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, November 30, 2016

Article on the History of Pelhamdale Published in 1925 After Tragic Fire

On Saturday, February 28, 1925, the beautiful Pelham Manor home known as Pelhamdale suffered a terrible fire that nearly destroyed the home.  The new owners of the home, the Wagner family, was in the midst of restoring the historic home.  

The day before the fire, workmen involved with the remodeling of the home built a coal fire in a grate within a fireplace on the second floor of the home for warmth and left it burning when they departed that evening.  At 6:00 a.m. the next morning, John Meltz was on his way to work at the local disposal plant.  As he walked past the home, he saw smoke rising from windows of the home.  He raced to the nearest fire box and turned in an alarm.  The old Pell Mansion was burning. 

Village of Pelham Manor firefighters responded promptly.  The fire was extensive and stubborn.  Soon they called for the assistance of firemen of the First Fire District in the Village of North Pelham.  Temperatures were near zero degrees, making the battle particularly difficult.  At least one of the firefighters, John Roggeveen, suffered frostbite on both hands.  

A crowd gathered as the firefighters battled the blaze. One in the crowd was William R. Montgomery who later became Town Historian. He had a glass negative camera with him and took a few photographs. One of those photographs appears immediately below.

Fire at Pelhamdale, 45 Iden Avenue, on February 28,
1925. Image from Glass Negative Photograph Taken by
William R. Montgomery on February 28, 1925. Courtesy
of The Office of The Historian of the Town of Pelham.
NOTE: Click on Image To Enlarge.

The following week, Montgomery wrote an article for the local newspaper, The Pelham Sun, on the history of Pelhamdale, a home that today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The article is a loving tribute to a Pelham treasure that, at the time was at risk of the wrecking ball due to the fire.  The text of the article appears in its entirety below, followed by a citation and link to its source.

Burned On Saturday, Feb. 28th, 1925.
By William R. Montgomery

The Pell House as it appears in the cut is considerably larger than the old house, which was built about 1750 by Philip Pell, whose grandson, Colonel David Pell, occupied it from Revolutionary times until his death in 1823.  The old homestead was built with thick walls of stone, having two large chimneys, one on each end.  It was two stories high and roofed with hand-made shingles.  The main floor of the old house is the basement of the present building, with a hall extending from the front to the rear.  The former beautiful front entrance facing the east and looking out on the old Boston Road (in olden times commonly known as the King's Highway) can still be seen.  Its doorway is as fine an example of Colonial architecture as one may see anywhere.  If fact, one would have to go to Deerfielld, Mass., to equal it.  The ground around the present building has been made considerably higher than in the early days, and for that reason the old entrance seems to be below the grade.  The view from the house up and down the Hutchinson valley was beautiful and inspiring.  The large chestnut tree known as Gen. Howe's tree, was on this estate, and the old St. Paul's Church at Eastchester could also be seen in the distance.  This old Pell house was the scene of many stirring events during the history of the old Manor of Pelham.

A tradition tells us that it was at this house that the messenger called to give the alarm of the landing of the British troops at Pell's Point.  Upon hearing the news young David Pell (later Colonel) rushed to the river and rowed down to Eastchester, where some Americans were encamped.  We are all familiar with the critical battle of Pelham, so well outlined by William Abbott [sic] in his book entitled 'The Battle of Pelham.'  We also know that this successful retreat of the American Army enable Gen. Washington to escape a well laid trap; Gen. Washington, reaching the heights of White Plains without any serious trouble.

Tradition also informs us that the messenger who carried the news to David Pell was a girl of gentle birth whose nimble feet lightly touched the ground as she ran along the old Pell's Point Road.

'France may revere its Joan of Arc, and England may bow its head at the name of Edith Cavell, but the old Manor had no Longfellow to immortalize this early morning heroine.  She lies in old St. Paul's churchyard at Eastchester, her deeds unsung and forgotten.'

Colonel David Pell lived in the old homestead until his death in 1823.  He likewise, is buried in St. Paul's churchyard.  In 1824 his widow sold the estate to James Hay of an old Scotch family, who enlarged the building by adding several floors and making the original first floor a basement.  He also changed the main entrance to the other side of the building and made two large bay window extensions with a doorway between them.  This leads into a large circular reception room which contained statuary in niches and a fine curved door to correspond with the outline of the room.  Fortunately, this room with its door is saved, except the ceiling plaster.  

Still later this building was further enlarged by raising the roof and adding about four feet of brick work above the stone walls.  James Hay caused to be embedded in the stone wall the Hay coat of arms, which according to Bolton was granted by Kenneth III, King of Scotland, in the year 980, for bravery on the field of battle.

The Hays named the estate Pelham Dale and planted many trees and beautiful shrubs, so that for many years it was considered the most magnificent place in New York.  We might note here that the original Pell's Point Road was situated much nearer the stone house than the present Wolf's Lane.  Wolf's Lane in Pelham Manor was constructed by Mr. James Hay and Mr. Francis Secor at their own expense and for many years was considered private property, being closed to the public one day each year.

Upon the death of Mr. Hay, the estate was sold to Mr. Lord of Lord & Taylor, and later conveyed to the Hargous family, who lived on the place for many years until Mr. C. Coudert of Coudert Bros., a well known international lawyer, bought the property and made further alterations, which, however, detracted from its beauty.

Mr. Rodman, a member of the old Pell family, finally bought the property, and for over fifteen years neglected it.  Later it became the rendezvous of tramps.  Recently the building and part of the grounds passed into the hands of the Wagner family, who are very anxious to restore it to its former stateliness.  The new Hutchinson River Parkway will give it a setting equal to its former beautiful surroundings.


Source:  Montgomery, William R., THE OLD PELL HOUSE -- Burned On Saturday, Feb. 28th, 1925,  The Pelham Sun, Mar. 6, 1925, Vol. 16, No. 1, p. 4, cols. 3-4.  

View of Pelhamdale from Iden Avenue on September
3, 2014. Source: "Pelhamdale" in Wikipedia -- The Free
Encyclopedia (visited May 7, 2016).
NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

I have written about the lovely historic home known as "Pelhamdale" (and "Pelham Dale") on numerous occasions.  For a few of many examples, see:

Thu., Oct. 20, 2016:  Fears in 1934 and 1935 that the Historic Home Known as Pelhamdale Would Be Razed

Fri, May 13, 2016 1851:  Advertisement Offering Farm and Mansion Known as Pelhamdale for Lease.

Fri., Sep. 04, 2015:  Sale of the Pre-Revolutionary War Home Known as Pelhamdale in 1948.

Tue., Jun. 24, 2014:  Story of Pelhamdale, the Old Stone House by the Bridge, Once Owned by David J. Pell.

Thu., Jan. 03, 2008:  Charges in 1808 Against Lieutenant-Colonel David J. Pell of Pelham that He "Indulges in Inebriety and Habitual Drunkeness." 

Thu., Oct. 26, 2006:  Genealogical Data Regarding David Jones Pell of the Manor of Pelham, Revolutionary War Officer

Mon., Oct 15, 2007:  Town Proclamation Recognizes Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of Pelhamdale at 45 Iden Avenue

Wed., Nov. 02, 2005:  Engraving by P.M. Pirnie Showing Pelhamdale in 1861

Thu., Oct. 13, 2005:  Two More Pelham Ghost Stories

Mon., Sep. 19, 2005:  The Long-Hidden Pastoral Mural Uncovered in Pelhamdale, a Pre-Revolutionary War Home

Mon., Apr. 11, 2005:  More From the William R. Montgomery Glass Negative Collection (includes photograph of fire at Pelhamdale on February 28, 1925)

Tue., Mar. 22, 2005:  The 1790 U.S. Census Information for the Township of Pelham.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
Home Page of the Historic Pelham Blog
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."

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