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.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Reminiscences of One of Pelham’s Oldest Residents Regarding “Old Pelhamville Days” Published in 1938

Luckily, the "good old days" in Pelham have been the subject of numerous "reminiscences" published in Pelham's long-time newspaper, The Pelham Sun.  I have included such published reminiscences in a number of previous postings.  See, e.g.:  

Fri., Sep. 09, 2005:  Reminiscences of Lockwood Barr of Pelham Manor Published in 1940.

Tue., Sep. 27, 2005:  I. C. Hill's Reminiscences of Early Public Schools in Pelham.

Tue., Mar. 28, 2006:  More Reminiscences of Isaac C. Hill of Early Public Schools in Pelham.

Mon., Oct. 09, 2006:  Reminiscences of Val Miller Shed Light on Late 19th Century Baseball in Pelham and the Early Development of the Village of North Pelham.

Mon., May 05, 2014:  Reminiscences of Pelham Manor in 1910, Published in 1931.

Mon., Nov. 09, 2015:  Reminiscences Of Long-Time Pelham Manor Resident Evelyn Randall Published in 1938.   

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides yet another such reminiscence.  

In 1938, The Pelham Sun published the reminiscences of Mrs. Gustave Karbach of 448 First Avenue.  At the time she was one of Pelham's oldest residents.  She had lived in Pelhamville (later the Village of North Pelham) for fifty years.  

She remembered a far simpler time when a wooden-plank sidewalk ran along just one side of the unpaved road known as Fifth Avenue.  She remembered the first telephones installed in Pelhamville.  She recalled times when Pelhamwood and Pelham Heights were dense woodlands used by Pelhamites for picnics.  She lived in Pelhamville at a time when only one resident in the entire community -- Pelhamville Station Master Charles Merritt -- owned a horse-drawn buggy.  

Such reminiscences paint a bucolic and romantic picture of a rural community.  Mrs. Karbach recalled when East Lincoln Avenue was a footpath.  She lived in Pelham when there were no street lights but kerosene lanterns that were hung from poles and lit each evening.  She knew a time when the Hutchinson River was a beautiful, clear creek filled with "big suckers and bull frogs" that Pelhamites harvested for sport.  

Mrs. Karbach's reminiscences are transcribed below.  They are followed by a citation and link to the source.

Map of Pelhamville Published in 1868. Source: Beers,
F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity from Actual
Surveys By and Under the Direction of F.W. Beers,
Assisted By A.B. Prindle & Others, pg. 36 (NY, NY: Beers,
Ellis & Soule, 1868) (Detail from Page 36 Map Entitled
"Town of New Rochelle, Westchester Co., N.Y. (With)
Pelhamville).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Mrs. Karbach Recalls Old Pelhamville Days When Heights Was Just ‘Woods’ 
Resident of North Pelham for 50 Years, Widow of Judge Karbach Remembers When Fifth Avenue Had Planks for Pavement on One Side Only, and Recalls First ‘Phones in Village. 

When North Pelham carried the quainter name of Pelhamville, when Fifth avenue between Second streets boasted but one house; when the ‘paving’ on the main street was mere planking and that on one side only, and when Pelham Heights and Pelhamwood were just plain woods to picnic in – these are memories still vivid to Mrs. Gustave Karbach of No. 448 First avenue, one of Pelham’s oldest residents. 

Mrs. Karbach has lived in Pelham for half a century and when she began to reminisce she ‘remembers when’ lots of interesting things went on in the early history of the community. Her husband, the late Gustave Karbach, who died in 1933, played an active part in North Pelham and Pelhamville’s history, served as a judge for over 22 years and was also a village trustee. Mrs. Karbach who will be 73 years old in September still takes an active interest in today’s affairs and in the Spring will be honored by the Auxiliary of the Church of the Redeemer for fifty years’ participation in the affairs of that parish. 

When Mrs. Karbach came to Pelhamville in 1888, as a young woman, the post office was housed in the little depot of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. There were pigeon holes for the mail and the residents flocked in at train time to get their letters and papers. The station master, Chas. Merritt, was not required to be there between train times (nice long intervals too). Merritt was the combination postmaster and stationmaster. 

Coming to Pelhamville in 1888, Mrs. Karbach had previously resided in New Haven following her marriage in 1884. She was born on Worcester street in Greenwich Village and remembers when the ‘Village’ was really a residential area and Central Park and Jones Wood on Avenue A. in the 60’s were fine picnic spots and a Summer evening’s diversion might be found in the concerts presented out of doors at the Battery. When she was only twelve years old Mrs. Karbach whose maiden name was Louisa Rohde, remembers visiting her older sister who was married and lived in Mount Vernon. Accustomed to the regulation post office of New York City when she found herself in Mount Vernon’s Post Office of sixty years ago on First street she remembers exclaiming with a child’s frankness: ‘Why this is a regular junk house.’ She was told it was merely a ‘general store.’ 

From her storehouse of memories of old Pelhamville, Mrs. Karbach recalls with a smile when Mr. Merritt owned the only buggy, when a man by the name of Gurney owned a hall on Seventh avenue near the Second street intersection where many village entertainments took place. John Case’s house on Fifth avenue was the only one between Second and Third streets. One could get lost quite easily in the woods that covered the Pelham Heights area, indeed some of the visitors to Pelhamville thought it a bit too wild a spot for a picnic! Mrs. Karbach well remembers however, taking a basket lunch on Sunday mornings and picnicking in the ‘woods’ that once stood where one of Pelham’s finest residential areas is now. 

Shopping in Mount Vernon was a regular thing and the Pelhamville housewife had to be careful in those days since the butcher only sent things to Pelham three times a week and there was no handy chain store just around the corner. Shopping in Mount Vernon often entailed a two-hour or longer wait for a train back (unless one walked). I still have the slate I used to bring along and we would play tick-tack-toe, while we waited for the train.’ Mrs. Karbach said. 

East Lincoln avenue in those days was just a path, there was no street lighting, but kerosene lamps were soon to come to Pelhamville the Harbachs being among the enterprising residents who contributed toward the cost of this ‘improvement.’ Fishing in the Hutchinson River was a popular sport, big suckers and bull frogs were numerous enough in the days long before anyone so much as dreamed of a parkway along the stream. 

Mrs. Karbach was one of the interested women who worked for the Church of the Redeemer in the early days when a Chapel was maintained on Fourth avenue, before the present church was built on Second avenue. Then as now, apparently, the women did more than their share of church work. Week after week entertainments would be arranged with a small admission charge of ten or fifteen cents – this in the days of Rev. Dr. Bolton the first rector. Mrs. Karbach who has a fine streak of determination in her character, sold ‘ads’ for the program for a church entertainment and collected the fine sum of $120, for the purpose all of thirty-five years ago! 

‘We had more dancing in those days,’ Mrs. Karbach recalled with evident enjoyment. There was no bridge but euchre and whist became popular and were forerunners of the present diversion. 

‘Did you have lots of snow in those days?’ the reporter asked almost wistfully (the day being July and hot). 

‘Snow’ echoed Mrs. Karbach with a slight note of horror. They were snowed in plenty of times. Her daughter Loretta, now Mrs. Harry J. Appel was born on Feb. 12 and it was no infrequent thing to have to postpone her birthday party as a child so that the other children might be able to be present. On one occasion the mid-winter birthday party had to be postponed for four days, after a particularly heavy snowfall. Mrs. Karbach recalls one heavy storm during which the trolley (civilization had crept up that far) was stalled on Fifth avenue and a group of passengers and motorman had to spend the night in the car walking up and down to keep warm, after taking the precaution to stuff all the cracks with newspapers. Snow banks grew to huge proportions in those days and tobboganing on Snake Hill rivalled the sports in the Alps! 

When Spring came, however, Pelhamville blossomed with the season, there were plenty of apple and cherry orchards making soft clouds of pink and white blossoms and wild flowers grew in profusion. 

The first telephones in the little village, Mrs. Karbach recalls were owned by the village officials, this was before the Bell System was installed and the phones were used only for inter-village communication. Mrs. Karbach remembers some of the old ‘rings’ yet – hers was three. 

Moving along with the life of the little village, Mr. Karbach became postmaster with his wife in a Post Office building (no longer the depot) on the site now occupied by the Pelham Pharmacy. This was about 1894 and four stores were operated with the Post Office. This Misses Brotherton had dry goods. Mr. Onderdonk had groceries and a Mrs. Ferreau sold candy and cakes. The Farbachs rented the apartment above the post office to James Reilly, recently married who was to play an important part in early village affairs. A distinguished feature of the village in long gone days was the ‘pink court house’ – it was painted that color and proved handy in giving directions to strangers since [it was] so easy to identify. 

Mrs. Karbach who has the distinction of living in the same house on First avenue for nearly fifty years was at one time president of the North Pelham Needlework Guild and is a member of the Patriotic Order of America and of Minnehaha Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star.” 

Source:  Mrs. Karbach Recalls Old Pelhamville Days When Heights Was Just “Woods” -- Resident of North Pelham for 50 Years, Widow of Judge Karbach Remembers When Fifth Avenue Had Planks for Pavement on One Side Only, and Recalls First ‘Phones in Village, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 15, 1938, p. 3, cols. 1-2

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