Why is the Lovely Home at 467 Pelhamdale Avenue Only 18 Feet Wide on a 25-Foot-Wide Lot?
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There is a lovely, and some might say unique, two-story home located at 467 Pelhamdale Avenue in the Village of Pelham Manor that is only eighteen feet wide. Moreover, it sits on a lot that is only twenty-five feet wide. It is similar in design (though not exactly the same) as the home design known in other regions of the country as "shotgun style." How did such a unique home come about?
The story behind the home at 467 Pelhamdale Avenue is fascinating and sheds interesting light on the history and growth of the Village of Pelham Manor. The story begins in the earliest years of the village and, some might say, even before.
With the coming of the Branch Line Railroad to Pelham Manor in 1873, a group of enterprising landowners formed the Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association to develop and sell lots and homes in the region. By that time, the Town of Pelham (which then included City Island, Hunter's Island and today's Pelham Bay Park) long had been considered a summer resort area and, indeed, a wealthy playground for affluent New Yorkers who wanted to summer -- or live -- away from the City.
The men behind the Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association hoped to trade off the concept that the Pelham Manor region was a respite from New York City for affluent New Yorkers. It marketed and sold large lots intended for large homes. The early deeds included restrictions intended to ensure that the community would develop as an affluent residential suburb without a commercial center or any manufacturing facilities, and no small homes.
With the onset of the Panic of 1873 and the profound economic depression that gripped the nation for years thereafter, the Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association failed. Its lands were sold in foreclosure, most bought by Silas Witherbee whose daughter married Robert C. Black of the jewelry firm Black, Starr & Frost. After Witherbee's death, Mrs. Black and members of her family sold much of the land, continuing to nourish the community and guide its growth as an affluent residential destination with large lots and large homes.
In about 1889, however, the Pelham Manor community suffered a shock. A company named the Pelhamdale Land Company backed by two women named Theresa Crocauer and Adela Payn was able to acquire about twelve acres of land that included, among other properties, a group of properties within the area bounded today by Pelhamdale Avenue, Manor Lane, and Siwanoy Place. The company promptly announced that it would carve the acreage into several hundred small lots of 25 x 100 feet, 25 x 115 feet, 50 x 50 feet, and a few more sizes. The company planned to sell an average lot within the acreage for what, in Pelham Manor, was the comparatively inexpensive price of $800.
The move by the Pelhamdale Land Company to acquire Pelham Manor lands and carve them into tiny lots was completely understandable from a business perspective. As one local newspaper put it:
"Pelham Manor, which narrowly escaped annexation to New York along with the other villages of Westchester county recently taken in, is by far the most beautiful of the suburban places hereabouts. The legion of land boomers that have their hands upon the Westchester county suburbs look with envy and amazement upon it and grow dizzy with mental calculations of how much money could be made by cutting it up into lots twenty-five by a hundred and auctioning off the place with the aid of a free lunch and a brass band."
All of Pelham Manor was horrified by the move to create such small lots to be sold so inexpensively. The entire Village feared an entire development of tiny homes on tiny lots along one of the principal thoroughfares in the village. Pelham Manor, it seemed, was at risk of appearing a little less affluent, at least in the minds of those horrified Pelham Manor residents of that time. In 1892, a newspaper report describing Pelham Manor in glowing terms included, as an aside, the following: the "section owned by the Pelhamdale Land Co., represented by Mrs. Theresa Crocauer and Mrs. Adela Payn, is an eyesore to the owners of mansions, because it is in the heart of the Manor and so can't be overlooked." A local newspaper described what seemed to bother Pelham Manor residents in such a context. It said:
"Pelham Manor lies between the southern parts of Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, close to the northern boundary of Pelham Bay Park, and a short ride from the Sound. It is the only place within twenty miles of New York where the poor are not always with you. There are no poor folks in Pelham Manor. Neither are there any Queen Anne Cottages. Most of the houses are so large, so substantial and so stately that it seems on a first visit almost like a village of palaces. Many palaces of considerable fame must be considerably smaller than several of the enormous private houses in Pelham Manor."
At first the Pelhamdale Land Company lots sold briskly in the $800 range. As sales began to slow, however, the company simply reduced the price of the lots to about $400, reigniting sales.
A New York City real estate brokerage named MacLay & Davies established by Isaac Walker MacLay and William E. Davies handled all sales of the Pelhamdale Land Company properties. MacLay served as Vice-President of the Pelhamdale Land Company. William E. Davies served as the corporate secretary of the company. The brokerage peddled the lots effectively and sold most of the lots.
Occasionally, as lot owners defaulted on payments, records reflect that the Pelhamdale Land Company pursued and obtained judgments typically in the amount of about $50. Slowly the area developed and lovely homes were built on the comparatively small lots.
One lot, however, was never developed. It was a small lot only twenty-five feet wide fronting on Pelhamdale Avenue. The story as to why it was not developed is an odd one.
During the late 1890s, a host of Pelham Manor landowners in the area opposed the idea of laying trolley tracks on Pelhamdale Avenue and running trolley cars up and down the avenue. At least two lawsuits were filed, though they ultimately were unsuccessful. See Tue., Apr. 19, 2005: Pelham Manor Residents Fight Construction of the Toonerville Trolley Line.
As part of the effort to block the construction of the trolley line, Pelham Manor residents encouraged some of their trusted New York City friends who did not plan to live in Pelham to purchase lots so that they would be taxpayers eligible to oppose the trolley in certain contexts. With this in mind, a New York City attorney bought the tiny little 25-foot wide lot.
Soon the trolley line was built along Pelhamdale Avenue. The New York City lawyer never did anything with the lot he purchased. It sat undeveloped for many years. During the Roaring Twenties, however, a man named August Ackerman bought the lot (as well as a couple of other nearby lots). He was able to sell the other nearby lots rather quickly, but had trouble selling the narrow 25-foot wide lot. After failing in efforts to sell the lot to adjacent property owners and after paying property taxes on the lot for several years, he concluded that he needed a return on his investment. In 1929 he filed plans for the construction of an eighteen-foot wide house on the lot. Having filed his plans he sought a building permit.
Once again, Pelham Manor residents were horrified, fearful for some reason that a small home on a small lot would somehow undermine the continued perception that Pelham Manor was an affluent suburb that attracted wealthy New Yorkers seeking a respite from the City. The Pelham Manor Association obtained a ten-day delay in the issuance of the building permit to give the group time to mount an offensive against construction of the narrow home.
The Pelham Manor Association convinced Mayor Joseph N. Greene to be arbitrator to resolve the "disagreement." But, there really was nothing to resolve. The small lot was unrestricted and Ackerman was entitled to the building permit. Thus, "negotiations were not arranged" and, on Monday, October 14, 1929 -- only about two weeks before the stock market crash of 1929 and the end of the Roaring Twenties -- the building permit for construction of the shotgun-style home was issued.
The die was cast. The lovely home we know today as 467 Pelhamdale Avenue was built and continues to stand today.
* * * * *
"The section owned by the Pelhamdale Land Co., represented by Mrs. Theresa Crocauer and Mrs. Adela Payn, is an eyesore to the owners of mansions, because it is in the heart of the Manor and so can't be overlooked. It consists of a dozen acres and has been sliced up into several hundred lots, 25 x 100, 25 x 115, 50 x 50, etc.
It was three years ago that this land was cut up. Most of the lots were sold at $800 each. At this figure these enterprising women have been doing a rushing business. Since September lots here are quoted at $400 each."
Source: PELHAM MANOR -- AN AMERICAN VILLAGE HELD EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE RICH, St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis, MO], Nov. 27, 1892, p. 12, cols. 1-3.
"Judgments. . . .
KELLER, Esbon B. -- The Pelhamdale Land Company....................50 [dollars]"
Source: Judgments, N.Y. Times, Nov. 18,. 1896, p. 15, col. 4 (Note: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
"Judgments. . . .
PEARCE, John K. -- The Pelhamdale Land Company.....................51 [dollars]"
Source: Judgments, N.Y. Times, Dec. 25, 1896, p. 12, col. 4 (Note: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
"Elections and Meetings. . . .
THE ANNUAL MEETING of the Stockholders of The Pelhamdale Land Company for the election of Directors for the ensuing year, and for the consideration of such other business as may properly come before the meeting, will be held at the office of the company, No. 44 Pine Street, in the City of New York, on the eighteenth day of January, 1897, at two o'clock in the afternoon.
Transfer books will be closed until after the election.
WILLIAM E. DAVIES, Secretary.
Dated January 7, 1897."
Source: Elections and Meetings. . . . THE ANNUAL MEETING of the Stockholders of The Pelhamdale Land Company, The Sun [NY, NY], Jan. 14, 1897, p. 9, col. 6 (Note: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
"THE ANNUAL MEETING of the stockholders of The Pelhamdale Land Company, for the election of directors for the ensuing year and for the consideration of such other business as may properly come before the meeting, will be held at the office of the Company, 67 Wall Street, on the 19th day of January, 1903, at two o'clock in the afternoon. Transfer books will be closed from the 8th day of January, 1903, to the 20th day of January, 1903. WILLIAM E. DAVIES, Secretary.
Dated January 3rd, 1903."
Source: THE ANNUAL MEETING [Legal Notice], The Sun [NY, NY], Jan. 6, 1903, p. 10, col. 1.
"PELHAM MANOR TRACT CHANGES HANDS.
Maclay & Davies have sold for the Pelhamdale Land Company to James M. Hanley a plot of fifty-two lots fronting in Pelhamdale ave., Pelham st. and Manor Lane, Village of Pelham Manor."
Source: PELHAM MANOR TRACT CHANGES HANDS, New-York Tribune, Aug. 25, 1906, p. 8, col. 3 (Note: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
MAJOR ISAAC WALKER MACLAY.
Major Isaac Walker Maclay, U.S.A. (retired) who helped to carry President Lincoln out of Ford's Theatre after his assassination, died on Tuesday night at his home, No. 304 Palisade avenue, Yonkers. Although he had been ill for nearly two years, his death was unexpected.
Born in New York City in 1841, Mr. Maclay was graduated from New York University with the class of '60, and from the Military Academy four years later with the rank of second lieutenant. Following his graduation he was made instructor of artillery to the 69th New York Volunteers at Fort Wadsworth, holding this post for several months, when he was transferred to the ordnance corps at the Washington arsenal, where he remained for two years.
Major Maclay saw service at the Watertown arsenal and was assistant superintendent of the Springfield armory. He also served as chief ordnance officer of the Department of the Platte and assistant ordnance officer of the Watervliet arsenal, at West Troy. He was a member of the board appointed to estimate the value of the arsenals at Rome, N.Y., Vergennes, Vt., and Fayetteville, N.C. Later he was connected with the Rock Island arsenal, and after a short time at that post retired from active military service to become assistant topographical engineer of the Department of Parks, in this city. He also helped in the laying out of the streets and avenues north of 155th street and the 24th and 25th wards after their annexation. He resigned from that post to become chief engineer of the Long Island Railroad.
With William E. Davies, Major Maclay established the real estate firm of Maclay & Davies, with which concern he remained actively engaged up to the time of his death.
In company with two other officers Major Maclay attended Ford's Theatre on the night President Lincoln was shot by J. Wilkes Booth, the actor. He was the first to reach the President's side, and with the assistance of his friends carried him to a rear room. Then he went for Dr. Dodd, the President's family physician, after which he was detailed to guard the home of Mr. Seward, the Secretary of War.
Major Maclay was vice-president of the Pelhamdale Land Company, a director of the Westchester Trust Company, and the People's Savings Bank of Yonkers. He was a member of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Municipal Art Society, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Municipal Art Society of New Jersey and New York, the Real Estate Exchange, the Yonkers Library and Historical Society, the New York Zoological Society, the American Forestry Association, the American Museum of Natural History, the Association of the United States of the Military Academy, the Sons of the Revolution, the Veteran Corps of Artillery, the Society of the War of 1812, and numerous other societies and clubs. He had served on various important commissions in Yonkers, and in June, 1906, was appointed a member of the Rapid Transit Commission of Yonkers. In 1869 Major Maclay married Miss Laura A. Havemeyer. She, with two sons and three daughters, is living.
The funeral will be held to-morrow at 11 o'clock. The burial will be in the family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery."
Source: OBITUARY -- MAJOR ISAAC WALKER MACLAY, New-York Tribune, Dec. 31, 1908, p. 7, col. 3 (Note: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
"Permit Granted For Eighteen Foot House
August Ackerman To Build Narrow House on 25 Foot Lot In Heart of Pelham Manor Residential District
In spite of the protest of the Pelham Manor Association, August Ackerman will build his 18 foot house on a narrow lot in the heart of Pelham Manor's residential district. Building Inspector Arthur Telford issued the permit Friday and ground was broken on the 25 foot lot on Pelhamdale avenue Saturday. No word has been heard from those who so strongly opposed the move.
The narrow lot is the only unrestricted parcel of land in the residential district. It is situated on the westerly side of Pelhamdale avenue between Witherbee avenue and Manor Lane. It was originally sliced off the Pelhamdale Land Co.'s property for a New York attorney several years ago to establish him as a taxpayer and qualify him in an attempt to block the trolley franchise on Pelhamdale avenue. Ackerman purchased it several years ago with adjacent property which had been restricted.
Sales of the restricted lots did not include the narrow lot and after paying taxes on it for several years Ackerman sought a return. Owners of abutting property were not in position to undertake the purchase, so he filed plans for a narrow building. The permit was withheld for ten days at the request of the Pelham Manor Association which sought to arrange a settlement. Mayor Joseph N. Greene agreed to be arbitrator, but negotiations were not arranged.
Monday night the building inspector announced that the construction of the narrow house would proceed."
Source: Permit Granted For Eighteen Foot House -- August Ackerman To Build Narrow House on 25 Foot Lot In Heart of Pelham Manor Residential District, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 18, 1929, Vol. 20, No. 29, p. 1, col. 7.
"Pelham Manor's Distinction.
A SUBURBAN SETTLEMENT THAT LOOKS LIKE A VILLAGE OF PALACES.
Pelham Manor, which narrowly escaped annexation to New York along with the other villages of Westchester county recently taken in, is by far the most beautiful of the suburban places hereabouts. The legion of land boomers that have their hands upon the Westchester county suburbs look with envy and amazement upon it and grow dizzy with mental calculations of how much money could be made by cutting it up into lots twenty-five by a hundred and auctioning off the place with the aid of a free lunch and a brass band.
Pelham Manor lies between the southern parts of Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, close to the northern boundary of Pelham Bay Park, and a short ride from the Sound. It is the only place within twenty miles of New York where the poor are not always with you. There are no poor folks in Pelham Manor. Neither are there any Queen Anne Cottages. Most of the houses are so large, so substantial and so stately that it seems on a first visit almost like a village of palaces. Many palaces of considerable fame must be considerably smaller than several of the enormous private houses in Pelham Manor.
The village has no shops, no street railway, no cobbles, and no spindle-like trees set at regular intervals and protected with wooden boxes. It is as unlike an ordinary suburban village as anything that can well be imagined, for it has no saloons, and its politics are of the rosewater sort. Its shade trees, which run the length of all the streets in double and sometimes triple rows, are mostly giants of the forest spared when the village was laid out. It has a small and picturesque church, a much smaller and even more picturesque chapel, and a parsonage that looks almost mediaeval. It has likewise severe local laws that strike terror into the hearts of the few tramps that find so retired a place.
The people of Pelham Manor are thoroughly satisfied with themselves and their village.
Nevertheless, they do import New Yorkers to give a foreign flavor to home society. They are so well pleased with their retired situation that they do not mind coming to New York by slow and infrequent trains or going over to New Rochelle for faster ones. They even profess discomfort at the prospect of a trolley line, and they are glad that the boundary of the latest annexation leaves them out. -- N. Y. Sun."
Source: Pelham Manor's Distinction -- A SUBURBAN SETTLEMENT THAT LOOKS LIKE A VILLAGE OF PALACES, MOUNT VERNON DAILY ARGUS, Jul. 15, 1895, Vol. XIII, No. 1003, p. 3, col. 2.
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