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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

More on the Early History of the Wolfs Lane Railroad Bridge on the New Haven Line in Pelham

Recently I wrote about the fascinating history of the Wolfs Lane Railroad Overpass long known as the "Fifth Avenue Bridge" that carries the New Haven Main Line tracks over Wolfs Lane adjacent to the Pelham National Bank Building at One Wolfs Lane.  See Friday, October 06, 2017 Early History of the Wolfs Lane Railroad Bridge on the New Haven Line in Pelham.  Additional research now has revealed even more about the earliest efforts to have such a railroad overpass built at that location.  It now seems clear that efforts began in 1882 and ripened into a petition reportedly prepared for submission to the railroad in 1884.  Today's Historic Pelham article will detail the new research.

The earliest efforts to create a railroad overpass with the roadway running beneath it seem to have begun in about 1882.  A brief report (that will require a little explanation after quoting it) appeared in a local newspaper in 1884 and read as follows:

"A petition is in circulation, and has already been largely signed, asking that Pelhamdale avenue, where it crosses the New Haven Railroad track at Pelhamville, be cut through under the track at Pelhamville, be cut through under the track.  It is understood that the town of Pelham and the railroad company are to bear an equal share of the expense.  About two years ago, an interview was had with President Watrous, on the subject, and he then promised to use his influence towards accomplishing the object.  The crossing in question is probably one of the most dangerous on the road, as the approach from either side is up a steep grade, and incoming trains cannot be seen until one is upon the track.  This matter of cutting down the hill, so as to run underneath the track, is a subject that should have been considered years ago and it is a marvel that accidents have not been of frequent occurrence."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLANDThe Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 4, 1884, Vol. XV, No. 772, p. 3, col. 5.  

The above-quoted reference may seem odd to those who read it carefully.  It states that the petition seeks to have PELHAMDALE AVENUE (rather than Wolfs Lane) lowered beneath the New Haven Main Line tracks.  Some may wonder:  is this the Pelhamdale Avenue that we know today -- an avenue that does not cross over or under the tracks but, instead, ends at East 1st Street in Pelham Heights at the railroad tracks adjacent to East 1st Street?

As noted by Lockwood Barr in his History of Pelham published in 1946, the 1881 Bromley Map of the area seems to provide the answer.  In the early 1880s, Pelhamdale followed a very different path from the path it now follows through Pelham Heights to the railroad tracks.  The neighborhood of Pelham Heights, of course, did not exist in the early 1880s; there were no roadways through the virgin forest in that area including that portion of what we know today as Pelhamdale Avenue that extends across Colonial Avenue and heads straight to the New Haven Main Line tracks.  Instead, in the early 1880s, Pelhamdale Avenue crossed today's Colonial Avenue and immediately made a diagonal turn toward today's Wolfs Lane, cutting across the back section of today's high school property until it reached what we know as Wolfs Lane roughly at Second Street in today's Pelham Heights (near today's Pelham Picture House).  At the time, Pelhamdale Avenue then merged with what we know today as Wolfs Lane.  Thus, the above-quoted reference to the petition in 1882 "asking that Pelhamdale avenue, where it crosses the New Haven Railroad track at Pelhamville, be cut through under the track at Pelhamville" is, indeed, a reference to a cut-through where the roadway was lowered and a railroad overpass actually was built several years later.

As Lockwood Barr stated:

"There was no trail or early road across the Town of Pelham, that would correspond to the present Pelhamdale Avenue. When Elbert Roosevelt, in 1800, purchased his tract of 250 acres on the Mainland, opposite Travers Island and Hunter's Island, the northern boundary of his property was evidently an old dirt road--now Pelhamdale Avenue--beginning at the Shore Road, near the present boundary line between New Rochelle and the Village of Pelham Manor, and running north to where is now Hillcrest. When the New Haven Railroad, Harlem Division, opened the Pelham Manor Station in 1873, Pelhamdale was extend.ed from the Shore Road to that Railroad Station, and reached the Boston Post Road soon thereafter, as is shown on maps of The Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association.

"On the Bromley map of the Town of Pelham, dated 1881, Pelhamdale then crossed Colonial Avenue, diagonally through the back corner of the present High School property, intersecting Wolf Lane near 2nd Street, Village of Pelham, not far from the Pelham Picture House. On this old map that section of the Village of Pelham (now The Heights), between 2nd Street and Colonial, appeared the name "Pelhamdale" while the word "Avenue" was in Pelham Manor. The road was named from the old Philip Pell stone house, called Pelham Dale. When Pelham Heights was developed, after 1890, and the Village of Pelham incorporated in 1896, the diagonal cut was eliminated and Pelhamdale was cut through to the New Haven Main Line Railroad Station."

Source:  Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, pp. 118-19 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).

A look at a detail from the 1881 Bromley map certainly confirms the conclusions of Lockwood Barr.  The detail immediately below has been rotated from the original so that due North is at the top of the image.

Detail of 1881 Map of Pelham Showing "Pelhamdal" [sic],
Immediately East of Esplanade, Following a Course of 
Crossing "Old Post Road" (Today's Colonial Avenue) and
Drifting Northeast Across Grounds That Became Today's
Pelham Memorial High School, Then Joining "FIFTH AVE"
At About Where Today's East Second Street Intersects
Wolfs Lane Near the Modern Picture House.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Clearly the reference published in 1884 to efforts to create a cut under the New Haven Main Line tracks where "Pelhamdale Avenue" intersected the tracks was a reference to the very spot where a modern railroad overpass stands to this day.

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