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.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Pelham Stood Alone in Westchester When It Voted to Go Dry in 1896

"Oh, I suppose we will have to establish a 'dead line' up at
our country place at Travers Island, and everybody found
on the wrong side of that line will have to be shot."

-- Words of Superintendent of New York Athletic Club's 
Travers Island Facility in 1896 After Pelham Voted to Ban
the Sale of All Alcohol in Town.  Since a Portion of Travers
Island Is in New Rochelle, the Club Merely Moved its Bar
to the New Rochelle Side Though, Thankfully, It Never 
Had to Create the Proposed "Dead Line" to Enforce Local
Prohibition by Gunshot. . . . 

It was election day in Pelham, 1896.  What a day it was!  By 9 o'clock in the morning the ballot boxes already were stuffed nearly full.  Yet, "all day long carriages were dashing through the streets picking up and bringing in tardy or reluctant voters from the outlying districts."  A momentous issue was on the ballot.  It was an issue that "brought to the polls many voters who might not have been induced to leave their homes to assist in settling any matter of less moment."  It was whether liquor would continue to be sold within the town limits of the Town of Pelham.  

The members of the New York Athletic Club who frequented Travers Island were bemused by all the commotion and the seriousness of the ballot battle.  They knew that a portion of their facility on Travers Island was actually within the town limits of the then Town of New Rochelle that would not be affected by the vote.  They knew that even if the measure passed, all they would have to do would be to buy a New Rochelle liquor license and move the club bar to the New Rochelle side of the facility.  After the measure passed, that is exactly what they did.  See Thu., Aug. 11, 2005:  How Dry I Am: Pelham Goes Dry in the 1890s and Travers Island Is At the Center of a Storm.  

The Raines Law of 1896 was a revenue-raising statute that substantially increased the cost of liquor licenses throughout the State and included a provision to allow municipalities a "local option" to vote whether the municipality would or would not allow the sale of alcohol.  If such sales were allowed by a municipality, liquor licenses would continue to be required.  If not, no such licenses would be issued within that municipality.  Thus, the local option was also known as the "license or no license" question.  

In the March, 1896 Town elections, Pelham and many other towns in the region included a "license or no license" question on the local ballot.  Pelham was the only town in the County of Westchester to vote in favor of "no license" by a majority of eighteen votes, thus banning the sale of alcohol, except by physician's prescription.  The reasons underlying the vote in Pelham provide a fascinating glimpse of what troubled Pelham residents at the time.

Pelham had plenty of experience with saloons and liquor sales.  For many years, the saloons around Pelham Bridge and Bartow, before those sections were annexed by New York City in 1895, had been notorious for their rough clientele and for constantly attracting illegal prize fights.  Likewise the little settlement of Pelhamville had attracted its own share of saloons to the consternation of local residents.  By 1896, there were "four or five liquor stores" in Pelhamville that led to "an amount of drunkenness out of all proportion to the population, due in part to visits from countrymen living not too far away to drive or walk in for their dram."

To make matters worse, during the summer of 1895, the White Hotel, which stood on a very large lot on the southwest corner of Wolfs Lane and Third Street (which becomes Boulevard after crossing Wolfs Lane), began inviting baseball teams from from New York and Mount Vernon to use its baseball and pigeon-shooting grounds (and to seek refreshment within the hotel).  The teams were rowdy, loud, and were notorious for drunkenness and gambling.  

The residents of Pelhamville wanted something done.  Moreover, the residents of nearby Pelham Manor where there were no liquor stores, saloons, or hotels that served alcohol began to worry that their own little village would be at risk.  

In the town elections in March, 1896, town Republicans decided to make the local option issue of "no license" a major centerpiece of their election strategy.  To get local blood boiling, someone distributed a circular pointing out that unless Pelham voted to ban the sale of alcohol, under the new revenue-raising statute known as the Raines Law, new liquor licenses would cost $500 in New Rochelle, $350 in Mount Vernon, and only $100 in Pelham, suggesting that all manner of liquor sellers would flock to Pelham and peddle the devil's own elixir.  

The battle was surprisingly arduous.  The issue, of course, was perceived as a "moral" or "immoral" one, as the case may be.  When the ballots were counted, "no license" won by an eighteen-vote majority.  While that might suggest a Republican victory, it was not.  The Republican candidate for Town Supervisor, John M. Shinn (running for re-election), prevailed.  Democrats won the remaining town offices.  

The vote in Pelham horrified New York City clubmen.  The New York Athletic Club was not the only New York City club with a "summer" clubhouse.  Seeing the "no license" vote in the Town of Pelham, the clubmen created an organization with an Executive Committee known as the "Committee of Nine" to lobby the State Legislature to create an exception in "no license" jurisdictions for such "summer" clubhouses.  

The New York Athletic Club seemed to lord it over the other clubs a bit.  It had its backup plan -- a plan that it was eventually forced to use.  It simply moved its bar to a location on Travers Island within the Town of New Rochelle.

Detail from Map Published in 1899 Showing How Pelham
Border with New Rochelle Cut Through a Portion of the
Original Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers
Island.  Source:  Fairchild, John F.,  Atlas of the City of
Mount Vernon and the Town of Pelham, Double Page Plate
No. 24 (Mount Vernon, NY:  John F. Fairchild, 1899).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          * 


There was little talk of party politics about the Town House in Pelham, Westchester County, on Tuesday; but there has seldom been so much interest felt and displayed even in a Presidential election.  The tickets were severally entitled 'Republican' and 'Democratic,' but it is said that they were pretty badly mixed.  At any rate, the voters were mixed, for each candidate was weighed by each voter on some question of local management or town improvement.  There is a struggle about the admission of certain trolley companies, and there are diverse views as to the streets and avenues that the successful company should pass through, opinions being influenced, doubtless, to some extent, by improvement or injury to property, hoped or feared by certain landowners.  It is probable that the views of candidates on these and kindred topics were more eagerly canvassed than those on bimetallism or the McKinley tariff.

Then there was the great 'moral' question of license or no license, which came in for decision under the Raines law.  It was highly interesting and brought to the polls many voters who might not have been induced to leave their homes to assist in settling any matter of less moment.  By 9 o'clock in the morning the ballot-boxes seemed to be nearly full, and all day long carriages were dashing through the streets picking up and bringing in tardy or reluctant voters from the outlying districts.

The town of Pelham is peculiarly situated.  Since the division last year, in the formation of Greater New-York, it has lost City Island and the Sound shore population, which for years had dominated the inland portion of the town.  It now contains only one village -- Pelhamville -- and in this village there have been four or five liquor shops and an amount of drunkenness out of all proportion to the population, due in part to visits from countrymen living not too far away to drive or walk in for their dram.  The rest of the town is occupied by persons who live in homes surrounded by considerable ground, and who have selected their houses with a view to seclusion and quiet.  This quiet has become endangered by the extension of the trolley lines from Mount Vernon and the easy access thus given to excursionists to the woods and gardens of Pelham Manor, Pelham Heights and the adjacent country.  Last summer a hotel at First-st. and Wolf Lane [sic] invited guests from New-York and Mount Vernon to its baseball and pigeon-shooting grounds, and the noise, even on Sunday, became a serious annoyance to many residents.  It was thought well to put a stop to this and to everything like it.

Circulars were sent to all the voters explaining that under the provisions of the Raines law a license would cost in Mount Vernon $500 in New Rochelle $350, and iin Pelham only $100, thus opening the door to many nuisances.  The issue was made and the fight was furious, the result being a defeat for license by eighteen majority.

What was called the Democratic ticket was elected, with the exception of Supervisor."

Source:  PELHAM, New-York Daily Tribune, Apr. 2, 1896, Vol. LV, No. 18,036, p. 15, col. 4.  

Democrats Gain and the Raines Law Is Said to Be the Reason.

The completed returns from the town elections in Westchester county, which were held on Tuesday in the towns of Bedford, Cortlandt, East Chester, Harrison, Mamaroneck, North Salem, Ossining, Rye, Scarsdale, and White Plains, Democratic Supervisors were elected; while in the towns of Greenburgh, Lewisboro, Mount Pleasant, New Castle, New Rochelle, North Castle, Pelham, Poundridge, Somers, and Yorktown the Republicans carried the day.  Inasmuch as there are five Republican Supervisors from the city of Yonkers and two Democrats, and one Republican is on the Board from Mount Vernon, the present complexion of the Board is sixteen Republicans to twelve Democrats.  The result shows a gain of two for the Democrats and  loss of two for the Republicans.

The city of Mount Vernon will elect its five Supervisors on May 19.  Yonkers elects its Supervisors in the fall.  

In the town of Harrison the Republican candidate, George T. Burling, is contesting the result of the election on the ground that the ballots were improperly prepared.  The case will be taken before the Supreme Court.

The Raines law was a considerable factor in the elections, and it had the effect which has been predicted by many politicians in all parts of the State.  In the small towns and villages in which the license fee will be practically unchanged, the law had but little influence on the voters.

In the larger towns the law was the leading issue, and the effect that it had on the voters may be fairly judged from the action of the citizens of White Plains.  In the last Gubernatorial election there Gov. Morton received 655 votes to Senator Hill's 588.  The town had been brought into the Republican column after a hard fight, but it was counted on as safe to give each year a Republican majority of from fifty to seventy-five.  The Raines law raised the license fee there from $75 to $200, and the saloon-keepers set to work to teach the Republicans a lesson.  They succeeded in winning over enough voters to their side to elect the Democratic ticket by an average pllurality of 100.

Al of the towns voted in favor of the proposition to grant liquor licenses except the town of Pelham in whih is located Pelham Manor, where many wealthy New York business and professional men reside.  There the proposition was rejected by a large majority, and as a result no saloon, grocery, or hotel license can be granted until after the election of 1898."

Source:  THE WESTCHESTER ELECTIONS -- Democrats Gain and the Raines Law Is Said to Be the Reason, The Sun [NY, NY], Apr. 2, 1896, Vol. LXIII, No. 215, p. 9, col. 3.  


The dissatisfaction of the leading social clubs of this city over the Raines Liquor Tax law in its application to those organizations was made manifest and distinct last evening at the headquarters of the Arion Society.  A special meeting had been called for representatives of the clubs to take action regarding the law.  The committee of nine, which had been appointed a week ago last Wednesday night to take preliminary steps, had sent out some fifty invitations to as many clubs to send representatives to the meeting.  

It was regarded last night as a sure sign that the leading clubs of the city were practically unanimous in their views, since thirty-five of those clubs were represented.  The members met in the main dining hall of the club.

The following clubs were represented:  The Arion Society, by Richard Katzenayer, president, and Edward M. Burghard; the Liedderkranz, by William Steinway; Manhattan Club, John von Glahn; Colon Cervantes, A Martinez; Columbia, C. Sichel; Heinebund, Hugo Jansen; New-York Athletic, T. S. Watson and Bartow S. Weeks; Lotos, F. F. Murray and D. B. Sickels; Schnorer, H. C. Schroeder; Press, Frederick Hemming; Holland, Furman T. Nutt; New-York, Carl Eglinger; Cercle Francaise de l'Harmonie, J. Weill; Fidelio, J. M. Klein; Central Turn Verein, W. Henneburg and J. W. Kaebel; 7th Regiment, W. C. Palmer; Harlem, James H. Taylor, and Union League, J. R. Van Wormer.  Other clubs represented were the Progress, Racquet, Riding, Sachem, Tremont, the Verein Frdundschaft, United Service, the Aschenbroedel Society, the Beethoven Maennerchor, the Century Association, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Democratic Club of the Twenty-First Ward, Engineers', Fordham, the German Press, the Harmonic and the New Manhattan Athletic.

In the absence from the city of Frank R. Lawrence, who had presided at the first meeting, Edward M. Burghard was made chairman.  J. H. Taylor, secretary of the Committee of Nine, was chosen secretary of the main body.  It was decided that the session should be held behind closed doors, so that reporters were excluded.

The session lasted about an hour and a half.  There was a ful and free discussion, and not a dissentient voice, according to the statements of members subsequently.  The opinion was unanimous that the Raines law was a menace to the privacy of club life and therefore threatened the best feature of its existence.  One of the speakers was particularly vehement in his denunciation of the 
Continued on Seventh Page.

Continued from First Page.

law as being drawn upon narrow lines which wholly ignored the club development of modern life in large centres of population.  He was vigorously applauded, especially in his reference to the opportunity afforded inspectors and policemen to invade a club at any hour.

The result of the conference was the adoption of a resolution instructing the Committee of Nine to prepare such an amendment to the Raines law as would meet the objections raised by the clubs.  One of the other objections stated was that regarding  the show of the tax certificate 'on the outer walls,' as one member put it.  The general spirit of the meeting was that the Raines law placed clubs on a common level, in the eyes of the law, with the ordinary grog shop.

The committee was instructed to pursue such a course as it considered necessary in framing the amendment and having it introduced into the Legislature.  The committee will hold a meeting at once to frame the desired amendment.  The meeting adjourned indefinitely.

John R. Van Wormer, of the Union League Club, and chairman of the Committee of Nine, speaking of the results of the meeting, said:  'Senatore Raines probably intended to make the large clubs pay a tax under the provisions of the bill, but he forgot the little clubs and coteries and the small table d'hote places, all of which will be disastrously affected by the operation of the law.  The action taken tonight is not a decisive one on the part of the clubmen here.  When the amendment is prepared it will be referred back, and the club will then have opportunity to approve or disapprove it.  It is not expected that the Committee of Nine will go to Albany to present the amendment, but it is hoped that the various clubs will themselves send representatives there to argue in favor of the amendment before the committees of the Assembly and Senate.  The clubs want privileges similar to hotels if practicable.'

William Steinway said:  'This is a good movement, to my mind.  The best interests of the best forms of club-life demand the conditions which we are seeking.  The possibility of interference from outside in the regular and orderly course of club-life is to be deprecated.'

The committee of nine consists of J. R. Van Wormer, chairman; E. M. Burghard, John Von Glahn, F. T. Murray, Bartow S. Weeks, H. C. Schroeder, J. H. Taylor, Aristides Martinez and Gustave Dorval.

Like the members of other clubs, and especially those hving country houses, the members of the New-York Athletic Club have not the kindest of feelings for the Raines bill.  The fact that some of the towns have already taken the privilege of the local option clause in the bill, and that others will follow suit, may in the end have the effect of sending some of the clubs, or rather the country houses of those clubs, to New-Jersey.  Hoboken sees a bright future before it.  The fact that the town of Pelham has decided in favor of no license, when announced yesterday, aused the liveliest sort of discussion among the members of the New-York Athletic Club, and there was some wild scurrying around in the afternoon to find out how the law would affect their house at Travers Island.  

John C. Gulick, a lawyer, and the secretary of the club, was seen at his office in the Vanderbilt Building.  Mr. Gulick had not been informed of the action taken by the town of Pelham, but he evinced little surprise when the information was imparted to him.  'Our club will obey the law,' said he,'as usual.  The action of the town of Pelham may, and then again it may not, affect us up at Travers Island.  As I remember, our country home is partly in the town of Pelham and partly in the town of New Rochelle.  But I cannot say with any degree of certainty whether the clubhouse is on the Pelham side or not.  I think we have a survey of the property up at the clubhouse in Fifty-fifth-st.'

Superintendent Duffy was seen at the clubhouse yesterday afternoon, and, as usual, the good-natured superintendent looked at the bright side of the question.  'Oh, I suppose we will have to establish a 'dead line' up at our country place at Travers Island, and everybody found on the wrong side of that ine will have to be shot,' said he, 'Seriously, though, the action taken by the town of Pelham will not inconvenience us to any appreciable extent.  The club will have to take out a license in the town of New-Rochelle.  It will cost us a little money, possibly, to conform to the new conditions, but it won't be much.  The dividing line between Pelham and New-Rochelle runs diagonally through Travers Island, and cuts the property in two.  I suppose that if any liquor is to be sold, the selling will have to take place on that side which is in the town of New-Rochelle.  Some of the other clubs will not be so fortunate.'"


Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home