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.

Friday, December 02, 2016

More on Famed Pelhamville Druggist and Postmaster Seth T. Lyman and the Building he Built

The lovely building that stands at One Fifth Avenue at First Street in the Village of Pelham once was both a Pharmacy and the Village post office.  It is the second building on that site.  The first burned in a major fire that killed three and entirely destroyed the structure.   Immediately below is an early post card view of the building that replaced the original structure -- the building we know today as One Fifth Avenue.  The post card was postmarked in June 1910.  The pharmacy entrance is the main entrance to the building, on the left.  The post office is on the right in the post card view below.

1910 Post Card View of One Fifth Avenue, Designed
by Architect Arthur G. C. Fletcher. Erected on the Site
of the Original Building that Burned on March 14, 1902.
Source: Collection of the Author.
NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

According to one account, on March 1, 1895, a young man trained as a pharmacist named Seth T. Lyman leased a ground floor retail space with an apartment above in a building located at the corner of today's First Street and Fifth Avenue.  The building was known as "The Pelham Building."  The location was the business center of Pelhamville at the time with little development in the entire area.  Indeed, an account published in 1896 noted that when a local resident needed a location to hold a public auction of a donkey, he chose the Lyman Pharmacy.  

At the time, the building was owned by Clarence Lyons.  It housed the United States Post Office in a small retail space adjacent to Lyman Pharmacy.  The postmaster was Henry Iden of Pelham. 

In 1898, Seth T. Lyman was appointed Assistant Postmaster to help Henry Iden with his duties.  Barely six months after Lyman's appointment, Henry Iden resigned as Postmaster and Lyman succeeded him in the position.  Thereafter, for the next twenty-eight years, Lyman manned his pharmacy and an adjacent post office.  

Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on March 14, 1902 during a massive blizzard, a tragic fire entirely destroyed the wooden frame building known as The Pelham Building that had been constructed in 1892.  A young boy named Rudolph Youchim was killed in the blaze.  His pregnant mother, Mary, was rescued from the building and gave birth later that day, though she and the newborn died the same day.  

Seth T. Lyman bought the lot after the fire and engaged architect Arthur G. C. Fletcher to design a replacement for the building destroyed by fire.  The replacement building, shown in the post card view above, was built shortly thereafter.  It still stands.  Its fascade is surprisingly similar to the original fascade.

The pharmacy and the post office reopened in Lyman's new building.  Seth Lyman operated his pharmacy and oversaw the post office next door in his building until his retirement as Postmaster on July 1, 1926.  At the time of his retirement as Postmaster, the local newspaper published a fascinating and nostalgic article describing postal delivery in the early days of Pelhamville as Seth T. Lyman was just entering service as Assistant Postmaster.  The article, quoted in full below, is a fascinating glimpse of a simpler time in much of today's Village of Pelham.  

When Lyman built his new building after the terrible fire of 1902, he placed the main entrance on the corner of the building for a reason.  For many years the tiny Pelhamville Depot on the New Haven Line had stood directly across First Street essentially on the lot containing today's Pelham National Bank building at One Wolfs Lane (recently a post office and now the offices of Meridian Risk and other businesses).  There was a time when the residents of Pelhamville expected First Street to grow into an important business stretch of the little settlement.  In 1893 and 1894, however, the train station was moved to its present location and, over the next few years, commercial development along Fifth Avenue proceeded much more quickly than along First Street.  Apparently hedging his bets, Lyman and his architect placed the main entrance on the corner of First Street and Fifth Avenue, easily accessible to, and seen from, both streets.

The tiny little post office had classic mail cubby-holes for each residence.  Lyman and, later, an Assistant Postmaster and clerk sorted the mail to be picked up each day by local residents who walked or drove their carriages to Lyman's Pharmacy.  An enterprising local man named Willie Bronfield began a private mail delivery service.  For a charge of twenty five cents per month per customer, he delivered the mail each day until the population grew to a sufficient level to require the post office to provide free carrier service in about 1909.  

The article below includes a picture of Seth T. Lyman in his wire-rim glasses as a young man.  It provides an important yet nostalgic glimpse of an earlier time in the history of the Village of Pelham.

"SETH T. LYMAN Superintendent of Pelham Post
Office who retires July 1st, after 28 years supervision
of mails in Pelham.  Source:  Lyman Resigns As Post
Sun, Jun. 25, 1926, Vol. 17, No. 17, p. 1, cols. 4-5.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

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"Lyman Resigns As Post Office Superintendent
Will Retire July 1, After Twenty-eight Years as Chief of Pelham Post Office

After twenty-eight years' supervision over the dispatch and delivery of mails at Pelham Post Office, Seth T. Lyman has tendered his resignation as superintendent, to become effective July 1st.  Mr. Lyman will retire to his summer home at Lake St. Catherine, Vt.  He has announced no plans for the future.

Coming to Pelham thirty-one years ago and establishing himself as a druggist at Fifth Avenue and First Street, Mr. Lyman has had great opportunity to watch the growth of the Pelhams.  Appointed assistant postmaster in 1898 and subsequently appointed postmaster and superintendent when Pelham district was taken over by the New York City post office, he has seen the advance of the town mirrored in the increased demand for postal service.

When Mr. Lyman was appointed assistant postmaster, the late Henry Iden presided over the little office adjoining the drug store, opposite the station at Fifth Avenue and First Street.  A grade crossing led over the railroad right of way, and the residents of the Pelhams, in horse-drawn vehicles, drove to the post office daily and applied for their mail.  First Street was then the business street of Pelham, the main line station of the New Haven Railroad being on this thoroughfare.

Six months after Mr. Lyman's appointment to the post office, Mr. Iden resigned and Lyman succeeded him.  In 1905 [sic; should be 1902] the post office building burned.  After rebuilding, the main entrance of the new store opened on Fifth Avenue, which street was bidding for popularity as the business avenue.

Carrier service, although of an unofficial nature, was introduced at that time in the person of Willie Bronfield, a negro, who at a charge of twenty five cents per month per customer, delivered the mail to the Town.

By 1909 the Town had grown to such an extent that carrier service had to be taken over by the office.  In order to facilitate this the Pelham district was taken into the New York City office, and Lyman retained as superintendent.  At that time two carrier routes were established in the territory covered by the office in North Pelham and Pelham Heights.  The staff consisted of the superintendent, one clerk and two carriers.

At this time the post office was moved from the old location to the newly built Douglas Block, adjoining the present location.  Here the office remained until 1925 when it was moved to its present location in a building erected especially for that purpose by John T. Brook.

The post office staff today consists of a superintendent, four clerks and nine carriers.

When Mr. Lyman announced his intention of retiring, many expressions of tribute to his faithful service were received from those who have known him during his administration at the local post office, among whom were Congressman Ben L. Fairchild, who sent the following letter of commendation to Superintendent Lyman:

'Dear Mr. Lyman:  I cannot resist a feeling of regret at the news that you have tendered your resignation as superintendent of the Pelham post office.  You have been our courteous and efficient postmaster for so many years that sentimentally it seems to me that Pelham and Dr. Lyman are synonymous terms.  If your purpose is to retire to a well earned rest, you have certainly earned the right to the fullest enjoyment that life affords and to the commendation of your neighbors and constituents whom you have served so well.

'To you and to Mrs. Lyman, my very best wishes are extended. 

Sincerely yours,

(Signed) BEN L. FAIRCHILD.'"

Source:  Lyman Resigns As Post Office Superintendent -- Will Retire July 1, After Twenty-eight Years as Chief of Pelham Post Office, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 25, 1926, Vol. 17, No. 17, p. 1, cols. 4-5.

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I have written about Seth T. Lyman and One Fifth Avenue, the building he built that still stands at One Fifth Avenue on a number of occasions.  For examples, see:  

Mon., May 16, 2016:  Fatal Fire in 1902 at One Fifth Avenue Burned Down the Post Office and Pharmacy.  

Tue., Jul. 8, 2014:  Account of Devastating Fire at One Fifth Avenue in 1902.

Tue., Feb. 04, 2014:  Lyman's Pharmacy and Post Office Was Located in the Building That Still Stands at One Fifth Avenue in Pelham

Tue., Jul. 4, 2006:  Seth T. Lyman, Pelham's Own Medicine Man of the Late 19th Century

Bell, Blake, A., The Lyman Pharmacy Building At One Fifth Avenue in Downtown Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 19, May 7, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

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