More on the 1889 Fire that Destroyed the Hunter House on Travers Island
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When the New York Athletic Club of New York City bought the island it renamed "Travers Island" in Pelham Manor, there stood on the island a beautiful old home known as the "Old Hunter House." Named after John Hunter of Hunter's Island who had remodeled and improved the home during the mid-19th century, the main portion of the home was said to have been built in 1812 for Temple Emmett, a member of the Emmett Family that long resided in the area.
On April 4, 1889, a tragic fire burned the lovely Old Hunter House. The New York Athletic Club was developing Travers Island at the time and the old home had been converted into apartments. Among those living there was Thomas Toby, the island superintendent who oversaw laborers working on the island.
At 5:00 a.m. that morning, Thomas Toby opened the back door of the home to go outside. When he opened the door, he was shocked by a "sheet of flame that burst through the open door," whipped up by a strong northeast wind. Toby was so stunned by the sight that once he slammed the door shut and ran for help, he did not even realize that "his eyebrows, lashes and beard had been singed away as cleanly as if removed by a razor."
Sounding the alarm, Toby summoned workers on the island who frantically removed contents of the home from its basement and first floor before the flames finally ended their efforts and they were forced to "run for their lives." Firefighters were unable to save the building and concluded that the fire likely was arson, begun by an "incendiary" placed against the back of the home.
The New York Athletic Club was so appreciative of the monumental efforts of the various companies of the New Rochelle Fire Department to fight the fire that later that year the club presented each company of the department with a "gold-lined fire trumpet."
I have written about the destruction of the Old Hunter House before. See Thu., Feb. 19, 2009: The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.
We don't know a lot about the Old Hunter House. No images of the structure seem to have survived, at least to the knowledge of this author. A rough description of the house can be pieced together from accounts of the fire that destroyed it. For example, the home stood about 600 feet away from the first clubhouse built on the island by the New York Athletic Club and opened later in 1889. The home was shaded by a giant oak tree that was so beloved that firemen worked tirelessly to save the tree as the house burned. It is certain the home had a basement and first floor, and there are strong indications it had a second floor as well. On the first floor there was a kitchen, dining-room and reception room. Although several additions had been added to the original structure built in 1812, the original portion included "a wide, old-fashioned hall." According to one account: "On the first floor was an antique fireplace, big enough to roast an ox in, over which as an inscription, 'Well befall hearth and hall.'" See A House Lost and a Tree Saved, New-York Tribune, Apr. 5, 1889, p. 2, col. 4.
Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog collects a few additional accounts of the fire that destroyed the Old Hunter House on Travers Island. Each account is followed by a citation and link to its source.
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"A Club-House Burned.
The club-house of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island, was burned down early this morning. The alarm was given at six o'clock by telephone from Pelham to the New Rochelle Fire Department. The Relief Engine Company with the steamer and patrol responded quickly, but when they arrived on the grounds the building was enveloped in flame. The firemen directed their attention to preventing the flames from spreading. Very little of the furniture was saved. The fire is supposed to have been caused by a defective flue. The loss is said to be about $8,000.
The house was formerly the residence of Mrs. John Hunter, and was built in 1812. It was sold with Travers Island two years ago to the New York Athletic Club for $65,000."
Source: A Club-House Burned, The Evening Post [NY, NY], Apr. 4, 1889, p. 5, col. 4.
"FLAMES ON TRAVERS ISLAND.
The Old Quarters of the New York Athletic Club Burned to the Ground.
The old quarters of the New York Athletic Club at Travers Island broke out in flames at 5 o'clock this morning.
No help was at hand, and the buildings burned to the ground.
The loss is $10,000. It is covered by insurance."
Source: FLAMES ON TRAVERS ISLAND -- The Old Quarters of the New York Athletic Club Burned to the Ground, The Evening World [NY, NY], Apr. 4, 1889, p. 1, col. 2 (Note: paid subscription required to access via this link; available free here).
"The burning of the old Hunter Club house on Travers Island is a severe blow to the New York Athletic Club. Not, however, financially speaking, but from a sentimental standpoint. The members were much attached to the picturesque old building for association's sake. The original building was put up in 1812. Upon coming into the possession of the Club, wings and additions were built and the structure was modernized to meet the requirements of the members. The estimated value of the building was $14,000. It was insured for $12,000. Some of the furniture was not insured. The fire is supposed to have been of incendiary origin. The new clubhouse, started last Fall, will not be completed before the middle of May. The members had intended to start training on the Island within a few days, but all except the crew will now have to await the completion of the new building."
Source: [Untitled], The Evening World [NY, NY], Apr. 5, 1889, p. 3, col. 3 (Note: paid subscription required to access via this link; available free here).
"CONDENSED NEWS. . . .
The New York Athletic club house on Travers Island near Pelham manor, Westchester county, N. Y., was burned. Loss $10,000. Insured. . . ."
Source: CONDENSED NEWS, Wilkes-Barre Evening News [Wilkes-Barre, PA], Apr. 5, 1889, p. 1, col. 5 (Note: paid subscription required to access via this link).
"An Old Club House Burned.
NEW YORK, April 4. -- The old club house of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island, in the Sound, which was used as a summer house, has been burned. The loss will be $30,000."
Source: An Old Club House Burned, Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester, NY], Apr. 5, 1889, p. 2, col. 6 (Note: paid subscription required to access via this link).
"The old club-house of the New York Athletic Club, on Travers Island, on the Sound, which was used as a summer house, has been destroyed by fire. The loss will be about $20,000 on furniture and $10,000 on building."
Source: [Untitled], St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 22, 1889, p. 5, col. 4 (Note: paid subscription required to access via this link).
"The New-York Athletic Club whose new clubhouse was formally opened last Saturday on Travers Island has presented each company of the New-Rochelle Fire Department with a gold-lined fire trumpet in appreciation of their efforts to save the club's property recently, although it is outside the limits of the village."
Source: [Untitled], N.Y. Times, Jun. 11, 1889, p. 3, col. 2 (Note: paid subscription required to access via this link).
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I previously have written about the New York Athletic Club facilities on Travers Island. Below is a linked listing of such writings.
Tue., Sep. 13, 2016: Notable 1903 and 1904 Cross-Country Championships Were Run on a Course Between Travers Island and Pelham Manor Station.
Wed., Aug. 03, 2016: 1891 Images of the Old New York Athletic Club Facilities on Travers Island.
Mon., Nov. 30, 2015: Another Detailed Account of the 1901 Fire that Destroyed the Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island.
Tue., Dec. 23, 2014: The Original Summer Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club in 1889, Shortly After it Was Built.
Mon., Jun. 16, 2014: 1892 Images of Travers Island NYAC with an Important Description of the Clubhouse and Facilities.
Thu., Jan. 23, 2014: Another Account of the Devastating Fire that Destroyed the Travers Island Clubhouse of New York Athletic Club in 1901.
Fri., Sep. 4, 2009: 1901 Newspaper Article About Fire That Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island.
Thu., Apr. 28, 2005: Ladies' Day on Travers Island in the 19th Century.
Thu., May 26, 2005: The New York Athletic Club's Opening of the 'New Summer Home' on Travers Island in 1889.
Tue., Jun. 21, 2005: Life at Travers Island in the 1890s.
Thu., Aug. 11, 2005: How Dry I Am: Pelham Goes Dry in the 1890s and Travers Island Is At the Center of a Storm.
Wed., Dec. 21, 2005: An Early Sketch of the First Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in Pelham.
Thu., Jul. 19, 2007: Members of the New York Athletic Club Were Duped Into Believing the Club Created a Small Nine-Hole Golf Course in Pelham Manor in 1897.
Fri., Jul. 20, 2007: Account of Early Baseball in Pelham: Pelham vs. the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in 1897.
Wed., Nov. 21, 2007: Baseball on Travers Island During the Summer of 1897.
Thu., Nov. 22, 2007: August 1896 Description of Cycle Route to Travers Island in Pelham Manor.
Fri., Nov. 23, 2007: The Festivities of the Huckleberry Indians of the New York Athletic Club Off the Shore of Pelham Manor on July 12, 1896.
Mon., Nov. 26, 2007: Box Score of a Baseball Game Played on Travers Island in Pelham Manor in July 1896.
Thu., Feb. 7, 2008: Village Elections in Pelham in 1900 - New York Athletic Club Members Campaign Against the Prohibition Ticket in Pelham Manor.
Mon., Jan. 19, 2009: Photograph of Members of the New York Athletic Club Shooting Traps on Travers Island in 1911.
Tue., Feb. 17, 2009: The New York Athletic Club Opens Its New Clubhouse on Travers Island in Pelham in 1888.
Wed., Feb. 18, 2009: The New York Athletic Club Opens Its New Travers Island Boathouse in 1888.
Thu., Feb. 19, 2009: The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.
Wed., Mar. 4, 2009: "Ladies' Day" on Travers Island in Pelham Manor in 1894.
Tue., Mar. 24, 2009: 1897 Photograph of Visitors Streaming to Athletic Outing on Travers Island in Pelham Manor.
Wed., Oct. 28, 2009: Article About the June 10, 1888 Opening of Travers Island Facility of the New York Athletic Club.
Tue., Aug. 18, 2009: New York Athletic Club Board of Governors Decided to Mortgage Travers Island in 1895.
Mon., Apr. 12, 2010: New York Athletic Club Stage Coach Accident Leads to Death of Pelham Manor Man.