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, June 09, 2017

The Big Picture: Controversy in the 1880s Over Who Should Pay to Rebuild or Replace City Island Bridge


Recently I wrote about a pair of lawsuits brought by George H. Reynolds, President and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Pelham Manor Protective Club, in 1883 against Town of Pelham Supervisor James Hyatt and the Westchester County Board of Supervisors to stop a tax levy against Town of Pelham residents to fund construction of a new City Island Bridge.  See Mon., Jun. 05, 2017:  For Once, Pelham Manor Mainlanders Told City Islanders "No" in 1883.  It turns out that the pair of lawsuits was part of a much broader and lengthier dispute over who, precisely, should fund replacement of the decrepit City Island Bridge.

The story seems to begin in 1882 when Pelham became locked in a battle with its next door neighbor, Mount Vernon.  Mount Vernon sought authorization to construct a new sewer system and, craftily, omitted from its proposal precisely where its sewerage outlets would empty.  City Island and Pelham mainlanders knew, of course, that Mount Vernon most likely would route such outlets into the Hutchinson River that served as the boundary between Mount Vernon and Pelham.  Such an outcome would endanger oystering, fishing, bathing, and recreational facilities at City Island, in Eastchester Bay and along the Pelham coast.  All of Pelham rose up to fight the sewerage plan and handily defeated it, leaving Mount Vernon to return to the drawing board.

The following year, however, it was Mount Vernon's turn to seek sweet revenge against its neighbor.  The aging, decrepit, and downright dangerous City Island Bridge that connected mainland Pelham to little City Island needed to be replaced at a proposed cost of $20,000.  Pelham, quite simply, could not afford the cost.  Moreover, its taxpayers -- particularly those on the mainland -- balked at increasing the Town tax levy to fund the project.

The Town of Pelham was able to get a bill proposed in the New York State Assembly to shift responsibility for the City Island Bridge to Westchester County.  According to the thinking of the Town, City Island was a regional recreational and vacation destination that served all of Westchester County.  Thus, it was only fair for the taxpayers of all of Westchester County to fund construction of a replacement City Island Bridge.  

The Yonkers Gazette was the first to raise an alarm regarding Pelham's shenanigans.  It published a story reporting that Pelham was trying to shift responsibility for the City Island Bridge to Westchester County.  The Chronicle of Mount Vernon quickly took up the cudgel to oppose the Pelham proposal pending in the State Assembly.  The Chronicle wrote indignantly:

"People who live in glass houses had better not throw stones.  The people of this village didn't ask the people of City Island to pay one cent toward the construction of our sewers but the people of City Island ask the people of this village to pay a lot of the cost of rebuilding and keeping their bridge.  If any should object, it strikes us that the people of Mount Vernon and other parties [should]."

Within a short time, the State Assembly reported the bill to transfer responsibility for the City Island Bridge to Westchester County "Adversely."  The proposed bill died with no further action.

As noted in the recent article "For Once, Pelham Manor Mainlanders Told City Islanders 'No' in 1883," left with no alternative the Town of Pelham proposed to levy taxes against all Pelham taxpayers to raise $25,000 to fund construction and subsequent maintenance of a new City Island Bridge.  The pair of lawsuits by George H. Reynolds followed and, eventually, blocked the proposed tax levy increase.

The old wooden City Island Bridge was in such sad and dangerous shape, however, that the Town Board of Pelham, controlled by City Island Democrats, refused to give up.  After the lawsuits filed by George H. Reynolds blocked the proposed tax levy, the Town went back to the State Assembly and arranged proposal of a bill to allow the Town to issue bonds to fund replacement of the City Island Bridge.  That way, of course, annual repayment of portions of the principal and interest could be spread over a lengthy period of time so that Pelham taxpayers could more easily digest the necessary annual tax levy increase needed to service the bonds.  I have written about this development before.  See Wed., Jul. 20, 2016:  Bill Introduced in 1884 to Authorize the Town of Pelham To Build a New City Island Bridge.  See also Mon., Aug. 08, 2016:  More on Unsuccessful Efforts in 1884 by Town of Pelham to Replace the Wooden City Island Bridge.

Once again, the initiative went nowhere.  The dangerous wooden City Island Bridge retained signs warning that it was too dangerous to cross for many, many more years as City Islanders, horse railroad cars, and visitors crossed back and forth.  Moreover, in 1894, Park Department Commissioners actually condemned the bridge.  See Thu., Dec. 04, 2014:  Park Department Commissioners Condemned -- But Didn't Close -- the "Dilapidated" City Island Bridge in 1894.  Yet, it was not until City Island, the City Island Bridge, and the area on the mainland adjacent to City Island were annexed in the mid-1890s that plans for replacement of the dangerous old bridge took flight.  

New York City opened the iron City Island Bridge that replaced the old wooden bridge on July 4, 1901. It took almost three years to build and cost $200,000.



"Old City Island Bridge" Source: "Chapter XX: City Island"
in History of Bronx Borough City Of New York Compiled for
The North Side News By Randall Comfort, p. 59 (NY, NY: North
Side News Press: 1906). NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is the text of a number of articles that relate to the subject of today's Historic Pelham article.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.  Some of the items quoted below reference the bridge as "The Pelham Bridge."  These references are incorrect.  The nearby Pelham Bridge spans Eastchester Bay and does not connect to City Island.  The dispute in the 1880s involved responsibility for the City Island Bridge.

"THE PELHAM BRIDGE [Sic -- Should be "THE CITY ISLAND BRIDGE"]

The following article appeared in the Yonkers Gazette.

During a late session of the Board of Supervisors, a resolution to make the Pelham bridge a county charge was offered and referred to the judiciary committee, never saw light again, and it was hoped a very large majority of those most interested that this would be the last of an attempt to saddle the expense of a new bridge, entirely in the town of Pelham, upon the county at large.  But no, the matter has come up again -- this time in the state legislature, where Hon. S. W. Johnson has offered a bill to make the Pelham bridge a county bridge.  This bridge is now so old and dilapidated, that notices have been posted at either end, warning the public that it is not safe to cross it.  A new bridge will cost about $20,000.  If Mr. Johnson gets his bill through and the governor sign it, the new bridge will cost the seven towns in the county, the amounts set down in the table below.  And in addition will cost the county, for its care and painting, for the first four years after its erection, some $5,000 more.  The share of Yonkers in this expense will be, for the cost of the bridge, $3,842, and for the succeeding four years about $700 more.  The county ought not to be compelled to pay for this bridge any more than it should pay for the erection of bridges in the city of Yonkers.  Let Pelham build and pay for its own bridge.

Towns                       Percent of tax                  Of $20,000
                                 paid by each town.           town pays--
Bedford.....................3.06                                     612.60
Cortlandt...................7.18                                  1,436.00
East Chester.............5.93                                  1,186.00
Greenburgh.............17.94                                 3,588.00
Harrison..................   1.72                                    344.00
Lewisboro................  1.32                                    264.00
Mammaroneck........   1.82                                    364.00
Mount Pleasant.......   4.55                                    910.00
New Castle.............    1.66                                   332.00
New Rochelle..........   4.73                                   946.00
North Castle............     .99                                   198.00
North Salem............   1.90                                   380.00
Ossining..................   5.78                                 1,156.00
Pelham....................   1.95                                    390.00
Poundridge..............     .57                                    114.00
Rye..........................   6.13                                 1,226.00
Scarsdale................   1.03                                     206.00
Somers....................   2.03                                     406.00
Westchester............    5.97                                 1,014.00
White Plains............    3.35                                    670.00
Yonkers...................  19.21                                3,842.00
Yorktown.................    2.08                                    416.00
                                _______                            ________


                                 100.00                             20,000.00

Now if we were disposed to act toward the people of City Island in a retaliatory spirit, if we were inclined to treat this proposition of theirs as they did our last year in relation to our system of sewerage, we would call an indignation meeting, denounce this measure as an outrage on taxpayers of the county and appoint a committee to go to Albany to defeat their bill.  People who live in glass houses had better not throw stones.  The people of this village didn't ask the people of City Island to pay one cent toward the construction of our sewers but the people of City Island ask the people of this village to pay a lot of the cost of rebuilding and keeping their bridge.  If any should object, it strikes us that the people of Mount Vernon and other parties [should]."

Source:  THE PELHAM BRIDGE, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 26, 1883, Vol. XIV, No. 697, p. 1, col. 6.

"LET THE GALLED JADE WINCE!


TO THE EDITOR OF THE CHRONICLE.

The article copied into your valuable journal from the Yonkers Gazette entitled 'Pelham Bridge,' and your editorial comments on the same are extremely unjust.  It is very evident that neither your 'esteemed contemporary,' yourselves or 'that very large majority most interested, &c.,' know anything about the facts of the case.  In my criticism thereon, I will confine myself to the facts, and will not enter into a discussion on the merits of the 'Mount Vernon Sewer question,' which is wholly foreign to the subject, and in no sense a parallel case.  The sewer is to benefit Mount Vernon alone, while doing actual injury to its neighbors, the towns of East and Westchester, Pelham, City Island, &c., whereas the 'City Island Bridge' is used by and benefits the people of the whole county, and the very gist of the application for this bill is that it is for the benefit of the people of the whole county, or at least a majority of the people of the county, irrespective of town lines and not the town of Pelham alone, (and here lies the difference).

The injustice of compelling the town of Pelham alone to maintain this bridge is simply monstrous, and must so strike any person capable of forming an honest unbiased opinion.  Here is a bridge, as the petition shows, used almost wholly by the people of other towns, which this little town, Pelham, is expected to keep in repair at its own expense.  The proposition is absurd.  It is but fair and just that those who use it, should bear their portion of its expense.  The people who most use the bridge, as is clearly shown by the petition, come from towns who pay $8,000 of the $20,000, which the 'Yonkers Gazette' says will be the cost of the bridge, (but the fact is it will not cost one half of that amount), and they certainly should pay for it, in proportion to their use of it.  The people from the upper part of the county probably were not aware until the introduction of this bill of the existence of such a bridge and opposition from this direction might, with some show of reason, have been expected; but from Mount Vernon and Yonkers, I grieve to say it, comes with very bad grace.

How often have its people in the heat of summer enjoyed the cool breezes of City Island with its clean waters to bathe in and its delicious oysters to tickle the palate; and will they have it said that they enjoy these delights at the expense of their neighbors?

Should this effort to obtain justice be defeated, there are two courses left for Pelham to adopt, one to restore the bridge to a toll bridge, and the other to go to the legislature and ask for a bill to put up a handsome, permanent, iron structure at a cost of $50,000 or $60,000, which will be an ornament to the county, and have the county pay for it.  The county is now paying for dozens of bridges, which, according to your theory, should be paid for by the towns themselves.

Pelham, January 27th, 1883.

FAIRPLAY.

The article from the Yonkers Gazette, concerning the City Island bridge, which we republished last week with a few comments of our own, less evidently caused the galled jades, who hoped to saddle their heavy burden on the county at large, to wince and wax wroth.  Out distinguished correspondent, who took so active a part in defeating the Mount Vernon Sewer Bill last year, says that the improvement our people sought then, and the one he seeks now, are in no sense parallel.  It makes a great difference, we admit, whether our ox gores his bull, or his bull gores our ox.  We also admit that the two cases are in one sense not parallel; we propose to pay for our improvement out of our own pockets, and he proposes to pay for his improvement out of his neighbors' pockets.  He objects to letting us make our own improvements at our own expense, and at the same time asks us to let him make his improvements at our expense.

He says that the City Island bridge benefits the people of the whole county.  What silly audacity!  Of what use is that bridge to the people of Peekskill, Bedford, Katonah, Sing Sing, Tarrytown, and nine-tenths of the county.  We might just as well ask the people of the county to pay for the flag-walks and cross-walks in the streets of Mount Vernon; they are used by one hundred people in a day, where the City Island bridge is used by one.  What is there about a bridge, which should make that a charge on the whole county, any more than other improvements?  If the county is to pay for bridges, why not for roads, street lamps, etc., etc.  This town is now burdened with a debt of hundreds of thousands of dollars for boulevards.  We never asked the county to take this burden off of our backs.  The load was heavy, we were robbed right and left, but we never begged or squealed, or tried to shift our burden on some one else's back.  Take the Boston Post road for an illustration.  It is used by ten outsiders for every one of our own people who use it.  According to the argument of our distinguished correspondent, the county at large should pay for this road.  Indeed, our position is much stronger than his, for this reason:  most of those who travel on the Boston Post road, simply pass through a corner of our town on their way from one place to another outside.  We get very, very little benefit in the way of trade or otherwise, from their use of this road, while every one who travels over the City Island bridge, goes either to or from City Island, and those who use the bridge and are not residents of the Island, seldom go there except for business or pleasure, and in either case, the residents get a benefit.  Our correspondent says that 'the very gist of the application for this bill is, that it is for the benefit of the people of the whole county, or at least, a majority of the people of the county.'  Since that is the gist of his application, the bill should never pass, for the bridge is not, and never was for the benefit of the whole county, or a majority therein.  

Our correspondent says it is monstrous to compel the town of Pelham alone to maintain this bridge.  It is no more monstrous than it is to ask the village of Mount Vernon alone to maintain its streets, avenues, sidewalks, and street lamps.  If our people alone use our streets and sidewalks, they of course should pay for them; if we can induce other people to come here and use our streets and avenues, we know it will almost invariably pay us to do so, and hence we cheerfully bear the expense.  The same rule applies equally as well to City Island and her bridge.

Our distinguished correspondent says that people in the heat of summer, go to City Island and bathe in its clean waters, drink its cool breezes and tickle their palates with its delicious oysters; and then working himself up into a fine frenzy, he exclaims:  'and will they have it said that they enjoy these delights at the expense of their neighbors!'

We hope not!  If any man tickles his palate with City Island oysters, he should pay for them; if he bathes in her clean waters, he should remunerate the City Islanders for the bath; if he drinks in the pure air of City Island, he should pay for it by the bottle, but we don't see why he should pay for getting to City Island to pay for these delicacies.  If he should, we don't see why those who don't go should also be compelled to enable him to go there.  If the City Islanders, who deal in 'palate ticklers,' 'clean, sound water,' and 'cool breezes,' don't think it will pay to make the road thereto free, let them exact toll of those who go to City Island for such luxuries; then the people of Peekskill, Bedford, Sing Sing and other places, who never have and never will know what it is to have their palates tickled, their bodies purified and their lungs expanded with the articles of City Island's commercial enterprise, will not have to pay for not going to get what they never have, and never will see, smell, feel or taste."

Source:  LET THE GALLED JADE WINCE!, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Feb. 2, 1883, Vol. XIV, No. 698, p. 2, col. 3

"The New City Island Bridge.

Should City Island bridge become a County charge, a new bridge will have to be built, and it will cost about $20,000.  If the bill to build this bridge should pass the Legislature now in session, each town will have to pay according to this table:

Towns                       Percent of tax                  Of $20,000
                                 paid by each town.           town pays--

Bedford.....................3.06                                     612.60
Cortlandt...................7.18                                  1,436.00
East Chester.............5.93                                  1,186.00
Greenburgh.............17.94                                 3,588.00
Harrison..................   1.72                                    344.00
Lewisboro................  1.32                                    264.00
Mammaroneck........   1.82                                    364.00
Mount Pleasant.......   4.55                                    910.00
New Castle.............    1.66                                   332.00
New Rochelle..........   4.73                                   946.00
North Castle............     .99                                   198.00
North Salem............   1.90                                   380.00
Ossining..................   5.78                                 1,156.00
Pelham....................   1.95                                    390.00
Poundridge..............     .57                                    114.00
Rye..........................   6.13                                 1,226.00
Scarsdale................   1.03                                     206.00
Somers....................   2.03                                     406.00
Westchester............    5.97                                 1,014.00
White Plains............    3.35                                    670.00
Yonkers...................  19.21                                3,842.00
Yorktown.................    2.08                                    416.00
                                _______                            ________

                                 100.00                             20,000.00 


Source:  The New City Island BridgeEastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Feb. 9, 1883, Vol XXXVIII, No. 44, p. 3, col. 2.  

"NEW YORK LEGISLATURE.
-----
ALBANY, February 15. . . .
Assembly. . . . 
BILLS REPORTED. . . .

Adversely -- Relative to the maintenance of the City Island Bridge in Pelham Westchester County.  Agreed to. . . ."

Source:  NEW YORK LEGISLATURE -- ALBANY, February 15The Evening Post [NY, NY], Feb. 15, 1883, 4th Edition, p. 1, col. 6.  

[Though the article below clearly relates to the actual Pelham Bridge (as opposed to the City Island Bridge), it is transcribed here to show the burden Pelham faced in maintaining such bridges and roads during the 1880s.]

"PELHAM.


We have seen deplorable roads in our own town but after passing over that portion of the road, between Lockwood's Bridge and Prospect Hill, we yield the palm to the town of Pelham.  The people in that part of the town justly complain of the inattention given to their roads, particularly this one, which, being the post road, is the great thoroughfare between New York and New Rochelle, and also between Mt. Vernon and City Island, and should therefore be kept in better condition.

The repairs to Pelham Bridge were commenced on Monday last, by Mr. Henderson and the draw's now turned off.  A temporary foot bridge has been built for pedestrians, but vehicles cannot cross.  The inconvenience to the public is very great and Mr. Henderson will push the work of repairing the bridge to the utmost.  It will probably take about three weeks to complete the work, but Mr. Henderson expects to have the repairs far enough along in two weeks, so that the bridge may be used."

Source:  PELHAM, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 13, 1883, Vol. XIV, No. 721, p. 3, col. 3.


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To learn more about the City Island Bridge, early efforts to develop a bridge from the mainland to City Island and about Benjamin Palmer, Samuel Rodman, and others involved in efforts to build such a bridge, see the following.

Mon., Jun. 05, 2017:  For Once, Pelham Manor Mainlanders Told City Islanders "No" in 1883.


Mon., Aug. 08, 2016:  More on Unsuccessful Efforts in 1884 by Town of Pelham to Replace the Wooden City Island Bridge.

Wed., Jul. 20, 2016:  Bill Introduced in 1884 to Authorize the Town of Pelham To Build a New City Island Bridge.

Wed., May 06, 2015:  Another Interesting History of City Island Published in 1901.

Fri., Mar. 13, 2015:  An Important History of the City Island Bridge Built in 1868 and the Way Brothers' Ferry That Preceded It.

Mon., Dec. 15, 2014:  Brief History of City Island Including the Legend of the Macedonia Hotel with Photographs Published in 1906.

Thu., Dec. 04, 2014:  Park Department Commissioners Condemned -- But Didn't Close -- the "Dilapidated" City Island Bridge in 1894.

Tue., Oct. 07, 2014:  Legislative History of the 1775 Statute Authorizing Construction of City Island Bridge.

Fri., Oct. 03, 2014:  1775 Statute Authorizing Construction of City Island Bridge.

Tue., Jul. 22, 2014:  Stories of City Island Bridge Published in 1892.








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