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, April 24, 2017

More on the World Famous Taft School for Boys that Began in Pelham Manor in 1890

One of the nation’s premier college preparatory schools, The Taft School (now located in Watertown, Connecticut), began in Pelham Manor in 1890.  Horace Dutton Taft founded the institution.  Taft was a brother of William Howard Taft who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and, in 1909, became the nation’s 27th President.  Horace Taft had no training in school administration.  Indeed, his only exposure to the teaching world reportedly involved tutoring Latin for three years at Yale, his alma mater.  

Horace Taft was, however, a friend of a prominent Pelham Manor resident – Mrs. Robert C. (Mary G. W.) Black.  Mrs. Black was the wife of a member of the internationally renowned jewelry firm of Black, Starr & Frost.  The Blacks owned large tracts of land in Pelham Manor and had a palatial home known as “Dogwood”.  The home faced the Esplanade on plots where homes located between 955 and 999 Pelhamdale Avenue stand today. 

Robert and Mary Black had two sons:  R. Clifford Black, Jr. and Witherbee Black.  Mrs. Black reportedly contacted family friend Horace Taft seeking a tutor for her boys.  She convinced Taft to open a boarding school for boys in Pelham Manor.  Mrs. Black reportedly named the new school “Mr. Taft’s School” although it quickly became known as The Taft School for Boys. 

1890 Newspaper Advertisement for The Taft School
for Boys in Pelham Manor.  Source:  MR. TAFT'S SCHOOL
for BOYS [Advertisement], New Rochelle Pioneer, Oct. 4, 1890,
Vol. XXXI, No. 26, p. 3, col. 6.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.
MANOR, A Boarding and Day School to prepare boys for College.
The principal a graduate of Yale, and for the last three years a
Tutor in that University.  For circular and references address MR.
HORACE D. TAFT, Pelham Manor, N.Y."

The home that stands today at 964 Pelhamdale Avenue reportedly served as the main building for Mr. Taft’s School.  According to a letter prepared in 1936 by one of the students who attended the school during its first year of operation, DeWitt Clinton Noyes, there were two homes that served as the grounds of the school when it opened in 1890 for the 1890/91 school year.  The letter states: “The main house belonged to Mrs. Robert C. Black and was directly behind her own on Pelhamdale Avenue.  The second house was smaller and next door to the West.”  The house that stands today “next door to the West” of 964 Pelhamdale is the home located at 952 Pelhamdale.  After only three school years in Pelham Manor, Mr. Taft’s School moved to Watertown, Connecticut where it is located today.  

Mr. Taft's School began as a boarding and day school with ten "boarding scholars" in 1890.  By the end of its third year in the spring of 1893, the tiny little school had expanded to capacity with twenty "boarding scholars."  Rather than expanding in Pelham Manor (which had no suitable facility into which the school could move and expand over the summer before the next school year), Horace Dutton Taft moved the school to Watertown, Connecticut during the summer of 1893.

During the three years the Taft School for Boys operated in Pelham Manor, it graduated eight young scholars.  The school graduated its first two scholars at the end of its first year of operation in the spring of 1891.  One was Daniel O'Neill of Pittsburgh.  O'Neill attended Yale University beginning the following fall, but died tragically during his first semester in the fall of 1891.  The other graduating scholar in the first class that graduated from the school while it was located in Pelham Manor was Stillman Witt Eells.  He also attended Yale after graduating from the Taft School.  He graduated from Yale in the Class of 1895 and, the same year, married Helene Florence Watterman of Minneapolis.  In 1896 he became Secretary of the Chicago Drop Forge & Foundry Co.  The following year he became President of the Wheeler Mfg. Co. and the Alegnum Co. and served in that role until 1903.  He resigned in 1903 and traveled for four years in Europe, Canada, and the United States.  He then settled for a short time in Cleveland and then moved to Hamilton, Bermuda.

At the end of the Taft School's second year, in the spring of 1892, the institution graduated five students:  (1) S.C. Alger; (2) Walter Bingham Brayton who later worked for The Standard Car Wheel Company in Cleveland; (3) Edward Laurence Brownell (died in 1905); (4) Neil Bernard Mallon (died in 1909); and (5) James Dwight Rockwell who graduated from Yale in 1896 and worked in the chemical business until his health deteriorated and he moved into the Yale Club in New York City.

S.C. Alger Who Graduated from the Taft School for Boys in 1892
When It Was Located in the Village of Pelham Manor.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

James Dwight Rockwell Who Graduated from the Taft School
for Boys in 1892 When It Was Located in the Village of Pelham
Manor.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

At the end of the Taft School's third year (its last in Pelham), in the spring of 1893, the institution graduated a single student:  James Hart Welch, Jr.  Thereafter he worked in the real estate business in Douglaston, Long Island.  

952 Pelhamdale Avenue, One of Two Adjacent Residences that Once Were
Part of The Taft School for Boys That Operated in Pelham Manor 1890 - 1893.
Photograph Taken in 2005 by the Author. NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Horace Dutton Taft in an Undated Portrait.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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I have written on numerous occasions about the Taft School for Boys as well as Horace Dutton Taft and his brother, Henry Waters Taft, who lived in Pelham Manor.  For a few examples, see:  

Wed., Feb. 04, 2015:  Obituaries of Horace Dutton Taft, Founder of the Taft School for Boys in Pelham Manor.

Mon., Jan. 15, 2007:  Brief Biographies of Henry Waters Taft and Horace Dutton Taft of Pelham Manor (and Other Family Members).

Tue., May 30, 2006:  A Biography Published in 1906 on the Life of Horace Dutton Taft, Founder of the Taft School for Boys in Pelham Manor.

Wed., Nov. 14, 2007:  1890 Advertisement for Taft's School for Boys in Pelham Manor.

Mon., Aug. 15, 2005:  952 Pelhamdale Served as a 19th Century School for Girls, Then a School for Boys.

Bell, Blake A., The Taft School in Pelham Manor, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 23, Jun. 4, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

Fri., Mar. 14, 2014:  “Life and Practice" of a Country Lawyer Living in Pelham Manor in the 1880s.

Tue., Feb. 14, 2006:  An Account of the Blizzard of 1888 by Pelham Manor Resident Henry W. Taft.

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Below is the text of several items that form the basis for today's Historic Pelham article.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

"Mr. Taft's Own Account

The Taft School was founded by Horace D. Taft in the fall of 1890 in the village of Pelham Manor, Westchester County, New York.  Mr. Taft had graduated from Yale in the class of '83 and during the three years prior to the opening of the school had been a member of the Yale Faculty.

The first year of the school there were only ten boarding scholars.  The buildings were ordinary residences, the rooms of which were made to serve as school room, class rooms, etc., as well as they might.  Altogether, it was a very small beginning and in some respects comical.  During the second and third years there were twenty boarding scholars, all that there was room for.  In the summer of 1893 the school was moved to Watertown, Connecticut, and located in an old hotel building, the Warren House.  There a new beginning was made with thirty boarding scholars and an enlarged faculty.  Everything about the school, as we look back on it now, was primitive and inefficient, but after Pelham Manor days it seemed magnificent.  A higher standard, both in scholarship and discipline was attained.  Athletic teams were organized and the various activities of school life began.  The hotel building had to be changed in many respects to meet the requirements of a school.  A new plant for heating and plumbing was installed and a gymnasium was built.  The old Fair Ground was leased for an athletic field. . . ."

Source:  "Mr. Taft's Own Account" in Wiggin, Lewis M., ed., The Taft School Biography Book, Vol. 1, p. 9 (Rutland, VT:  The Tuttle Company, 1912).  

Stillman Witt Eells

Mr. Eells holds the proud distinction of being the oldest living graduate.  He has been followed by several cousins, among them William and James Symington and a nephew, Samuel Eells.  He is the only remaining member of the first class to be graduated from Pelham Manor, the other member of the class, Daniel O'Neill of Pittsburgh, having died during the fall of his Freshman year at Yale.  Eells was graduated from Yale in the class of 1895, having spent his summer vacations traveling in Europe, Canada and the West.  In 1895 he was married to Miss Helene Florence Watterman of Minneapolis and spent the following year in Europe.  In 1896 he became Secretary of the Chicago Drop Forge & Foundry Co. 1897 to 1903 was spent as President of the Wheeler Mfg. Co. and the Alegnum Co.  He resigned in 1903 and spent the following four years traveling in Europe, Canada and the United States.  In 1907 he made Cleveland his headquarters, having since then lived in Bermuda.  His permanent address is P. O. Box 4, Hamilton, Bermuda.

Daniel O'Neill


S. C .Alger

Alger claims that he was graduated the year the school started in Pelham Manor, but the records show it to have been in the second year of the school's history, 1892.  It is on this that he bases his claim to being the oldest alumnus of Taft School, but whether he is or not, he is certainly one of the best.  Graduated from Yale in the class of 1896 S.  He was married in 1896, and has one daughter who was born in 1900. 

Permanent address:  250 West 94th Street, New York.

William Bingham Brayton

Brayton was a member of the 1894 class at Sheff, but did not graduate.  His address is care The Standard Car Wheel Company, Cleveland, Ohio.

Edward Laurence Brownell

Brownell graduated from Sheff. in the class of 1895.  He died in 1905.

Neil Bernard Mallon

Graduated from Yale in 1896.  Died in 1909.

James Dwight Rockwell

The following is Rockwell's own account of how it has happened:  'I went to Yale and graduated, 'mirable dictu,' in 1896.  In 1900 I became associated in the chemical business with the late Edward L. Brownell, '92.  In 1905 my health broke down and I have never succeeded in recovering it, having been confined to my room for several years.  As befits one of the very Oldest Living Graduates, I have all the characteristics of extreme old age, except the whiskers, in proof of which I offer in evidence a photographic crime committed in 1902.'

Permanent address:  Yale Club, New York.

James Hart Welch, Jr.

Welch now in real estate business at Douglaston, L.I. . . ."

Source:  Wiggin, Lewis M., ed., The Taft School Biography Book, Vol. 1, pp. 37-38 (Rutland, VT:  The Tuttle Company, 1912).

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