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.

Friday, January 02, 2015

John H. Starin Fails to Secure a Steamboat Landing Site in Pelham for the Glen Island Amusement Park

During the late 1870s, John H. Starin acquired and developed "Locust Island" just off the coast of New Rochelle. He renamed the island "Starin's Glen Island" and built the world's most successful amusement park up to that time. Starin eventually operated a fleet of steamboats that brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to Glen Island each year. By its sixth year of operation, more than a million visitors a year visited the amusement park. 

The vast majority of those one million annual visitors arrived via steamboats and ships.  They needed a landing place convenient to Glen Island (or at least to the mainland dock from which a chain ferry could carry them the short distance to the island).   Pelham Manor was only a short walking distance to the chain ferry to Glen Island.  

In the early 1890s, however, John H. Starin faced a potential crisis for his amazingly-successful "day resort" located on Glen Island.  For many years, many visitors entered the amusement park by proceeding to a mainland road that led across a causeway and over what was then called "Neptune House Island" to the chain ferry landing used to reach Glen Island.  By the early 1890s, the principal owner of local lands on the mainland, Adrian Iselin, stepped forth and claimed that the road across the causeway and over Neptune House Island to the ferry landing was a private road that he could control as he pleased.  The owner of the Glen Island resort, John H. Starin, disputed that assertion, claiming that the roadway had been used by the public for so long that it was either a public roadway or that an easement of passage in favor of the owners of Glen Island had been created.  

The resulting judicial battle yo-yo'ed from New York trial court to the State's highest court (the New York Court of Appeals) and back throughout much of the mid-1890s.  Indeed, papers submitted to the various courts provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of Glen Island and the area adjacent to it on the mainland.  See, e.g.:

New York Court of Appeals:  Adrian Iselin, Plaintiff and Appellant against John H. Starin, Defendant and Respondent, Case on Appeal (NY, NY:  Benj. H. Tyrrel, Printer, 1894).

Iselin v. Starin, 144 N.Y. 453 (N.Y. 1895).  

A Detail from 1891 Advertisement for Starin's Glen Island.

Though the Iselin v. Starin dispute deals principal with issues relevant to the history of New Rochelle, there was an interesting spillover from the dispute that involved Pelham, Travers Island, the New York Athletic Club and a Pelham Manor resident named E. C. Roosevelt.  

Like any sound businessperson, once John H. Starin learned that a principal means of ingress and egress to the location of his wildly-successful business on Glen Island was under attack, he began searching for a backup.  He looked to nearby Travers Island, summer home of the New York Athletic Club, and to a dock owned by E. C. Roosevelt of Pelham Manor.  

Starin made an offer to buy Travers Island from the New York Athletic Club for $150,000.  He was readily rebuffed.  Next, Starin turned to the little dock attached to lands owned by E. C. Roosevelt.  Roosevelt was no fool, however.  He knew, according to one article, that residents of the Town of Pelham considered most of the day travelers from New York City who flocked to Starin's Glen Island during the warm summer months to be visitors who were "not desirable."  Based on a published account quoted below, he seemed to fear what might be the result to his social standing in the small town of Pelham if he facilitated the disembarkation of hordes of City visitors onto the streets of Pelham before those visitors made their way up Shore Road and Pelham Road to the roadway to Glen Island.  Roosevelt also said "no."

A brief article about John H. Starin's predicament as he searched for a new landing place for Glen Island visitors appeared in the February 17, 1892 issue of The Evening Post published in New York City.  It mentioned Starin's unsuccessful efforts to acquire Travers Island and to arrange a landing on the "Shoal Harbor Dock" adjacent to the lands of E.C. Roosevelt.  It is quoted in full below, followed by a citation to its source.  

1881 Trade Card Advertisement for Starin's Glen Island, Obverse.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

"Mr. Starin's Search for a Landing Place.

The suit of Adrian Iselin, sr., against John H. Starin, to settle the question whether Mr. Starin had the right to land his Glen Island passengers at Moses Island, New Rochelle, or not, will be heard next month at White Plains.  In the meantime, Mr. Starin has been looking about for a place of landing in case Mr. Iselin gets the best of him.  It was his intention to move his landing dock at Glen Island to the lower part of the island, near 'Little Germany,' providing he could obtain from the New York Athletic Club, Travers Island, which is directly opposite, and so make a landing place from which passengers could be taken directly to Pelham Manor station on the Harlem branch road and thereby avoid all connection with New Rochelle.  Apart from his suit with Mr. Iselin, Mr. Starin had much trouble from the Law and Order League of New Rochelle, and has had to pay heavily for his licenses to sell liquor and beer.  By getting Travers Island he could take out a license in the town of Pelham, where it is only $25 per year as against $150 in New Rochelle.  Besides, the town authorities of Pelham are not so particular about enforcing the Sunday law.  Mr. Starin therefore offered the New York Athletic Club the sum of $150,000 for the island, but it was refused, although the Club would have made $35,000 by the transaction.  The Club could find no other place along the Sound as convenient to New York and so satisfactory to its members.

Mr. Starin then sought E. C. Roosevelt, who owns the fifty-nine acres that lie between Oliver Iselin's island (now Pelham Bay Park) and Travers Island.  There is a fair dock on the premises known as the Shoal Harbor Dock, and Mr. Starin decided that that would do for him.  Mr. Roosevelt concluded it would not, as he owns other property in Pelham Manor, and many of the Glen Island visitors on Sundays, he said were not desirable.  Mr. Starin is still looking for a landing place.  He may be able to buy Hog Island, which fronts the Keogh property, opposite Glen Island, and bridge the channel between, to do which he will have to have an act of Congress passed."

Source:  Mr. Starin' Search for a Landing Place, The Evening Post [NY, NY], Feb. 17, 1892, Vol. 91, Last Edition, p. 3, col. 6.   

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I have written about Starin's Glen Island resort on other occasions.  Below are a couple of links to such stories.  

Tue., Feb. 11, 2014:  An 1881 Account of What it Was Like to Visit Starin's Glen Island Resort Off the Shores of New Rochelle and Pelham.

Fri., Sep. 25, 2009:  Pelham's Playground: John H. Starin Develops Starin's Glen Island in 1879.

Mon., May 01, 2006:  The Legend of the Recovery of Pirate's Treasure on an Island Off Pelham.

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