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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Early Essay on the History of Pelham Manor Published in 1901

As one might surmise from the 2,206 Historic Pelham articles published online so far, Pelham Manor -- indeed, the entire Town of Pelham -- is a very historic place.  Histories of the Town have been written and published since at least 1848.  See Bolton, Jr., Robert, A History of the County of Westchester From Its First Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. I, ch. "Pelham", pp. 513-59 (New York: Alexander S. Gould 1848) (this is a single chapter from the two volume 1st edition of Bolton's seminal history of Westchester County; a revised edition was published in 1881 and an extremely rare revised 3rd edition was privately printed in 1905).

In 1899, the little settlement of Pelham Manor was only 26 years old.  The formal Village of Pelham Manor was only eight years old.  Yet, the New Rochelle Pioneer recognized that the region long had been of historic significance and, thus, published an essay on the history of Pelham Manor.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the brief essay was its focus on the fact that famed 19th Century authors Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper had close ties to Pelham Manor and were influenced in many of their fictional accounts contained in some of their most famous works by their experiences in Pelham Manor.

For example, it long has been known that important parts of "The Spy:  A Tale of the Neutral Ground," an early novel by James Fenimore Cooper first published in two volumes in 1821, are set in parts of the Manor of Pelham once known as "Roosevelt's Wood."  Indeed, a few years ago this author hosted a "Novel Night" dinner for the Public Library of the Town of Pelham using "The Spy" as the "theme" for the dinner given that portions of the novel were inspired by Roosevelt's Wood of Pelham Manor.  (See photograph below.)

The Author, Dressed for a Pelham Public Library "Novel
Night" Dinner Using James Fenimore Cooper's "The Spy:
A Tale of the Neutral Ground" as the Theme.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

The full text of the history essay appears below.  It summarizes a host of historic events that occurred in and around Pelham.  Interestingly, near the end of the essay it describes what then were current events.  Even these descriptions shed additional light on the history of the Town including the founding of the Pelham Marine and Field Club on Shore Road and the Pelham Summer Home for children once supported by the entire town.

The brief history essay is recommended reading for aficionados of Pelham history.  It appears immediately below, followed by a citation and link to its source.

*          *          *          *          *

"Few of the persons who live in, or visit Pelham Manor, know the many historical spots of that pretty village, or recall the many great men who have gathered material for the Nation's history in the garden spot where the English, French and Dutch originally settled.  In this the 20th century, when one looks back upon the days when Washington Irving and William [sic] Fenimore Cooper lived, it is hardly possible to realize that Pelham Manor and the other villages between the Harlem River and East Chester were the scenic ground from which the authors of the 'Sketch Book' and 'The Spy' drew their inspiration.

That famous story citing early Colonial Annals:  Ann Hutchinson, after which Hutchinson's Creek is named forms part of the history of the place, Revolutionary history centered there, though to-day one cannot find much to connect it with the early struggle for American independence.  In those bye-gone [sic] days, there were Indian traditions, there was the bartering Dutch French Protestantism reigned for a time, and then there came the English allegiance from which the present village of Pelham has grown.

To speak of Pelham, is to speak of Westchester county for the ground formed the scene of many battles lay between the Harlem River and White Plains.  Many of the incidents took place in what formerly was called Roosevelt's Wood, where the Manor now stands.  This village was established 25 years ago.  Prior to the Revolution, Pelham formed a portion of the old Manor of that name.  It contained 9166 [sic] acres, the Lordship and the Manor of Pelham being the title under the original grant.  Thomas Pell was the first owner.  John, his nephew, was the second lord of Pelham.  Descendants of these Lords lived in the Old Pelham House, a ruin just over the brow of Prospect Hill and in view of the Boston post road [Editor's Note:  This is a somewhat tortured and inaccurate reference to the home known today as "Pelhamdale" located at 45 Iden Avenue and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.]

The spot is one which has been visited often of late, because it is upon Revolutionary ground, and many a bullet has been taken from its walls, while repairs were being made.  Some of the locks and keys taken from the doors, show that they were made more than a century ago.  A walk toward the Sound from Prospect Hill over the shore road, and one comes to Bartow, called after Bartow's of Georgia, relatives of the present Bartow's of Astoria, L. I.  It is at Bartow that one finds the last resting places of the Pells.  Further on, one comes to the 'Old Boston Road' or Kingsbridge Turnpike, the first direct stage coach line to Boston.  It passed through East Chester, followed the course of Hutchinson's Creek, in a shallow spot where the creek was forded.  The continuation of the Boston Road is now known as the Reynolds property and now marks the boundary between Pelham Manor and Pelham Heights.

There is another road equally as old as the Old Boston Road -- that is the Split Rock Road.  At one time it was the single highway between City Island and the Pelhams.  Because of a fissure in a huge rock, not far from Boston Road, the road was called Split Rock.  It was along this road that Washington's army retreated [sic] after his defeat at the battle of Long Island, during the war of the Revolution.  Another land mark, of much interest is St. Paul's Church in East Chester.  It was founded 200 years ago.  Though the present edifice is not so old, it is still considered to be quite ancient, having been erected in 1765.  Many of the tombstones in the yard bear date of 1710 and 1712.  Christ Church, founded in 1843, was the first building devoted to religious worship and instruction ever commenced in Pelham.  'The Priory,' now a private residence, fifty years ago was a fashionable boarding school for New York girls.  

One thing which always attracts the attention of strollers on Boston Road, between Pelhamdale Avenue and the Esplanade is a small brown stone bearing the mark '17 m.'  It indicates the distance from that point to New York City [sic; should be City Hall in New York City] is 17 miles.  It has been where it now stands for over 100 years, and is undoubtedly one of the first mile stones placed to mark the Boston Road.  Some of the things which have disappeared, are the toll gates between Pelham Manor and New Rochelle, Glen Island, at one time the residence of the Depan family, was for a long time the retreat of Louis Napoleon while he was in exile.  

There are no persons living now who remember Pelham Manor as it was 200 years ago, still tradition remains, and there are many persons who read today of the beautiful flower garden of Westchester County.  Still there are many others who possess no knowledge of its peculiar character or exact location.  So within 50 years ago, the boundary of New York City was no more limited than at the present time.  The residents were mostly the descendants of the early settlers. Pelham Manor was suggestive of large handsome old mansions, the name not being intended to convey the geographical location.  It meant beautiful wooded drives, horseback rides, rowing and sailing, in fact an ideal existence.

From what was once a veritable country has now sprung up the city, the heart of which can be reached in half an hour from Pelham Manor.  One of the great advantages of the Manor is that the summer temperature is from 6 to 8 degrees less than that of the city.  Pelham Manor is growing rapidly, improvements are being made almost daily, so that soon the name of Pelham Manor will be the envy of the surrounding country.

What greatly impresses visitors to Pelham Manor the beauty of the village and that is due in a great measure to the Village Improvement Society.  Members of the American Scenic and Historical Society approve of the many steps which has [sic] been taken by the local organization for adding to the natural beauties for which Pelham Manor is noted.  Who is generally responsible for the great improvement in Pelham Manor it is impossible to state, for every one in the village seems to have been imbued with the idea that something should be done and before any organization was effected the residents of the place each constituted himself a Committee of One, to see that something necessary was done.

True the improvements were in a great measure, to the individual property owners, residences, still such wholesaled enthusiasm was bound to lead to the organization of a village improvement society.

To these residents of New York city, John Jay, Peter Bayard and John Chambers belong the credit of being the first public improvers.  They inaugurated the public park system now in vogue, and the first sight [sic] was Bowling Green, near the Battery.  In Pelham Manor the Esplanade is the public monument to Mrs. Robert C. Black and Messrs. David and John Johnson, who in Pelham Mano, are now what John Chambers, Peter Bayard and John Jay were in New York city when the now great metropolis, had a population of only 50,000 persons.

At a recent meeting of the Society for the Improvement of Pelham Manor, an interesting paper on the subject 'What I know about trees,' by Joseph Arthur, was presented for the consideration of the members.  His paper in part was:  'Too many trees were unhealthy.  When too close together, they became diseased; and not only kill the grass by absorption, but they kill each other, and it is an admitted fact that a sickly tree emits odors and malarial poisons depressing and injurious, and sometimes fatal for humanity to breathe.  I believe that two out of every three trees on a lawn are tramps, and should be treated like tramps -- driven off.  I regard the majority of trees as useless except perhaps for the posting of a 'Lost Dog' notice or a warning from the tax collectors, not to dodge him.

'The most beautiful boulevard in America is Euclid avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.  The trees there will not exceed an average of three to an acre.  At least its freedom from an indiscriminate growth of trees and bushes (and its trolley) are the principal features, that have made the magnificent thoroughfare famous throughout the world.

'Oh, woodman, spare that tree,' yes spare that tree, but do not spare all trees.'

All of which may be very true Mr. Authur, but in Euclid avenue, a business thoroughfare, with a trolley line up and down, one does not look for shade trees.  In the country though, it is different.  The only persons who really want trees cut down, are the owners of saw mills and paper mills, and their object is not for health or beauty, but simply for gain.

When a member of the Pelham Manor Club wants to be particularly agreeable to some of his out of town friends, he invites him to the Pelham Manor Club.  It is a social organization, and if a college would be called a 'Co-Ed' Institution as both men and women are admitted to memberships.  The deed calling for the ground for the club house becomes void the moment spiritous [sic] liquors are used or sold in the club.  Pelham Manor is perhaps one of the few places in the country where a club of this kind can be supported.

At last there is general joy among the residents of Pelham Manor because of the Field and Marine Club.  This is due largely to the efforts of Ezra T. Gilliland and B. M. Staples who have devoted time and money to the development of a recreation place such as would afford both entertainment and exercise to the club members.  For a long time the club has been wanted and the inability of the Manorites to locate a suitable spot for a [illegible] cause of much [illegible].  Recently the great advance in the price of water front property caused residents to realize that if ground was not secured at once, soon valuations would be so high that it would be impossible to secure the necessary location.

It was then that Messrs. Gilliland and Staples took a hand in the play.  A company was formed and stock to the amount of $10,000 issued at a par value of $25 a share.  Then an acre of land was purchased on the water front and a picturesque little club house was constructed, facing the Long Island Sound.  The club house is complete even to the smallest detail and in the club, members may eat and sleep while a pier 100 feet long affords a suitable landing place for craft of limited size.

Although this is late in the season, many persons who have resided in Pelham for the last summer are making arrangements for the return there next year.

The last season has been a very successful one as far as the Summer Home is concerned.  From July 1st to the middle of September, hundreds of children from the nurseries and settlements in New York City were housed there.  As the home is maintained solely on the annual subscription of the members, it is a worthy thing, indeed, for all to send in his or her donation."

Source:  [Untitled], The New Rochelle Press, Nov. 9, 1901, Vol. XXVII, No. 24, p. 2, cols. 3-4.

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