Images of Pelham Published in 1884
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Recently I was able to purchase a copy of the August 9, 1884 issue of Harper's Weekly (Vol. XXVIII, No. 1442). Why? Because it included a brief article on the newly-acquired lands northeast of New York City intended to create parks including Pelham Bay Park and a page of engraved images of the area within what was, at the time, part of the Town of Pelham.
I previously have used one of the notable images of Pelham Bridge from that article before (with an overall image of the engraved page from which it came). The images presented today, however, are significant because I now can tie them back to the article with which they were associated and can provide a citation to the source of each.
In 1884, of course, New York City was in the midst of condemning lands in the Town of Pelham through the power of eminent domain to create today's Pelham Bay Park. While Pelham Bay Park is quite extensive, the focus of the park included the area stretching from the famed Pelham Bridge to the equally-famous Hunter's Island. Most images of the proposed parkland at the time focused on that region.
On August 9, 1884, Harper's Weekly included a brief article on the new parks being created on the mainland northeast of Manhattan. Harper's Weekly was a weekly national magazine that billed itself as the "JOURNAL OF CIVILIZATION." The text of the article as well as images of the cover of the magazine, the page of Pelham engravings, and details from the images on that page appear immediately below. Each is followed by a citation to its source.
"PELHAM BAY PARK.
IT has been once or twice remarked that parks were the lungs of cities. If Manhattan Island is not very well furnished with these useful organs, the 'annexed district,' when it becomes metropolitan instead of suburban, will have cause to bless the liberal pulmonary provision timely made in its behalf by the commission of which Mr. LUTHER R. MARSH was chairman, whose recommendations are now in the course of execution.
The entire scheme submitted by these gentlemen, and adopted at the last session of the Legislature, comprises three main parks: Pelham Bay, on the Sound shore of Westchester, just beyond the point at which the East River widens into the Sound; Bronx Park, nearly midway between the Sound and the Hudson; and Van Courtlandt Park, lying on the eastern, which is the gentler, slope of the heights bordering the Hudson beyond Spuyten Duyvil, extending northward to the boundary of Yonkers, and bordering upon the south Jerome Park, which are for picturesque purposes continuations of it. The three parks are to be connected by ample avenues, and the system is completed by smaller detached parks in the southern and more closely built quarters.
The most extensive of all is Pelham Bay Park, which includes two islands in the Sound (one of them Hunter's Island), and embraces some 1700 acres, or twice the area of Central Park. It has a very great advantage over Central Park, in that it does not need to be made, but only to be preserved. As we all know, Central Park has no advantages of situation. Its name sums up all that can be said in favor of its site, and it was established as a compromise between the claims of the projectors of rival riparian pleasure-grounds. The original difference between an artificial park like the Central and a natural park like the well-named Prospect Park of Brooklyn can never be wholly overcome by art. The Westchester parks all have this initial advantage of a romantic situation, and they have also the advantage of ancient trees, the lack of which in the Central Park is only now, after a quarter of a century, ceasing to be painfully felt.
The new parks differ widely, also, among themselves. It would not be easy to find in the same area a greater diversity of scenery than they afford. Van Courtlandt Park, the heart of the ancient manor of Van Courtlandt, which two hundred years ago extended all along the lower Hudson, and the manor-house of which is to be included in the attractions of the park, is a bold and rugged piece of hill country, and from it glimpses may be had across the Hudson of the still bolder and more rugged escarpment of the Palisades. At the foot of the declivity which Van Courtlandt Park occupies winds, generally in a languid fashion, JACOB BRONCK'S mill-stream, the 'mine own romantic Bonx' of RODMAN DRAKE, with banks still well wooded, and Bronx Park is a charming and peaceful reach of river. From the river to the Sound is a slightly undulating plain, having the flat and sedgy character that appears at intervals along the whole northern shore of the Sound, and that is especially marked in lower Westchester, where the plain is intersected by countless estuaries, and juts out into countless 'necks,' and where the roads have the aspect of causeways. The salt-marsh is in little esteem for agricultural purposes, and is quite unavailable for subdivision into villa sites, but it has a picturesqueness and a poetry of its own, as some painters and some poets have shown us, notably among the latter LOWELL, who has celebrated the flats of his native Cambridge in the 'Indian Summer Reverie,' and TENNYSON, of whom CARLYLE declared that his birth and nurture among the fens of Lincolnshire had left an impression on his verse. Nowhere is this character more marked than at Pelham Bay, with its two islands separated from the mainland by little estuaries, and connected again by bridges. Beyond the boundaries of the park lies City Island, to which a bridge is thrown from an inner island, and beyond this Hart's Island. These diversify picturesquely the tranquil expanse of the Sound, here already a great sheet of water, the outlook over which is but for them unbroken.
There could be no better site than this for a public park by the water-side, and fortunately the dedication of it to this purpose will not interfere with any profitable private use, for the uses to which it has thus far been put have not been highly lucrative. Pretty as the place is, and although it is only five or six miles from Harlem Bridge, the charms of this shore have hitherto been almost unknown to New-Yorkers, except the marauders who come by water, and the citizens whose occasions take them over the Harlem River branch of the New Haven Railroad. Bartow, a station on this road, is within the precincts of the new park.
As has been said, Pelham Bay does not need to be converted into a park, but only to be preserved as a park. All that is needed to bring it into public use is more facility of access, and a police force which shall secure the innocent and quiet pleasure-seekers from molestation by pleasure-seekers who are neither innocent nor quiet. The parkway to Bronx Park will supply a more commodious drive than is now available. The waterway from the East River is already open and is ample. The construction of the wharves which will make it fully available for public use is a small matter. When this improvement is made, and walks are laid out within the boundaries of the park, Pelham Bay Park will be one of the most attractive, and not many years can elapse before it will become also one of the most frequented and useful, water-side parks in the world."
Source: "PELHAM BAY PARK" in Harper's Weekly, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1442, Aug. 9, 1884, p. 521.