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.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Story of Mary Blizzard, a Pelham Squatter on an Island in Eastchester Creek


In about 1867, Mary A. Blizzard took over a tiny little island in Eastchester Creek.  She didn't own the one-acre island and made no pretense to try to gain title to the land.  She simply began building on the island adjacent to Pelham Bridge.  No one seemed to object.  She built several buildings including a hotel and connected buildings on the southern end of the island and a boat-house on the northern end.

The little hotel and boathouse became a destination for anglers and sporting types who came to Pelham, usually from New York City, to fish and hunt.  As the years passed, Mary Blizzard continued to improve the island, the hotel, and the boathouse.  

Members of the Blizzard family owned a good deal of land in the region from today's Westchester Square through much of the Pelham Bay area.  Indeed, David Blizzard operated a hotel built on pilings adjacent to Pelham Bridge during the 1870s.  Known colloquially as "Blizzard's," the establishment became known as the Grand View Hotel.  It seems likely that the hotel Mary A. Blizzard and Blizzard's (aka the Grand View Hotel) were one and the same, but extensive research efforts have not yet resolved this issue which remains confused because there were a surprisingly large number of hotels situated at the Pelham Bridge during the late 19th century.

Another important clue that suggests the two may have been one and the same is the following.  Mary A. Blizzard was an aunt of a man well known to readers of the Historic Pelham Blog:  William John "Jack" Elliott.  Jack Elliott managed the Grand View Hotel at Pelham Bridge for a time.  To learn more about Jack Elliott and the Grand View Hotel at Pelham Bridge, see:

Tue., Aug. 02, 2016:  More Research Regarding the 19th Century Grand View Hotel at Pelham Bridge.

Thu., Jan. 21, 2016:  Research Regarding David Blizzard's 19th Century Grand View Hotel at Pelham Bridge

Fri., Jul. 29, 2016: Shooting Death at the Grand View Hotel at Pelham Bridge in 1892.

In the 1880s, of course, New York City began assembling the lands necessary to form Pelham Bay Park.  Among those lands was the tiny little island on which Mary Blizzard's hotel and boathouse stood.

Because Mary Blizzard could not establish title to the island, the Commissioner of Estimate charged with valuing such properties and awarding the fair value for the properties taken by New York City to the properties' owners valued the island and its buildings but awarded the estimated amount to "unknown persons."  The Commissioner of Estimate valued the land of the island at $5,000 and the buildings that stood on the island at $8,350 for a total of $13,350 (about $450,000 in today's dollars).  Mary A. Blizzard immediately filed a petition seeking an award of the $13,350.

A referee heard the matter and concluded that Mary's possession of the property for more than twenty years constituted sufficient evidence that she was the rightful owner for purposes of receiving the money.  Mary Blizzard then petitioned the New York Supreme Court, General Term in the First Department seeking a confirmation of the referee's report in her favor.

The Court denied the petition, thereby ruling in favor of New York City.  The Court found that Mary Blizzard was a mere "squatter" whose use of the island failed to rise to the level necessary to establish the requirements of "adverse possession" under New York law -- a doctrine whereby someone who takes possession of another's real estate and claims title to the real estate exclusive of the right of any other actually takes title to the property after the passage of a sufficient period of time.  The Court ruled "It appears from the evidence taken in this proceeding that the taking of possession by the petitioner was not, in its commencement, hostile to the true title, and it does not appear when the petitioner commenced to claim title to the premium exclusive of any other right, if she ever did so; and as under no circumstances can possession be deemed adverse until this condition of affairs is made to appear, it is not in proof that there was any adverse possession of the petitioner for 20 years."

Mary Blizzard and her lawyer immediately turned to the State of New York where they were able to obtain special legislation entitled "AN ACT for the relief of Mary A. Blizzard" passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by the Governor on May 2, 1892.  The act required the Comptroller of the City of New York to advertise for seven weeks seeking to have anyone else who claimed and could prove title to the little island to come forward and so prove or the money would be paid to Mary Blizzard.

Eventually Mary Blizzard received substantial compensation not only for her little island and hotel, but also for other properties she owned that were taken by New York City as part of the creation of Pelham Bay Park.  Mary Blizzard became a wealthy woman with an estate worth $110,000 at the time of her death in July, 1912 (about $2.84 million in today's dollars).

Mary's story did not end with her death.  Mary left her entire estate to her "favorite nephew," Jack Elliott.  Jack went on one of the greatest benders ever seen in the history of Pelham -- indeed, a bender that may have killed him!  

Despite his past, by 1912 Jack Elliott was known as a responsible family man -- married with two sons.  When he received the fruits of his aunt's estate he took off, leaving his wife and sons behind.  He spent profligately.  He moved from roadhouse to roadhouse buying drinks for all and leaving tips of hundreds of dollars for barkeeps, cabbies, and others everywhere he went.  In only two months, Jack Elliott spent $75,000 (about $1.93 million in today's dollars).  Within a short time thereafter, Elliott spent $90,000 of the money left to him by his aunt.  Elliott was known to pick up a $150 bar tab for his pals, toss a $500 bill at the bar tender, then walk out without waiting for change.

Elliott's wife and sons, of course, were aghast and resorted to the courts.  They filed every conceivable claim they could muster against Jack Elliott.  They charged him with "abandonment, non-support, insanity, and everything else they could think of."  However, first they had to serve Jack Elliott with process.

Eventually, they used an army of process servers to present Jack Elliott with legal papers.  Elliott slipped out the back doors of many roadhouses avoiding such process servers.  By attaching various bank accounts, the family was able to slow Elliott's spending, but he maintained so many accounts that they could not stop his reckless ways.  


Finally, the army of process servers closed in on William John "Jack" Elliott.  According to one account, the process servers "established a line across Westchester County, particularly over the Pelham Parkway.  Guards were doubled and the party began to close in."  

The process servers, however, never got to Jack Elliott.  One fine morning they tracked the happy fellow to a roadhouse known as Bradley's only to learn that Jack Elliott had dropped dead of "apoplexy" (i.e., a stroke) at the age of 50.  Jack Elliott's days of profligate spending were over.  
     



Detail from Engraving Published in 1884 Showing Pelham Bridge. Structures
in the Background May Possibly Include Blizzard's Grand View Hotel, But This
Is Not Known With Certainty. Source: "PELHAM PARK, NEW YORK. --
DRAWN BY CHARLES GRAHAM.", Harper's Weekly, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1442,
1884, pp. 514 & 521. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.


*          *          *          *          *

"In re MAYOR, ETC., OF CITY OF NEW YORK.
In re BLIZZARD.
(Supreme Court, General Term, First Department.  February 18, 1892.)

ADVERSE POSSESSION -- RIGHTS OF SQUATTER.

A woman, finding a small island in Westchester creek [sic], near New York city, unoccupied, entered thereon without claim or color of title, record or otherwise, erected buildings thereon, and remained in possession for 20 years.  Held that, being a mere squatter, she could not obtain title by adverse possession.

Proceedings by the mayor, alderman, and commonalty of the city of New York to acquire lands under Laws N. Y. 1884, c. 512.  Mary A. Blizzard filed a petition therein, claiming a portion of moneys awarded by the commissioner of estimate to unknown persons.  Petitioner moves to confirm the report of a referee in her favor.  Denied.

Argued before VAN BRUNT, P. J., and BARRETT, J.

W. R. Lambertson, for petitioner.  C. D. Allendorf, for the city.

VAN BRUNT, P. J.  The commissioners of estimate, by their report in this proceeding, awarded the sum of $13,350 to unknown owners for parcel 691, in Pelham Bay park.  Of this, $5,000 was made for the land, and the balance, $8,350, for the buildings.  The petitioner claims to have been the owner of parcel 691 at the time of the confirmation, and of the report of the commissioners in said proceedings, and the referee has so found.  Her claim of ownership is not based upon any record title to said premises, but is founded wholly upon possession and occupancy of said property for a period of more than 20 years.  The parcel stands in an island in Westchester creek [sic], and is divided into two parts, which may be described as the northerly and southerly parts of the island, the dividing line being a public highway extending the whole length of the island, upon each side of which highway there is and was at the time the claimant went into possession a substantial stone wall or fence.  The petitioner went into possession of the southerly portion of the island more than 20 years prior to the confirmation of the report, and erected an hotel and buildings connected therewith, and has ever since remained in possession thereof.  Her entry does not seem to have been under any claim of title, and her occupation has been that of a squatter.  It is true that upon her examination she stated that she took possession of this property, claiming title thereto.  But it is apparent from her cross-examination that she made no claim of title at the time of her entry; but, to use her own language, she 'just squatted there, as it were.'  It further appeared that she had no record title to said premises, either by way of deed, grant, devise, or writing of any kind.  Her only acts of ownership in respect to the northerly portion of the island consisted in building a boat-house, and planting oysters and clams in the waters adjacent to the island.  Upon these facts the referee reported that the petitioner was entitled to the award made for the island in question.  In this, we think, he clearly erred.  It is plain that whatever the possession of the petitioner was, it was not under any claim of title, nor does it appear that she ever asserted ownership except by being in possession.  Under the definition of adverse possession, such possession, to be adverse, must be under claim of title; and naked possession, unaccompanied by such claim, can never ripen into a good title.  It necessarily follows that, where possession is under a claim of title, it must be made under some distinct claim of title, and not by a mere general assertion of ownership, without reference to any source from which such ownership can arise.  In other words, a mere squatter can never obtain title by adverse possession.  In order that possession of land shall be adverse, it must be shown that the land is held in hostility to the true owner's claim of title thereto.  It appears from the evidence taken in this proceeding that the taking of possession by the petitioner was not, in its commencement, hostile to the true title, and it does not appear when the petitioner commenced to claim title to the premium exclusive of any other right, if she ever did so; and as under no circumstances can possession be deemed adverse until this condition of affairs is made to appear, it is not in proof that there was any adverse possession of the petitioner for 20 years.  In view of the conclusion at which we have arrived in regard to the main question involved, it is not necessary to discuss the distinction between the nature of the possession of the northerly and southerly half of the island.  Upon the whole case we think that the claim of the petitioner is defective in establishing a right to the moneys which have been awarded for the taking of the premises in question."

Source:  In re Blizzard, 18 N.Y. Supp. 82-84 (Gen. Term, 1st Dep't, Feb. 18, 1892).  

"CHAP. 430.

AN ACT for the relief of Mary A. Blizzard.

APPROVED by the Governor May 2, 1892.  Passed, three-fifths being present.

The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

Advertising for claimants to awards.

SECTION 1.  The comptroller of the city of New York is hereby directed to advertise once in each week for seven successive weeks, as soon as practicable after the passage of this act, in a daily newspaper published in the said city for claimants to the awards now in his custody made for the parcel known as parcel number six hundred and ninety-one, Pelham Bay Park, made to 'unknown owners,' by the commissioners of estimated appointed under and pursuant to the provisions of chapter five hundred and twenty-two of the laws of eighteen hundred and eighty-four.

Payment of amount to M. A. Blizzard

[SECTION] 2.  If no other claimant shall appeal and prove title to the said awards to the satisfaction of the said comptroller within three months after the first publication of said notice, then the said comptroller is hereby authorized and directed to pay over the amount of said awards to Mary A. Blizzard of the town of Pelham, the present occupant of the said premises.

Release of city from liability.  Suits, etc., against city barred

[SECTION] 3.  Upon the completion of the advertising, as herein provided for, and upon the expiration of the said limitation, and upon the payment of the said awards to Mary A. Blizzard, the mayor, aldermen, and commonalty of the city of New York shall be forever released and discharged from any liability to any person or persons whomsoever for the said award or any part thereof, and any suit, action or special proceeding which may thereafter be brought against the said mayor, aldermen and commonalty of the city of New York to recover the said awards or any part thereof shall be deemed to be barred by the limitations of this act.

[Section] 4.  This act shall take effect immediately."

Source:  CHAP. 430 -- AN ACT for the relief of Mary A. Blizzard, The General Statutes of the State of New York for the Year 1892, p. 1035 (Albany, NY:  Weed, Parsons and Co., 1892).  

"A WOMAN SQUATTER.
-----
She Occupies an Island, Builds a Hotel and Tries to Sell the Property.

Mrs. Mary A. Blizzard is in a fair way to acquire property rather easily obtained.  More than twenty-five years ago she squatted on an island in Eastchester Creek, about an acre in area.  This land is now in Pelham Bay Park.  She built a hotel there valued at $8,350, the surrounding land being set down as worth $5,000.  When the city took possession of the Pelham Bay Park property Mrs. Blizzard put in a claim for payment of $13,350, but as she could give no title, the city refused to settle with her.  She brought suit in the courts, relying on her undisputed possession of over twenty years, but the general term decided against her.  A bill was passed by the last Legislature for Mrs. Blizzard's relief.  Under it the comptroller will advertise for owners.  If no one but Mrs. Blizzard appears her claim will be paid."

Source:  A WOMAN SQUATTER -- She Occupies an Island, Builds a Hotel and Tries to Sell the Property, The Hartford Courant [Hartford, CT], May 6, 1892, p. 7, cols. 1-2

"SUDDENLY RICH, SPENT $75,000 IN 2 MONTHS
-----
Widow Appointed Executrix of $25,000 Estate 'Jack' Elliott Left.
-----

In an effort to save for his family the remainder of the estate of William J. Elliott, better known as 'Jack' Elliott, who spent $75,000 in two months, his widow was appointed executrix yesterday.  Elliott reduced a fortune of $100,000 to $25,000 by lavish spending.  

Elliott died suddenly of apoplexy on Friday last in a roadhouse in Port Chester just before a warrant was to be served on him for abandonment.  He was buried the Sunday following in the Blizzard homestead, Pelham Bay.  Other legal proceedings having failed to check Elliott in his mania for throwing away money, his wife had decided to have him arrested for abandonment in hope of having him removed to a sanatorium.

Until last July, when Elliott's aunt, Mary Blizzard, died, he was a model as a family man.  He, his wife and two sons lived happily in the Pelham Bay homestead.  By the death of his aunt he inherited the greater part of her fortune.  Then came a whirlwind change in Elliott's life.

Frequented by Astor.

Six or seven years ago 'Jack' Elliott owned and conducted the Pelham Bay Park Hotel, a roadhouse frequented by Colonel John Jacob Astor and others who figured in finance and society.  He made hundreds of friends.

About April, 1912, Elliott's aunt was awarded $75,000 from the city for Pelham Bay property.  She died in July.

On August 1 Elliott got $40,000 in cash, part being the city's award money and part from his aunt.  In less than fifteen days this money was nearly all gone.  He is said to have spent $500 a night, his wine bill for a week running over $1,000.  At different times he drew on his inheritance liberally.

Elliott's relatives and friends became alarmed.  Bennett E. Siegelstein, attorney, in No. 90 Nassau street, formerly Assemblyman from the old Eighth district, was engaged by Mrs. Elliott to see what could be done.  Three writs of attachment failed of their purpose.

Entertained the 'Boys.'

Elliott disappeared from his home, but his sons found he was living in the Colonial Hotel, Eighth avenue and 125th street.  Automobile trips from the hotel to roadhouses were features of entertainment for the boys as he called his friends.

In September, Siegelstein got a writ for the appointment of a receiver and an injunction to tie up the property Elliott kept him busy trying to find him.

Elliott deposited in the Nassau Trust Company on August 9 $26,000, but by the time the lawyer could get an attachment against the bank $14,000 had been drawn and spent by Elliott.

Elliott's widow was Sarah E. Doherty.  She was wealthy in her own right."

Source:  SUDDENLY RICH, SPENT $75,000 IN 2 MONTHS -- Widow Appointed Executrix of $25,000 Estate "Jack" Elliott Left, N.Y. Press, Sep. 25, 1912, p. 7, col. 5.  

"SPENT $90,000 IN TEN MONTHS, THEN HE DIED.
-----
Jack Elliott Didn't Go Near White Light District With His Roll.  --  Windfall From His Aunt.
-----

How to spend $90,000 in New York City in ten months and not go near Broadway and Forty-second street was told in detail last Tuesday about the time letters of administration in the estate of William J. Elliott were awarded to Sarah E. Elliott, the widow.

Elliott, universally known as Jack, was the man who did the spending.  He dropped dead at Bradley's roadhouse, Port Chester, September 20.

Bennett E. Siegelstein, attorney for the estate, told the story after the letters had been awarded.  He undid a large bundle of papers and pointed to about five check books which had been reduced almost to the covers.

'Those check books and the balanced bank books tell the story of how Jack Elliott spent $90,000 in this short space of time,' he said, 'and they show that out of $110,000 cash a year ago not more than $15,000 remains.  It also shows that at the moment he dropped dead he was just drawing another check for $500, which had become his average daily expenditure.'

Then Mr. Siegelstein illuminated his subject, Jack Elliott, about 50 years of age, was a member of the Blizzard family, which owned much of Pelham Bay  conjointly with the Doherty family.  He married Sarah E. Doherty nearly thirty years ago.  Elliott for years ran the Pelham Bay roadhouse, known to automobilists and drivers.  He was a steady family man.

Elliott had two sons, David, now 25, and Julian J., 20 years old.  The sole living representative of the old Blizzard family up to April of this year was Miss Mary A. Blizzard, and Jack Elliott was her favorite nephew.

When the city took part of the property for Westchester Square and then took some more for the bridge she got about $110,000 in cash, leaving more to come.

Miss Blizzard turned this money over to Jack, and when she died in April her will left everything to him.  At the time he got the money Elliott was living with his family in the old Doherty homestead up on the bay.  He started out to drink wine and to have all his friends and neighbors drink with him.

The family remonstrated and Elliott left home.  They complained, and he got a revolver threatening to use it on anyone who tried to stop him.  Inside of three months he was going strong and at the end of six months he was the most popular man from Port Chester to 125th street.  He had wine before he got up for breakfast, between meals and at all meals.  Also every one who came near him had it.

One night he went into the Colonial, according to Mr. Siegelstein, and ordered wine for everybody.  The bill ws $150.  He tossed over a $500 bill and walked out without waiting for change.  He had a regular arrangement with the taxicab men, who would charge him $25 for going from the Colonial to a Pelham Bay roadhouse.  His usual procedure was to tell the chauffeur to keep the change out of a $100 bill.

Elliott, it is said, met some Italian labors one day working on a new building.  He got their dinner buckets and filled them with champagne by permission of the owners.  The Contractor had his bricks laid to grand opera the rest of the day, and the inspector condemned the job at that.

His family got after the man in real earnest about the end of July.  They went to court and Mr. Siegelstein got an order to show cause why he should not be restrained from spending his money.  They wanted him locked up for observation.  A process server could not get within half a mile of him.  A process server would come in the front door and Elliott would take a taxicab from the back door to go whizzing to the next roadhouse.

The sons who led in the search came upon their father one day and tried to get him to go with them.  They were holding him by conversation until an officer could arrive.  He gave them $1,500 and told them to buy a motorboat, then vanished.  A process server chased the man down to a house in East Eighty-fourth street owned by the estate, but not yet turned into money.  The process server was greeted by a dog which bit him.  While the process server was attending to the dog, Elliott was flying uptown in a convenient taxi.

Then the family got real busy.  They got a summons, a warrant, an injunction, a mandamus and a few other writs in the hope of getting the man on something.  They charged him with abandonment, non-support, insanity, and everything else they could think of.  The company of process servers did not fare any better than the original scouts.  They were always close on the trail, but the man was ahead of them.

Finally they established a line across Westchester County, particularly over the Pelham Parkway.  Guards were doubled and the party began to close in.  They arrived at Bradley's that morning of the 20th to find the search ended.  The doctors said that apoplexy had ended the man's career.

Nobody seems to have been particularly hurt by the man's weird career of prodigality.  The estate is still large in property.  The city still owes $15,000 and Mrs. Elliott has the Doherty estate in addition."

Source:  SPENT $90,000 IN TEN MONTHS, THEN HE DIED -- Jack Elliott Didn't Go Near White Light District With His Roll  --  Windfall From His Aunt, Dobbs Ferry Register [Dobbs Ferry, NY], Sep. 27, 1912, Vol. XXX, No. 39, p. 5, col. 3.  

"Spent $75,000 In Two Months.

New York, Oct. 15.  --  In an effort to save for his family the remainder of the estate of William J. Elliott, better known as 'Jack' Elliott, who spent $75,000 in two months, his widow was appointed executrix.  Elliott reduced a fortune of $100,000 to $25,000 by lavish spending.

Elliott died suddenly of apoplexy in a roadhouse in Port Chester just before a warrant was to be served on him for abandonment.  He was buried the Sunday following in the Blizzard homestead, Pelham Bay.  Other legal proceedings having failed to check Elliott in his mania for throwing away money, his wife had decided to have him arrested for abandonment in hope of having him removed to a sanatorium.

Until last July, when Elliott's aunt, Mary Blizzard, died, he was a model as a family man.  He, his wife, and two sons lived happily in the Pelham Bay homestead.  By the death of his aunt, he inherited the greater part of her fortune.  Then came a whirlwind change in Elliott's life."

Source:  Spent $75,000 In Two Months, Journal and Republican and Lowville Times [Lowville, NY], Oct. 17, 1912, Vol. 53, No. 49, Sec. 2, p. 9, col. 2.

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