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 23, 2018

The Pelham Heights Police Force: A Little History

Though difficult to imagine, the neighborhood of Pelham Heights once was a village of its own.  Though barely a square mile in size, New York passed special legislation to permit incorporation of the tiny village in 1896.

Formally named the Village of Pelham, it had no police force during its first six or so years.  The neighborhood relied on Town of Pelham Constables for its policing at the time.  

According to one account, Pelham Heights hired its first uniformed police officer in 1903.  His name was John Smith.  The same account noted:  "He had to buy his own uniform, but since there were no clocks to punch or alarms to ring in those days, duties were on the informal side."  In 1903, one of John Smith's principal policing duties was to meet each train that arrived at Pelham station during the evenings and nights and "walk the residents home."

By about 1905, it was time for Pelham Heights to appoint a Police Chief to oversee the work of the tiny department that was responsible for the tiniest incorporated village in the State of New York.  The village opted to appoint Village of Pelham Manor Police Chief Raphael H. Marks also to serve at the same time as Village of Pelham Police Chief.  He served in that capacity from 1905 until 1910.

Village of North Pelham Historian J. Gardner Minard recalled the succession of Village of Pelham Police Chiefs from the beginnings of the Department until the 1950s slightly differently.  He recalled the line of succession as follows:

John Smith 
Fred Quick
George Sundquist
Raphael H. Marks
George Holden
Joseph McGuire
George Duff
Arthur Burrows (Served as Chief from 1951 until his death on March 30, 1962)
John Keppel (Acting Chief) 

The first Village of Pelham Police Station was located in the storefront at 103 Wolfs Lane where it remained until 1923.

103 Wolfs Lane Where the First Village of Pelham
Police Station was Located Until 1923.  Source:
Google Maps.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

In 1923, the Village of Pelham Police Station moved to larger space within the Village of Pelham Village Hall in a residence that once was located at 198 Sparks Avenue, across the street from today's Village Hall.  In 1940,  the Village of Pelham moved its Village Hall (and its police station) across the street to the residential structure at 195 Sparks Avenue that serves today as Village of Pelham Village Hall.  

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Below is the text of an article published in 1963 that provides much of the information that forms the basis of today's Historic Pelham article.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source. 

"Westchester Today!
Pelham Village Police:  Once Shared A Chief

The police department of the village of Pelham can claim 3-1/2 ways in which its history may be different from the police departments of North Pelham and Pelham Manor.

Pelham was the first department to have a uniformed policeman.  He was John Smith, appointed in 1903.  He had to buy his own uniform, but since there were no clocks to punch or alarms to ring in those days, duties were on the informal side.  A principal one was to meet the night trains and to walk the residents home.

Pelham was the only department in Pelham Town to have captains as head of the department -- Joseph McGuire and George Duff.

A third point is having an unsolved murder.  The victim was Julius Rosenheimer.  J. Gardner Minard, village historian of North Pelham, is the authority for details on that case and on the lines of succession of the Pelham Police.

The remaining half point difference is that Pelham and Pelham Manor once shared the same police chief.  He was Chief Raphael H. Marks of Pelham Manor, who served from 1905 to 1910.

Starting with John Smith in 1903, the line of succession was Fred Quick, George Sundquist, Chief Marks, George Holden, Joseph McGuire, and George Duff.  In 1951, the late Arthur Burrows, brother of Chief George Burrows of North Pelham, was appointed chief.  He directed the affairs of the department until his death last March 30.

Acting Chief John Keppel is now head of the department.  Headquarters is at village hall, a converted residence that retains a quaint Colonial charm.

The first station was located in a store at 103 Wolf's Lane.  It remained there until 1923 when headquarters was moved to 198 Sparks Ave., across from its present location.  It's been at 195 Sparks Ave. since 1940.

Pelham's most famous criminal case was the unsolved murder of Julius Rosenheimer.

Mr. Rosenheimer was the proprietor of the London Needle Corp. of New York.  His house was located on the present site of the Pelham Picture House at 175 Wolf's Lane.

On election night, Nov. 6, 1905, as Mr. Minard remembers it, he was sitting in the home of the newly elected Supervisor Louis C. Young (1905-07) discussing the returns when word came, there was a murder on the Rosenheimer place.  

Earlier Mr. Rosenheimer had told his wife he thought he saw someone in the garden near the creek.  The Rosenheimer property ran down to the Hutchinson River and as far south as the Boulevard.  Saying he was going to investigate, Mr. Rosenheimer left Mrs. Rosenheimer.

A moment later Mr. Rosenheimer was heard to cry:  'Mother, They're killing me!'  Mrs. Rosenheimer screamed and fainted. Her son, Edward, and Kid Everett, a fight trainer friend ran out.  When they reached Mr. Rosenheimer they found him stretched on the ground.  He had been bludgeoned to death.

The Village of Pelham comprises one square mile of territory and has a population of 2,106 persons, according to the recent police department census.  There are 1,227 adults, 879 children and 171 dogs.  Six hundred and one families live in 495 private homes and six apartment houses.  There are 70 stores and offices.

To police this community Chief Koppel directs a force of three sergeants, 10 patrolmen and two civilian crossing guards.  Equipment is modern consisting of two patrol cars with first aid kits, oxygen units, fire extinguishers, blankets and radios."

Source:  Westchester Today! -- Pelham Village Police:  Once Shared A Chief, The Herald Statesman [Yonkers, NY], Feb. 22, 1963, p. 23, cols. 1-4.

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