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, January 09, 2018

News of Pelham Published February 12, 1875

In early February, 1875 -- much like recent days in 2018 -- the Town of Pelham was in the midst of a brutal cold spell that froze much of Long Island Sound and the waters off the shores of Pelham with ice so thick that people, horses, sleighs, and more could cross on the ice safely from island to island.  The brutal cold, however, did not stop Pelhamites from enjoying an active social life and outdoor sports according to news of the Town published in a Mount Vernon newspaper on February 12, 1875.

In 1875, the Mount Vernon newspaper known as The Chronicle was in its sixth year of publication.  In its earliest days, the newspaper occasionally carried news of Pelham.  In those early days, Pelham Manor had not been settled much.  The settlement of Pelhamville was tiny and, as one might expected, generated little interest or news.  Indeed, most of the population of the Town of Pelham was concentrated on City Island and in the tiny nearby settlement on Shore Road known variously as Bartow, Bartow-on-the-Sound, and Bartow Station.  Thus, the earliest news of Pelham reported in The Chronicle focused on City Island.

In early February, with much of the Sound solidly iced over, Pelhamites were concerned about their safety.  Because it was possible to walk from island to island, prisoners held on Hart Island were escaping in droves -- simply walking away from the island on the ice to City Island and then to the mainland.  According to the February 12 news report, in one week alone "about thirty prisoners" escaped.

Pelhamites also were concerned about local environmental issues in early 1875.  The same news account reported the formation of a "committee" representing Pelham consisting of Town Supervisor James Hyatt, David Carll (shipyard owner and one of the most successful businessmen in Pelham), and Stephen Pell (a notable civic citizen and ancestor of John Pell, nephew of Pelham founder Thomas Pell).  On behalf of Pelham, the committee traveled to Albany to complain to lawmakers that New York City contractors were illegally dumping refuse in the waters between Throggs Neck and City Island risking destruction of the oyster beds in the region, the mainstay of the Town's principal industry involving the planting, harvesting, and sale of oysters.  The committee asked the lawmakers to enforce preexisting law banning such dumping. 

On the lighter side, the news account described a host of social and recreational activities undertaken (or planned) by Pelhamites that brutally-cold February in 1875.  For example, the Merry Ten of City Island planned a grand "calico ball" -- by invitation only -- at Leviness Hall on the evening of Monday, February 22, 1875.  

The "Merry Ten" was a social club based on City Island in the Town of Pelham during the latter part of the nineteenth century.  It seems to have been active from at least the early 1870's through at least the mid 1880's and, indeed, was described in one article published in [1882] as "an old organization of City Island."  See PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], May 30, 1884, Vol. XV, No. 767, p. 3, col. 4 ("Last evening, the Merry Ten, an old organization of City Island, gave a complimentary ball, at Von Liehn's Hotel.").

In 1893, the highly-successful social club spawned a spin-off social club for the younger set known as "The Merry Ten, Jr."   The name "Merry Ten" was associated with unaffiliated social clubs throughout the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Social Clubs named "Merry Ten" can be found in San Francisco, Yonkers and even Lowell, Massachusetts.  There even was a dime novel story written by Harvey King Shackleford entitled "The Merry Ten; or, The Shadows of a Social Club. A Temperance Story."  I have written before about the "Merry Ten" of City Island.  See Wed., Sep. 03, 2014:  The Merry Ten Social Club of City Island in the Town of Pelham During the 19th Century.  

On Thursday Eve'g, Feb. 22d, 1872.  TICKETS, ADMITTING GENTLEMAN
AND LADIES, $1.00.  No Gentleman or Lady admitted on the floor, unless
Fancy Dressed and Masked, until after intermission.  J.M. FLYNN,
President. JOHN ADEMA, Sectretary.  M. KNAPP, Vice-President.
R. L. LINCOLN, Treasurer."  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

According to the same report, a charitable group named the Society of Earnest Workers formed by members of Grace Episcopal Church on City Island hosted a fundraiser consisting of an entertainment of tableaux and charades at Horton's Hall on the evening of Monday, February 8, 1875.  (A "tableaux," popular at the time, involved posing costumed people, objects and, sometimes, animals to represent a scene, famous picture, statue or the like.)  "Attendance was large" and the entertainment raised more than $10 to support the group's work.

The article further reported that a minstrel entertainment group known as the Stony Swamp Minstrels intended to give "one of their pleasing entertainments" at Leviness Hall on City Island later that month.  Minstrel shows, of course, were 19th and early 20th century entertainments that, sadly, lampooned African-Americans in burlesque settings with comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performances.  Little is known of this minstrel group that appears to have been based in the City Island region and even owned an ice boat named the "Stony Swamp" that competed in local races.  Hopefully additional research will reveal more about the history of this minstrel group.

The Stony Swamp Minstrels raced their iceboat named the "Stony Swamp" on the ice of frozen Pelham Bay during that brutal cold snap in 1875.  The ice boat raced against other local ice boats including the Town Dock and the Graham.  One such race, held on the ice of Pelham Bay on Saturday, February 6, 1875, was somewhat unusual.  Two ice boats raced a horse-drawn sleigh on the ice.  The ice boats beat the horse-drawn sleigh soundly, beating it by one-third of the distance across the entire bay. 

19th Century Stern Steerer Iceboats Likely Similar to Those
Raced on Frozen Pelham Bay on Saturday, February 6, 1875.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

 And . . . THAT's the way it was in February, 1875, in the Town of Pelham.

*          *          *          *          *

"City Island.

The Merry Ten of City Island will give a grand invitation calico ball at Capt. Leviness' Hall on Monday evening Feb. 22nd.

On Monday evening last the members of the Earnest Workers gave an entertainment consisting of tableaux and charades at Horton's Hall.  The attendance was large and the proceeds netted over $10.

During the past week about thirty prisoners have escaped from Hart's Island and City Island.  People have been crossing from one island to the other for several days.

The residents of the Island have several ice boats, the Stony Swamp, Town Dock and Graham, in successful operation on Pelham Bay.  The Stony Swamp is owned by the minstrel troupe of the same name.

On Wednesday last several boats were a whole day in getting from opposite City Island to Throggs Neck.

The Stony Swamp Minstrels intend giving one of their pleasing entertainments at Leviness's Hall about the 28th inst.

On Saturday last a race took place on Pelham Bay between two ice boats and a horse attached to a [sleigh] but the horse was beaten one third of the distance across the bay.

On Monday a committee of gentlemen from this place consisting of David Carll, Stephen Pell and Supervisor Hyatt went to Albany for the purpose of protesting against the dumping of refuse matter by the contractors of New York between Throgg's Neck and City Island.  The committee requested our members to use their utmost endeavors to have the law in relation to the above abuse enforced.  It forbids the dumping of all refuse matter one mile from Sandy Point.  This action has been taken in prevention of the destruction of oyster beds beginning that part of the Sound spoken of above as a dumping ground." 

Source:  City Island, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Feb. 12, 1875, Vol. VI, No. 282, p. 3, col. 2.

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