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 16, 2018

Women of Pelham Were Agitated in 1885 and Did Something About It!

Citizens of the Town of Pelham have a longstanding tradition of civic-mindedness and vigorous activism whenever the need arises.  Pelhamites were no different in 1885, more than 130 years ago.

Pelham had a problem in 1885.  More specifically, City Island in the Town of Pelham had a problem.  Its unpaved roads quickly became a rutted, muddy mess when it rained.  Indeed, according to one local newspaper, "Usually in wet weather the would be pedestrian at City Island has to choose between wading and swimming."  Rain and mud were not the only problems, howeverEven when the roads were dry, dust ruined the hems of ladies' long skirts of the day.  

As has happened so frequently for one hundred and fifty years or more in Pelham, when such a problem arose, Pelhamites formed a group to deal with it.  The ladies of City Island were no exception that year.  They formed the "Ladies Sidewalk Association."

The purpose of the Ladies Sidewalk Association was to "agitate" for the construction of a sidewalk nearly the length of City Island.  The association organized in about January, 1885 to raise private funds to pay for construction of wooden plank sidewalks "wide enough for two to walk comfortably together."  According to one account, "dapper young men" liked to visit City Island ladies "to promenade" in the evenings which was difficult without wooden sidewalks "other than [on] moonlight nights" when the water and mud could be avoided.

 The Ladies Sidewalk Association meant business.  By February 4, 1885, a local newspaper reported that the organization already had held two meetings and raised about $500 (nearly $17,300 in today's dollars) to fund construction of the wooden sidewalk. 

 At about this same time, Town authorities were engaged in an initiative to macadamize two important town roads:  (1) City Island Road leading from Bartow Station to City Island; and (2) Pelhamdale Avenue that crossed the settlement of Pelham Manor and across a corner of what came to be known as Pelham Heights.

Wooden sidewalks were built.  While logic dictates the money raised by the Ladies Sidewalk Association likely played a role, a diligent search of the extant record has failed to reveal any direct association.  Yet, the incident reveals much about the long tradition of civic-mindedness and vigorous activism among Pelhamites seeking to improve our community!

 Map of Town of Pelham with Inset of City Island, 1868.
Source:  Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity, p. 35
(NY, NY:  Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1868).

*          *          *          *          *


The Ladies' Sidewalk Association held a meeting last Tuesday night at the residence of Mr. Joseph Powell.  They intend to keep agitating this subject until a sidewalk is built nearly the entire length of the Island. . . ."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 30, 1885, Vol. XVI, No. 802, p. 3, col. 3.


-- The subject of sidewalks in City Island is being agitated again.  The Ladies' Sidewalk Association met the other night at Mr. Joseph Powell's and they intend to keep up the agitation. . . ."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, Feb. ?, 1885, p. 3, col. 7 (page is undated and remainder of the newspaper is missing; content clearly indicates it was published roughly the first week of February before Saturday, February 7, 1885).


A sidewalk association has been formed by a number of ladies at City Island, and they propose to have plank walks built on every part of the island before summer sets in.  Usually in wet weather the would be pedestrian at City Island has to choose between wading and swimming.  The proposed sidewalks are to be wide enough for two to walk comfortably together, and the dapper young men who come weekly to visit them from Mount Vernon and adjoining towns will not find it disagreeable to promenade on other than moonlight nights.  The association has held two meetings and has $450 in the treasury already."

Source:  WESTCHESTER NOTES, The Evening Telegram [NY, NY], Feb. 2, 1885, p 3, col. 2.

"THE COUNTY. . . .

A SIDEWALK ASSOCIATION.  --  An association composed of ladies of City Island has been formed with the object of laying good plank walks through all the streets of the island.  They have had only two meetings, but have already about $500 in the treasury.  Heretofore after heavy rains the streets have been almost impassable on account of pools of water and mud. . . ."

Source:  THE COUNTY -- A SIDEWALK ASSOCIATION, The Yonkers Statesman, Feb. 4, 1885, Vol. II, No. 379, p. 1, col. 4.

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