm at Pelham, adjoining East Chester Creek and Pelham Bridge, about 15 miles from this city, containing 15 acres, occupied by C. Valentine. . . ."
Source: FOR SALE [Advertisement], New-York Evening Post, Feb. 2, 1824, p. 4, col. 1.
* * *
One hundred and fifty acres of Land in the town of Pelham, adjoining the East Chester Creek and Pelhams Bridge, about 16 miles from this city. . .
Source: --FOR SALE--, New-York Evening Post, Mar. 5, 1825, p. 4, col. 1.
The East Chester Bridge, with the Toll House, shed and garden, to a small family, that would be willing to accommodate a number of Boarders for the ensuing year. It is viewed as one of the best stands for a tavern in that neighborhood. Possession will be given immediately. For further particulars, apply to THOMAS C. TAYLOR, 41 Robinson st. or at his house, Bowery Hill.
Source: TO LET, The New-York Evening Post, Mar. 27, 1827, p. 3, col. 5.
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Below are examples of previous postings that address the histories of the various Pelham Bridges that have spanned Eastchester Bay for the last two centuries.
Wed., Oct. 1, 2014: Bridge Keepers of the Pelham Bridge from 1870 to 1872.
Mon., Jul. 21, 2014: Image of the Second Pelham Bridge Built in 1834 From a Sketch Created in 1865.
Thu., Jul. 17, 2014: Sabotage Brought Down the 70-Ton Draw Span of Pelham Bridge in 1908 and Delayed its Opening.
Tue., Jun. 10, 2014: Construction of the Concrete Arch Pelham Bridge.
Mon., May 12, 2014: The March 6, 1812 New York Statute Authorizing Construction of the Pelham Bridge.
Tue., Sep. 22, 2009: Names of Early "Keepers of Pelham Bridge" Appointed by Westchester County.
Thu., Jan. 08, 2009: Another Brief History of The Pelham Bridge.
Thu., Jan. 1, 2009: A Brief History of Pelham Bridge.
Wed., Jan. 2, 2008: New York State Senate Report on Petition by Inhabitants of Westchester to Allow Construction of Toll Bridge Across Eastchester Creek in 1834.
Tue., Aug. 28, 2007: The Laying Out of Pelham Avenue From Fordham to Pelham Bridge in 1869.
Wed., Jul. 4, 2007: 1857 Real Estate Advertisement for Sale of the Pelham Bridge.
Fri., Jul. 22, 2007: 1857 Real Estate Advertisement for Sale of "Country Seat" at Pelham Bridge.
Fri., May 18, 2007: Celebration at Pelham Bridge in 1872.
Wed., May 16, 2007: Board of Supervisors of Westchester County Vote to Build New Iron Bridge to Replace Pelham Bridge in 1869.
Tue., May 15, 2007: The Owner of the Pelham Bridge Hotel Sold it for the Princely Sum of $22,000 in 1869.
Mon., May 14, 2007: Plans to Widen Shore Road in the Town of Pelham in 1869.
Fri., May 11, 2007: A Sad Attempted Suicide at Pelham Bridge in 1869.
Thu., Dec. 08, 2005: The First Stone Bridge Built Across Eastchester Creek in Pelham, 1814-1815.
Thu., Aug. 18, 2005: The Opening of the New Iron "Pelham Bridge" in 1871.
Tue., Aug. 9, 2005: Cock Fighting at Pelham Bridge in the 19th Century.
Thu., Jul. 21, 2005: Today's Remnants of the Bartow Station on the Branch Line Near City Island.
Tue., Jun. 28, 2005: The Hotel and Bar Room at Pelham Bridge.
Thu., Mar. 24, 2005: The Bartow Area of Pelham in the 19th Century: Where Was It?
Wed., Mar. 23, 2005: Prize Fighting at Pelham Bridge in 1884.
For more about the Pelham Bridge and its history, see Pelham Bridge, Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelham_Bridge (visited May 6, 2014).
Home Page of the Historic Pelham Blog.
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."