John Robert Beecroft and the Beecroft Family of Pelham Manor
For several years during the 1890s John R. Beecroft was elected to, and served as a Trustee on, the Board of Education of the Pelham Union Free School District No. 1. He became President of the School Board. He also was elected local Justice of the Peace although only two weeks after beginning his term on January 1, 1897 he resigned his positions as Justice of the Peace and as President of the School Board. At the time, it was reported that he resigned the positions "for business reasons, being actively engaged in publishing a new hymn book which he just compiled." A few months later Beecroft was elected President of the School Board once again, and served in that position for the next few years.
John Robert Beecroft was born in Keston County, Kent, England in May, 1849. He came to this country as a young man during the late 1860s, likely in about 1869. For a few years following his arrival he was employed with the publisher A. S. Barnes & Company in Chicago and as a manager of the Scribner Publishing Company of Chicago and, later, an editor of the Century Magazine in Chicago
On January 16, 1872 Beecroft married Elizabeth Corbett in Cook County, Illinois. She was born in Philadelphia in 1849. The couple had their first child, Frederick J. Beecroft, in December of that year. The following year the couple had their second child, William George Beecroft. Their third son, Edgar Charles Beecroft was born on February 16, 1876. In October, 1877, their fourth son, Albert Arthur Beecroft, was born. Soon thereafter, in about May 1879, Beecroft joined the Century Company and moved his family to New York.
In 1880 the Beecroft family was living in Flushing, Queens County, New York. About the following year they moved to Pelham. There the parents had two more children: Roswell Chester Beecroft (born June 24, 1883) and Mary Beecroft.
While working at the Century Company in Mount Vernon, New York, Beecroft compiled three important hymnals, the two best known of which are "In Excelsis with Hymns for Christian Worship" and "Hosanna." He also compiled song books for use in Sunday schools throughout the nation.
Beecroft and his family lived in the home that stands at 1382 Pelhamdale Avenue. Beecroft's sons became well-known throughout Pelham as the "Beecroft Boys." Indeed, when the Town of Pelham began developing today's Shore Park, some said it should be named "Beecroft Beach" because the Beecroft Boys frequented the area to swim so often during the 1890s. The area was, of course, right around the corner from their home at 1382 Pelhamdale Avenue.
John Beecroft was an active member of the community. In addition to his service as a School Board Trustee and as President of the School Board, he also was an active member of Christ Church in Pelham Manor, located virtually across the street from his home. He served as a Warden of the Church. He also was a member of the New York Athletic Club, The Church Club, The Polo Club, and the Congregational Club. He also was a Free Mason with the Huguenot Lodge, F. and A. M. of New Rochelle.
John R. Beecroft died tragically at the age of 53. His death prompted at least two lawsuits.
On December 19, 1900, Beecroft arrived on a train at the Pelham Manor Depot. A member of the New York Athletic Club he climbed aboard a stagecoach operated by the club and driven by a driver hired by the club. As the stagecoach left the Depot Plaza, the driver lost control of the horses. The stagecoach careened around the corner onto Pelhamdale Avenue, but in passing beneath the railroad bridge that carried the Branch Line tracks over Pelhamdale Avenue, the out-of-control stage cut too close to a stone abutment supporting the bridge. The rear wheel struck the abutment upsetting the stagecoach and throwing John Beecroft onto the roadway. Badly injured, Beecroft reportedly lay in the roadway for nearly an hour before help arrived and he was transported to his home several hundred yards away on Pelhamdale Avenue. I have written before about the terrible stage accident. See Mon., Apr. 12, 2010: New York Athletic Club Stage Coach Accident Leads to Death of Pelham Manor Man.
As weeks passed, Beecroft simply did not get better. It was determined that he had suffered a broken leg with the break at the thigh. In late February Beecroft was moved from his home to the Polyclinic Hospital in New York City where physicians operated on Beecroft to repair the leg. The shock of the operation was too much for Beecroft who reportedly also suffered from kidney disease and, perhaps, rickets. He lingered in the hospital for nearly two weeks, then died there on March 2, 1901. His funeral was held at Christ Church on Pelhamdale Avenue in Pelham Manor on March 5, 1901. The pallbearers at his funeral were R. H. Scott, F. K. Hunter, James McLoughlin, C. A. Van Auken and Walter T. Bell.
After their father's death, William G. Beecroft and Edward C. Beecroft filed a $50,000 lawsuit against the New York Athletic Club as executors of their father's estate. The lawsuit alleged that Beecroft's death was due to the negligence of the club in hiring an incompetent and "half blind" stage coach driver. During discovery, an issue arose as to whether Beecroft boarded the stage on his way home from the train station or on his way to a meeting with a New York Athletic Club official. In a trial held on April 9, 1902, the jury found in favor of the club and rejected the negligence claims.
The executors of Beecroft's estate changed counsel and filed an appeal. Soon they were granted a new trial on procedural grounds. On March 2, 1905, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of the Beecroft estate, awarding $9,500 in damages.
In the meantime, a dispute involving the President of the New York Athletic Club arising out of the Beecroft incident resulted in a lawsuit alleging slander. It turns out that a New York City political official named Frank A. Hunter, who was a member of the New York Athletic Club and also once had served as Master of the Huguenot Lodge, F. and A. M., New Rochelle (where Beecroft was a member) was questioned by an insurance adjuster about what he knew concerning where John Beecroft was headed in the stagecoach at the time of the accident. He responded that Beecroft was headed to his home. Later, at trial, Hunter was called as a witness. There he testified that Beecroft was on his way from the railroad depot to the New York Athletic Club where he was scheduled to meet with Hunter.
John R. Van Wormer, President of the New York Athletic Club, told a number of people that Hunter had perjured himself at trial, relying on the discrepancies between what he told the insurance adjuster and his trial testimony. Hunter protested that the Judge at the trial had "exonerated me from any intentional misstatement, declaring that the natural presumption was that when a man left his office he was going home, no matter where he would stop on his way there. Hunter filed his slander suit against Van Wormer seeking $50,000 in damages. Sadly, though, research has not yet revealed how the slander suit was resolved.
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Below is the text of a number of articles that touch on the subject of today's article. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"Pelham . . . .
Mr. John R. Beecroft has resigned the positions of justice of the peace and president of the Board of Education. He has been a school trustee of the town for many years and has done much to raise the standard of the schools. His term as justice of the peace commenced on January 1st.
Mr. Beecroft resigns these positions of trust for business reasons, being actively engaged in publishing a new hymn book which he just compiled."
Source: Pelham, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 15, 1897, p. 3, col. 3.
"JOHN R. BEECROFT DEAD.
Succumbed to Operation for a Broken Leg -- Was an Authority on Hymnology
PELHAM MANOR, March 3 -- John R. Beecroft, one of the best known hymnologists in the United States, and for twenty-six years superintendent of the hymn book department of the Century Company, died late Saturday night in the Polyclinic Hospital where he was undergoing an operation on a broken leg. Mr. Beecroft broke the leg about two months ago while on his way home from the Pelham Manor railway station. He was a passenger in the stage of the New York Athletic Club, of which he was a member, when the horses ran away. The stage was thrown against a stone abutment and Mr. Beecroft was thrown out and lay on the highway for about an hour before medical assistance reached him. His leg was broken near the thigh and did not heal. About two weeks ago he was taken to New York and operated upon. The shock following the operation was too much for him, in his weakened condition, and he died of exhaustion of the heart.
Mr. Beecroft was born in Keston County, Kent, England, 53 years ago and came to this country when a young man. For a few years following his arrival he was employed with A. S. Barnes & Co., publishers of Chicago. After the consolidation of that corporation with the American Book Company he came to New York where he has since been with the Century Company. His most prominent work was the compilation of three hymnals. The best known of these is 'In Excelsis' used in the evangelical churches all over the United States. This work was followed by 'Hosanna' and by song books for use in Sunday Schools, all published by the Century Company.
Mr. Beecroft had lived in Pelham Manor twenty years. He had served as president of the Board of Education. He was a member of the New York Athletic Club, The Church Club, the Congregational Club, and Huguenot Lodge, F. and A. M. of New Rochelle. His wife, five sons and a daughter survive him.
The funeral of the deceased took place to day from Christ's Church Pelham Manor."
Source: JOHN R. BEECROFT DEAD -- Succombed to Operation for a Broken Leg -- Was an Authority on Hymnology, Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 5, 1901, p. 4, col. 2.
JOHN R. BEECROFT.
John R. Beecroft, a well known hymnologist and publisher, died in the Polyclinic Hospital late Saturday night from shock following an operation for a broken leg. He was injured by being thrown from a stage of the New York Athletic Club in a runaway near his home in Pelham Manor about two months ago. He was fifty-three years old, and was a member of the New York Athletic, Church, and Congregational clubs. A widow, five sons and a daughter survive him."
Source: OBITUARY -- JOHN R. BEECROFT, N.Y. Herald, Mar. 5, 1901, p. 10, col. 6.
JOHN R. BEECROFT.
John R. Beecroft, superintendent of the Century Company, died at midnight on Saturday in the Polyclinic Hospital from the shock following an operation for a broken leg. Mr. Beecroft was injured during the holidays. He was returning late one night from the Pelham Manor railroad station to his home, when the stage of the New York Athletic Club, in which he was riding, ran into a stone wall. Mr. Beecroft was thrown out, and when he was picked up and carried home it was found that his right leg was broken near the thigh and that he had sustained other injuries. He was taken to the hospital about two weeks ago on the advice of the physicians who were attending him, and operated on last week.
Mr. Beecroft was born in Kent, England, in 1848 and came to this country about thirty years ago. He became identified with the Century Company about twenty-five years ago, and had since been the superintendent of its various publications. He was well known as a hymnologist, having compiled a number of works, the most prominent of which is his 'In Excelsis', published by the Century Company and used extensively in the Protestant churches throughout the country. Mr. Beecroft was a member of the New York Athletic, the Church, Congregational and Polo clubs, and also of the Masonic order. At his home in Pelham Manor he served as president of the Board of Education, and until lately as warden of the Episcopal church. He leaves a widow, five sons and a daughter. The funeral was held on Tuesday, at 1:30 p.m., in Christ Church, Pelham Manor, and was very largely attended.
The pallbearers were R. H. Scott, F. K. Hunter, James McLoughlin, C. A. Van Auken and Walter T. Bell."
Source: OBITUARY -- JOHN R. BEECROFT, New Rochelle Pioneer, Mar. 9, 1901, p. 3, col. 3.
"PELHAM MANOR ROBBERIES
Beecroft Brothers Lively Experience with Burglars.
Pelham Manor is a fruitful and evidently a mighty easy field for the unwelcome operations of burglars. Many robberies have been committed there recently, but probably the boldest attempt of all was made at 2 A.M. yesterday, when James Beecroft, one of the sons of the late John R. Beecroft, was beaten by burglars in his own home. Mr. Beecroft, who had been at a Fourth of July celebration, found the front door open when he returned home. Becoming suspicious he entered the hallway as silently as possible. As he did so two men sprang out of the parlor and seized him. One of the burglars struck him a heavy blow on the jaw, while the other felled him with a blackjack. The noise aroused Fred, an elder brother of James, and he slid down a post from the second story window to the veranda. The burglars ran from the house. James, who had recovered quickly, followed them with a shotgun. He saw Fred in the yard, and thinking he was one of the burglars levelled his gun at him.
'Let up, I'm Fred!'
The brothers then chased the burglars toward the woods, but the latter escaped.
Only a few weeks ago burglars broke into the homes of D. L. Carson, treasurer of the Southern Bell Company; the Rev. A. F. Tenney, rector of Pelham Priory; Prof. A. C. McGiffert, of the Union Theological Seminary, who lost $500 worth of silverware, and J. Hull, of the American Tobacco Company."
Source: PELHAM MANOR ROBBERIES -- Beecroft Brothers Lively Experience With Burglars, The Daily Standard Union [Brooklyn, NY], Jul. 5, 1901, p. 8, col. 6.
"JUDGE MILLS WON THE SUIT.
Defended New York Athletic Club Against Action of Beecroft Estate to Recover $50,000.
The suit of the heirs of John R. Beecroft of Pelham Manor against the New York Athletic Club for $50,000 damages for the death of Mr. Beecroft on December 19th, 1900 [sic] which was tried in the Supreme yesterday resulted in the jury bringing in a verdict for the defendant this morning.
The plaintiffs through their counsel former judge George Appell alleged that Mr. Beecroft's death was the result of the negligence of the club. He was being driven to the clubhouse in one of the Club's stages, when he was thrown out by the stage coming in contact, with an embankment. Senator Mills was counsel for the club."
Source: JUDGE MILLS WON THE SUIT -- Defended New York Athletic Club Against Action of Beecroft Estate to Recover $50,000, Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Apr. 10, 1902, Vol. XL, No. 3071, p. 1, col. 3.
"FOR FIFTY THOUSAND DAMAGES.
The suit of William G. Beecroft and Edward C. Beecroft, as Executors of the will of the late John R. Beecroft, a wealthy clubman [sic] of Pelham Manor, against the New York Athletic Club, for $50,000 for the loss of Mr. Beecroft's life through alleged negligence, was begun before Justice Keogh in the Supreme Court Wednesday morning.
The plaintiffs charge that on December 19, 1900, Beecroft got into the stage owned by the club, to be driven to the Club House, and through the negligence and carelessness of an unskilled driver the state ran into an embankment and he was hurled out; he died in March, 1901. Beecroft left a widow and six children. On Thursday the jury found for the defendant."
Source: FOR FIFTY THOUSAND DAMAGES, New Rochelle Pioneer, Apr. 12, 1902, Vol. XXVII, No. 45, p. 1, col. 3.
"SUES CLUB PRESIDENT.
Frank A. Hunter Accuses J. R. Van Wormer of Slander.
Suit for $50,000 has been begun by Frank A. Hunter, of this city, against John R. Van Wormer, president of the New York Athletic Club and secretary of the Lincoln Safe Deposit Co.
The suit is for defamation of character growing out of certain remarks alleged to have been made by the president of the club apropos of testimony that Mr. Hunter had given in the suit for $50,000 brought by the estate of John R. Beecroft against the New York Athletic Club.
According to the filed papers, Mr. Van Wormer on April 9 said in presence of a number of people, 'Hunter perjured himself,' and on another occasion remarked, 'that his testimony at the Beecroft trial was a most excellent piece of perjury.'
The present suit grew out of the death of John R. Beecroft, a member of the club and the religious editor of the 'Century.' While driving from the clubhouse at Travers Island Mr. Beecroft was thrown out of the carriage and killed. His heirs claimed that the club had employed a half blind driver and that the accident was due to his driving against one of the buttresses of the railroad bridge.
'Mr. Beecroft carried some insurance,' said Mr. Hunter, 'and when an adjuster came to me with some printed questions asking me to answer them I wrote in answer to the question, 'Where was he going when the accident occurred?' that 'He was going home.' I was subpoened [sic] at the trial and the same question was asked me. I replied that he was going to the club, and that he had an appointment with me.
'Despite the fact that Judge Keogh exonerated me from any intentional misstatement, declaring that the natural presumption was that when a man left his office he was going home, no matter where he would stop on his way there, this man has made statements that have led me to bring this suit.'
Mr. Hunter is a well known resident of this city. He has taken an active part in politics and is Past Master of Huguenot Lodge, F. & A. M."
Source: SUES CLUB PRESIDENT -- Frank A. Hunter Accuses J. R. Van Wormer of Slander, New Rochelle Pioneer, Mar. 14, 1903, Vol. 44, No. 52, p. 1, col. 6.
"APPELLATE COURT. . . .
William G. Beecroft and Edgar C. Beecroft, as executors, etc., of John R. Beecroft, deceased, respondents, vs. the New York Athletic Club of the City of New York, appellant. Judgment and order affirmed, on the opinion of Mr. Justice Keogh, with costs. Goodrich, P. J.P.; Bartlett, Woodward, Hirschberg and Hooker, JJ., concur."
Source: APPELLATE COURT, Mar. 27, 1903, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mar. 27, 1903, p. 6, col. 5.
"AWARDED $9,500 FOR HUSBAND'S LIFE.
Widow of John R. Beecroft Secures Verdict from N. Y. Athletic Club.
White Plains. March 2 -- The jury in the suit of the widow of John R. Beecroft against the New York Athletic club rendered a verdict today awarding the plaintiff $9,500 in damages. She had sued for $50,000.
Beecroft was a member of the club. He visited Travers Island one day. On the way to the clubhouse the driver of the station wagon ran into an abutment of a railroad bridge, and Mr. Beecroft was thrown out and fatally injured."
Source: AWARDED $9,500 FOR HUSBAND'S LIFE -- Widow of John R. Beecroft Secures Verdict from N. Y. Athletic Club, The Morning Call [Paterson, NJ], Mar. 3, 1905, Vol. XLVI, No. 53, p. 5, col. 1.
"A GREAT LEGAL VICTORY FOR LOCAL ATTORNEY
NEW YORK ATHLETIC CLUB MUST PAY LARGE DAMAGES.
A very interesting action from a legal standpoint was tried before the Supreme Court at White Plains during the past week, the case took the entire week, to try, and attracted the large audience of lawyers owing to the many interesting and difficult questions of law involved, which had never before been argued in a court.
Old Mr. John R. Beecroft, who was a member of the New York Athletic Club, was riding home from the Pelham Manor Railroad Station to the club house on Travers Island in December 1900, and the wheel of the wagon collided with the abutment of the railroad bridge under which it was going at the time. Mr. Beecroft was thrown from the wagon and fractured his leg. Several months afterward he died, and his executors commenced an action against the club to recover damages claiming that while a long time had elapsed between the accident and the death, nevertheless, his death was traceable to the injury.
The club vigorously contested the matter showing that at the time of the injury Mr. Beecroft was being driven to his home and not to the club at all, which it proved by several witnesses, and further that Mr. Beecroft was an aged man and did not die of the injury, but of brights disease of the kidneys from which they proved by the Doctors he had suffered for a long time; they also proved that Mr. Beecroft had what is known as rickets of the bones making them very brittle and liable to break easily, and, in any event the collision of the wagon wheel with the bridge abutment was not the fault of the club.
Upon the first trial before the Supreme Court in April, 1902, the club won the case. Then Mrs. Beecroft and her sons secured the legal services of Judge M. J. Tierney, of this city, and an appeal was taken and a new trial secured. This new trial was had during all the past week before the Supreme Court at White Plains, Mr. Tierney trying the case for Mrs. Beecroft, and won her a verdict from the jury of nine thousand five hundred dollars. The trial was a great contest of legal skill in the handling of the many difficult questions and fine distinctions, in which Mr. Tierney seems to be fully at home.
He certainly deserves congratulations upon this splendid victory.
The lawyers for the club were former Judge Mills of Mount Vernon, and Mr. John C. Gulick of New York City. It is a happy result for Mrs. Beecroft."
Source: A GREAT LEGAL VICTORY FOR LOCAL ATTORNEY -- NEW YORK ATHLETIC CLUB MUST PAY LARGE DAMAGES, New Rochelle Pioneer, Mr. 4, 1905, Vol. XXX, No. 39, p. 1, col. 2.