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, September 23, 2016

More on the History of the Police Booth at Four Corners in Pelham Manor

This summer, Eagle Scout candidate Matthew Spana conducted an Eagle Scout Project to revitalize Pelham Manor’s Park on Boston Post Road between the Esplanade and Pelhamdale Avenue, including the historical Police Booth that stands at Boston Post Road and Pelhamdale Avenue.  Donations from The Pelham Preservation & Garden Society, DETCO, and others helped fund the project.  The donation by Pelham Preservation was used to replace the tile roof on the Police Booth, among other things.

I have written before about that Police Booth and one of its most famous occupants, John McCormick, known as “Mack the Smiling Traffic Cop” who directed traffic at the intersection during the 1910s and 1920s. See Mon., Feb. 24, 2014:  Mack, the Movie Star Traffic Cop of Pelham Manor, 1916-1928.  Today’s posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides more information about the historical Police Booth at Four Corners.

Research has not yet revealed when a police booth first was built at the busy intersection of Boston Post Road and Pelhamdale Avenue.  Clearly a booth stood at the intersection as early as 1926 and likely well before that.  Traffic cops including Pelham Manor Police officer John ("Mack") McCormick directed traffic from the very center of the intersection beginning as early as 1916 until early December 1926 when the first “traffic semaphore” in the Village of Pelham Manor was installed at the intersection.  It is likely that as early as 1916 there was a Police Booth at the intersection to provide shelter from bad weather and the cold to officers serving at the intersection.  It should be noted, however, that the booth was the equivalent of a miniature police station to which officers were posted each day -- not merely a weather shelter.

It is clear that the booth that stands today is not the original Police Booth. The Police Booth that stood at the same location was demolished during a violent car crash at the intersection during autumn of 1928.  Frank Cavallero of 65 Woodside Park, New Rochelle and Lambertus Godfrey of 4610 Garden Place, New York City crashed their cars at the intersection and demolished the Police Booth. Counter charges of reckless driving and opposing civil suits followed the crash. The booth was rebuilt.

It appears that the rebuilt Police Booth was first painted green (rather than the cream color with green trim and green tile roof that we see today).  A brief news story published in 1936 stated: 

“At Last. 

The police booth at Pelhamdale avenue and the Boston Road has finally been given a coat of green paint – and about time, say many who disliked its former faded green which lasted no one remembers how long.  Patrolman Mike Spillane did the job last week and found only one fault with it. ‘I got more of the paint on me than I did on the booth,’ he confided.” 

Source: At Last, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 3, 1936, p. 2, col. 3.

The Police Booth at Four Corners was far more than a mere shelter for a traffic cop.  It was a tiny police station in which officers were stationed to deal with all police matters.  News articles make clear that suspects were questioned in the little booth.  Police officers stationed in the booth were approached by victims of crimes.  People seeking police help ran or drove to the Police Booth.

Though police records likely would establish the precise dates the Police Booth was in active use, it is clear that officers were posted to the booth at least well into the 1940s.  Interestingly, older photographs of the booth show a light at the top of the booth.  During the recent renovation of the booth, it was discovered that the light was rusted through.  It was removed and a replacement is being sought.

As members of the Pelham Manor Police Department have pointed out to this author, that light likely was green at one time -- either a green bulb or, more likely, green lantern glass.  Today, green lights appear outside police stations for interesting historical reasons.  According to one author who has studied the issue:

“Whether the precinct house is old or new, all New York police stations should have two green lights flanking their entrance.  There’s a story explaining why, and it has to do with the first men who patrolled New Amsterdam in the 1650s.  Peter Stuyvesant established an eight-member “rattle watch” who were “paid a small sum to keep an eye on the growing, bustling town,” and look out for pirates, vagabonds, and robbers. . . . The rattle watchmen carried green lanterns over their shoulders on a pole, like a hobo stick, so residents could identify them in the dark, unlit streets. ‘ When the watchmen returned to the watch house after patrol, they hung their lantern on a hook by the front door to show people seeking the watchman that he was in the watch house.’ . . . ‘Today, green lights are hung outside the entrances of police precincts as a symbol that the ‘watch’ is present and vigilant.’”

Source: “The Green Lanterns Outside City Police Precincts,” Ephemeral New York Chronicling an Ever-Changing City Through Faded and Forgotten Artifacts (visited Sep. 17, 2016).

Whether the bulb or lantern ever was green or not, a green replacement would seem a fitting tribute to the Pelham Manor Police Officers, past and present, who have protected the lives and properties of Pelham Manor citizens.

The Police Booth at Four Corners Before Its Recent
Restoration. Note the Light Atop the Structure,
Likely Once a Green Light to Signify, When Lit, That an
Officer Was Present.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge

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Adjourn Assault and Automobile Cases In Manor 
Three Cases In Pelham Manor Police Court Delayed At Request of Principals. . . . 

Counter charges of reckless driving and civil suits for damages which grew out of an accident between the cars of Frank Cavallero, of No. 65 Woodside Park, New Rochelle, and Lambertus Godfrey, of No. 4610 Garden Place, New York City, were also adjourned until Tuesday night by Judge Fetzer.  The police booth at the corner of the Boston Post road and Pelhamdale avenue was demolished in this crash.  Lee Moran, motion picture actor, is a witness in the case. . . .” 

Source:  Adjourn Assault and Automobile Cases In Manor -- Three Cases In Pelham Manor Police Court Delayed At Request of Principals, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 7, 1928, Vol. 19, No. 41, p. 11, col. 4.


Sandy Ford, chauffeur for Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Joliffe of No. 40 Beech Tree Lane, Pelham Manor, suffered a strained left shoulder on Friday night when his car was struck by a truck and turned over at the intersection of Pelhamdale avenue and the Boston road.

The truck was operated by Charles Buccino, of New Haven, Conn.  Patrolman John Doyle of the Pelham Manor police, who was on duty at the police booth on the corner, reported that Buccino drove through the traffic light which was set against him.

Mr. Joliffe made a charge of reckless driving against Buccino, who failed to appear in Pelham Manor court on Tuesday night on a plea of illness.  The trial was postponed by Judge Forrest M. Anderson until May 5th."

Source:  DRIVER HURT WHEN CAR TURNS OVER, The Pelham Sun, May 1, 1936, Vol. 27, No. 4, p. 1, col. 4.  

"Neighbor Spots Thief With Silver And Furs Stolen From Residence
Clue Given by Pelham Manor Woman Leads to Arrest of Negro Who Confesses to $1,500 Theft in Home of Mrs. Gertrude Johnson.

"Rookie Cop Nabs Youth Wanted For Questioning About Series Of Thefts

Just two days before his first month's service would have been completed, Patrolman Frank X. O'Reilly of the Pelham Manor police department made a smart capture on Wednesday afternoon.  

Patrolman O'Reilly, on duty at the police booth on the Boston Post road, spotted a youth lurking near stores at the Village Center building.  He crossed the street, whereupon the boy moved on.  The rookie policeman followed him and caught him at the Country Club.  Taking him back to the booth, he questioned him, and when his answers proved unsatisfactory, he searched the 17-year-old and found a five-inch knife and a flashlight in his pockets.  He took him to headquarters.

The youth was booked as Ezio Pace, 17, of Hartford, Conn.  Communication with Hartford police brought the information that Pace had seven times been arrested in that city and was wanted by authorities in a long series of store robberies.  

The youth was booked on a charge of vagrancy and appeared before George Lambert the same night when sentence was put over for 24 hours to allow Hartford police to take charge of the boy in Pelham Manor the next morning."

Source:  Rookie Cop Nabs Youth Wanted For Questioning About Series Of Thefts, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 28, 1941, Vol. 30, No. 48, p. 1, cols. 4-5.  

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pelham's Highbrook Avenue Bridge Listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Village of Pelham Deputy Mayor Susan Mutti has announced that the Highbrook Avenue Bridge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, effective August 2, 2016.  Called by some the "Bridge to Nowhere" because there no longer are railroad tracks at the site and the bridge connects to no roadways, the structure is a remnant of the defunct New York, Westchester & Boston Railway that once ran through Pelham.  The bridge was listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places last March.

BOSTON RY. CO."  An Undated Post Card View
of the Highbrook Avenue Bridge Ca. 1912.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Also known as "The Westchester" and the "Boston-Westchester," the railroad was constructed between about 1909 and 1912.  Portions of the electric commuter railroad line were considered a technological triumph at the time.  The line opened for passenger service on May 29, 1912.  Eventually it ran from the southernmost part of the Bronx near the Harlem River to Mount Vernon where it branched north to White Plains and east, through Pelham, eventually as far as Port Chester.

The railroad was known derisively as the "Million-Dollar-A-Mile Railroad" and "J.P. Morgan's Magnificent Mistake."  It reputedly never ran at a profit.  Construction of the line (excluding rolling stock) reportedly cost more than $1.2 million per mile, an extraordinary sum at the time.  The portion of the line that ran from the Bronx, through Pelham, to New Rochelle was built to rather lavish standards with attractive cast concrete stations that had marble interiors.  Additionally, and important when it comes to the history of the line in Pelham, the line was built with no grade crossings.  Consequently, many bridges, tunnels, and viaducts were built along the line including a viaduct adjacent to Pelham Reservoir, a combination station and bridge over Fifth Avenue, and the Highbrook Avenue Bridge that still stands.  Such costly infrastructure certainly drove up the cost of the Million-Dollar-A-Mile Railroad.  

Post Card View Ca. 1912.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

During the Roaring Twenties, the railroad was slowly extended from New Rochelle to Larchmont (1921), Mamaroneck (1926), Harrison (1927), Rye (1928) and Portchester (in December, 1929, shortly after the stock market crash).  With the onset of the Great Depression, expansion of the line stopped.  

RY. CO.  5TH AVENUE, PELHAM, N. Y."  An Undated
Post Card View Ca. 1912.  This View Shows the Pelham
Station in the Distance.  Though It Might Seem to Be at
Ground Level, the Pelham Station Stood Atop a Very, Very
High Cast Concrete Arch that Stood Over Fifth Avenue
at About Third Street.  NOTE:  Click on Link to Enlarge.

Passenger traffic on the line was never what was projected or hoped.  The railroad developers hoped that passengers would flock to the modern and comparatively luxurious new railroad from the old New Haven line that ran to Grand Central Terminal for a much higher fare than that of The Westchester.  Travel to Manhattan on The Westchester, however, required a transfer in The Bronx onto the Third Avenue El for a five cent fare.  Though cheaper, many passengers ignored the new line and paid the higher fare on the New Haven Line to be carried directly to Grand Central Terminal.  The Westchester reportedly carried 1.3 million passengers in 1913.  Its ridership grew to 14.1 million a year in 1928, shortly before the Great Depression.  Still, that was not enough. 

When the eastward branch of The Westchester turned toward Pelham, it remained high above ground level on a high, curving viaduct as it crossed the Hutchinson River.  Trains remained high above ground level as they slipped into the Fifth Avenue Station in Pelham because that station stood atop a very high concrete arch over Fifth Avenue at Third Street.  Upon leaving the Fifth Avenue Station heading eastward, the trains followed tracks with a gentle grade decline until crossing the Highbrook Avenue Bridge and next pulling into the Pelhamwood Station that actually stood at about the New Rochelle border on Storer Avenue between today's Lincoln Avenue and the intersection of Harmon Avenue with Storer Avenue.  

Undated Photograph of the Fifth Avenue Station of
the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway, Ca.
1912, from Engineering News. Source: Remembering
North Pelham Facebook Page. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

Throughout construction and operation of The Westchester, it was operated under the auspices of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.  As the Great Depression raged, the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad entered bankruptcy in 1935.  Consequently, so did The Westchester.  As the two railroads struggled with bankruptcy, there were countless efforts to save The Westchester.  According to one brief history:

"Former New Haven General Manager Clinton L. Bardo was appointed as Trustee to try to turn around the fortunes of the ailing Westchester.  But the trustees of the NH [i.e., New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad] bankruptcy and the trustees of the NYW&B bankruptcy were responsible to different groups of creditors.  The liquidation brought them into conflict. The NYW&B was forced to cease operating on the Port Chester line to enhance the revenues of the NH from its parallel service.  The loss of revenue could not be offset by lower costs.  If the NYW&B had been left intact, it would have required the New Haven to pay off a bond issue that was due in 1946.  Total liquidation was the only answer.  Bardo died of a heart attack in August 1937, before the full effect of his policies could be realized.  The NYW&B ceased operations on December 31, 1937."

Source:  "New York, Westchester and Boston Railway" in Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia (visited Sep. 18, 2016).  

All efforts to save The Westchester were of no avail.  The steel rails and bridges, and the electrical distribution system of the railroad were dismantled and scrapped in 1942, for the most part, to provide steel and copper for the war effort.  In addition, it took the Town of Pelham years to settle the unpaid real estate tax bills of The Westchester, finally resolving that issue in 1943.  By 1946, liquidation of The Westchester was complete.  

Though the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway is no more, its remnants may still be found in Pelham, including the most visible relic:  the historic cast concrete overpass above Highbrook Avenue that once held trackage and allowed trains to pass above. It is quite befitting that historic bridge that it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Abandoned Bridge of the New York, Westchester & Boston
Railway Above Highbrook Avenue in the Village of Pelham
in 2004. Source:  Photograph by the Author, 2004.
NOTE: Click on Image To Enlarge.

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I have written about the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway on numerous occasions.  For examples, see:

Wed., Apr. 01, 2015:  Pelham Settled the Unpaid Tax Bills of the Defunct New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company in 1943.

Fri., Feb. 20, 2015:  Village of North Pelham Fought Plans for Construction of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway in 1909.

Tue., Jan. 12, 2010:  Architectural Rendering of the Fifth Avenue Station of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railroad in North Pelham Published in 1913.

Fri., Dec. 18, 2009:  The Inaugural Run of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Through Pelham for Local Officials in 1912.

Thu., Jul. 7, 2005:  The New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Company Begins Construction of its Railroad.

Fri., Feb. 25, 2005:  Robert A. Bang Publishes New Book on The New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company.

Bell, Blake A., The New York, Westchester And Boston Railway in Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 50, Dec. 17, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Truck Smashed by Express Train Landed on Pelham Station Platform in 1925

In 1925, Maurice Moriarty was a dedicated and hard-working baggage handler at the Pelham Station on the New Haven Line.  In those days, the railroad was more than a simple commuting line.  Rather, trains traveling to and from Boston and other cities in the northeast moved along the line and connected at Grand Central with other trains headed to cities throughout the nation.  Rail travel was still in its heyday.  Thus, baggage handlers toiled to load and unload baggage and cargo from trains throughout the line.

Moreover, there were no elevated platforms at stations along the New Haven Line including at Pelham Station.  Indeed, it was not until the 1970s that elevated platforms were constructed at Pelham Station.  Thus, in 1925, the Pelham Station platforms were at track level.

Undated "Real Photo" Post Card Depicting Pelham
Station Printed on AZO Paper with Stamp Box on
Reverse Containing Four Triangles Meaning It Was
Created Between 1904 and 1918.  The Baggage
Handling Area of the Station is Beneath the Shelter
on the Left Foreground Near the Parked Car.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

As can be seen from the post card image immediately above, fencing between tracks at the station was intended to prevent passengers from crossing the tracks at the station.  To permit the baggage handler to move baggage from one side of the tracks to the other, however, there was a "private cross-over" that cannot be seen in the image above.  It was located opposite Benedict Place in the distance of the image.  Moriarty used a small truck to move baggage from one side of the station to the other by loading the truck and driving it across the private cross-over.   

A little before 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30, 1925, Maurice Moriarty was moving the baggage truck along the private cross-over.  Thundering along the tracks was a west-bound New York express train about to pass along the tracks at Pelham Station.  

Moriarty simply failed to realize he was about to pull the truck into the path of the thundering train.  At 2 o'clock p.m., as he drove, he realized there would be a crash and leaped for his life, jumping "out of harm's way just as the train thundered past."  

The express train smashed into the baggage truck.  The crash overturned the truck and hurled it onto one of the Pelham Station platforms (likely the platform adjacent to the main station next to the west-bound tracks).  The train tore off the right front wheel of the truck and, as the remnants of the truck skidded along the platform, it splintered several of the upright posts that supported the shelter above the platform.

The train did not derail.  No one on the train or the platform was hurt.  Even Moriarty miraculously survived without a crash.  All he could say after the crash was that he "did not see the express train until it was close to him."  Only by Providence had a tragedy been averted.    

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At various times, Pelham has had up to three major rail lines passing through it (the New Haven Line, the New Haven Branch Line, and the now-defunct New York, Westchester, and Boston Railway line).  Thus, it should come as no surprise that Pelham has been the scene of a number of train wrecks, train accidents, and odd railroad incidents.  I have written about a number of such incidents before, including quite a number of articles about the Pelhamville Train Wreck on December 27, 1885.  See, e.g.:

Bell, Blake A., The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885: "One of the Most Novel in the Records of Railroad Disasters, 80(1) The Westchester Historian, pp. 36-43 (2004).

Train Wrecks Near Depot Square in Pelham Manor, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 44, Nov. 5, 2004, p. 13, col. 1.

Mon., Sep. 24, 2007:  The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Louis Charles Epple and His Florist Business in the Village of North Pelham

Recently members of the "Remembering North Pelham, NY Facebook page debated the origins of an image depicted in a "Real Photo Post Card" (RPPC) printed on AZO paper that is being auctioned on eBay.  The post card, the obverse and reverse of which are shown immediately below, is entitled "L. EPPLE NORTH PELHAM N.Y." and shows what appear to be greenhouses adjacent to a lovely shingled cottage with a Ford Model T flatbed truck in front of the cottage.

Real Photo Post Card Printed on AZO Paper
on Unspecified Date Between 1904 and 1918.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Reverse of the Post Card.  NOTE:  the Stamp
Box Indicating It Was Printed on AZO Paper.
That Stamp Box Has Four Diamonds -- One at
Each Corner -- Signifying the RPPC Was Printed
Between 1904 and 1918.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

The post card depicts the florist business of Louis Charles Epple in about 1915.  He and his wife resided in the shingled cottage adjacent to the greenhouses.  According to an obituary of Epple and an article about a fire on the site, the business was located at Seventh Street near Fifth Avenue in the Village of North Pelham for many years.  A review of period maps shows that the facility was located on the northeast corner of the intersection of 7th Street and Fifth Avenue, across the street from the Smith Brothers excavation contracting business that once stood adjacent to the Sanborn Map Company building that still stands.

Detail from 1914 Bromley Map Showing Epple
Home and Florist Facility in Lower Right Corner.
Source:  "Mount Vernon & Pelham" in Bromley,
G. W., Atlas of Westchester County, N. Y. Pocket,
Desk and Automobile Edition, Vol. I, p. 121
(NY, NY:  G. W. Bromley & Co. 1914).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

By 1928, Epple seems to have retired from the business and built a small apartment house that he owned and in which he resided at 717 Pelhamdale Avenue (upper Pelhamdale adjacent to Chester Park).  Epple seems to have leased the greenhouses at Seventh Street near Fifth Avenue to a business known as the "Pelham Floral Co."

On Saturday, August 25, 1928, an arsonist's fire destroyed the vacant shingled cottage adjacent to the greenhouses.  A brief news article about the fire suggested that it was one of a handful of recent fires of "incendiary" origins.

Louis Charles Epple was born on July 4, 1866, in Geneva Switzerland and came to America as a young man.  He was a florist by profession.  He settled in Pelham in about 1890 and developed a nursery and florist's business at Seventh Street near Fifth avenue.  

Epple served as a member off the Volunteer Fire Department of the First Fire District from its inception until the time of his death, a period of 53 years ago.  He had served as assistant chief of the department and was treasurer of the Pelham Fireman's Association for 11 years.  For half a century he was a member of Liberty Engine and Hose Company, No. 1.  Epple was one of a well-known trio of volunteer firemen, known as The Three Musketeers.  The other two were Philip Godfrey of Relief Hook & Ladder Co., No. 1, and William Dollny, of the same company who served as treasurer of the First District for many years and is now custodian of the Town Hall.  This trio was important to the early development of modern firefighting in North Pelham.

Epple retired about 1928 or so and built an apartment house on the brow of the hill at Pelhamdale Avenue north (717 Pelhamdale Avenue), where he lived.  He was a resident of Pelham for 55 years.  His wife, the former Louise Gauthier, died in 1931.  

Epple died in his home at 717 Pelhamdale Avenue on Monday, June 25, 1945.  He was survived by one daughter, Mrs. Florence Waser, who also resided in the apartments at 717 Pelhamdale Avenue, and by two brothers, Ernest Epple of Yonkers and Frederick Epple of Ridgewood, New Jersey.

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"Vacant House Is Destroyed By Fire
Blaze In House Adjoining Greenhouses Believed To Have Been Of Incendiary Origin

Another fire believed to be of incendiary origin destroyed an unoccupied house in North Pelham early Saturday.  Half filled bottles of benzine and other peculiarities about the blaze lend color to the belief that the fire was purposely started.  Police have endeavored to determine who turned in the alarm but have been unsuccessful.  The fire destroyed by the house adjoining the green houses of the Pelham Floral Co. on Seventh street.  The building is owned by Louis Epple, who leased it to Pelham Floral Co.

Firemen of the First Fire District answered the alarm.  Chief Joseph Carraher was in command.  At the arrival of the firemen the blaze had gained great headway, despite the efforts of the firemen it was impossible to save the building."

Source:  Vacant House Is Destroyed By Fire -- Blaze In House Adjoining Greenhouses Believed To Have Been Of Incendiary Origin, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 3, 1928, p. 6, col. 1.  


Mrs. Louis Epple, a resident of the Pelhams for 37 years, died at St. Francis Hospital in New York City, Friday following an operation.  An internal hemorrhage caused her death.  Se was 59 years of age.

Funeral services were held Monday morning from the Walter B. Cook Funeral Home in New York and a mass was celebrated at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in that city.

Mr. and Mrs. Epple had made their home in North Pelham for many years, coming here from New York City when this community was known as Pelhamville.

Mr. Epple for many years was engaged in the florist business."

Source:  MRS. LOUIS EPPLE DIES IN NEW YORK, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 13, 1931, Vol. 22, No. 54, p. 4, col. 4.  

"Yule Tree Fire Does Damage In Epple Home
Smoke Forces Families in Upper Floor To Escape by Ladders

PELHAM -- Pelham Manor and North Pelham vied for 'honors' for the first fire of 1940 last night when the two village departments were called out within a few minutes of each other.

In North Pelham, a Christmas tree fire thought to have been started by a match spark, did approximately $200 damage in the home of Louis Eppel, 717 Pelhamdale Avenue, according to Chief Louis Edinger.

The fire, which occurred at 7:57 P. M., continued for an hour during which time, the Chief reported, several persons on the second floor, although in no danger, were taken down ladders because of the heavy smoke which filled the first floor.  

Damage was confined to the living room, where the window frames and doors were burned.  A blazing couch was thrown out the front window.

The Pelham Manor blaze, which was confined to a chimney in the home of Mrs. Margaret White, 626 Esplanade, occurred at 8:10 P.M.  There was no damage."

Source:  Yule Tree Fire Does Damage In Epple Home -- Smoke Forces Families in Upper Floor To Escape by Ladders, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 2, 1940, p. 10, col. 5.  

Had Been Member of Liberty Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 for Many Years His Total Service In the Fire Department Extending for More Than Half a Century.
Had Retired from Business as Florist, but Maintained Interest in Fire Department Matters Until Recent Illness.

The oldest volunteer fireman in the Town of Pelham, in point of service, passed away on Monday when Louis Charles Epple, died at his home, 717 Pelhamdale ave- North Pelham following a long illness.

Mr. Epple had been a member off the Volunteer Fire Department of the First Fire District since it was instituted 53 years ago.  He had served as assistant chief of the department and was treasurer of the Pelham Fireman's Association for 11 years.  For half a century he was a member of Liberty Engine and Hose Company, No. 1.

He was one of a well-known trio of volunteer firemen, known as The Three Musketeers.  The other two were Philip Godfrey of Relief Hook & Ladder Co., No. 1, and William Dollny, of the same company who served as treasurer of the First District for many years and is now custodian of the Town Hall.  Mr. Godfrey is hale and hearty and past 80.  The combined years of service given to the fire district by these three men are 148 years.  If Mr. Epple had lived until next November the total ages of the three men would have been 241 years.

Louis Epple was a native of Switzerland.  He was born on July 4th, 1866, in Geneva Switzerland and came to America as a young man.  He was a florist by profession and after settling in Pelham he conducted a nursery and florist's business at Seventh street near Fifth avenue.  He retired about 15 years ago and built an apartment house on the brow of the hill at Pelhamdale avenue North, where he lived.  He was a resident of Pelham for 55 years.  His wife, the former Louise Gauthier, died in 1931.  He is survived by one daughter, Mrs. Florence Waser, who resides at the North Pelham address; two brothers, Ernest of Yonkers and Frederick Epple of Ridgewood, N. J.

The Board of Fire Commissioners have ordereed the firehouse at Fifth avenue draped for thirty days in honor of his memory.

Firemen of the First Fire District conducted memorial services at the George T. Davis Chapel, New Rochelle, on Wednesday evening.  Masonic services, conducted by members of Winyah Lodge F. & A. M. followed.

Funeral services will be held this Thursday afternoon at 2 o'clock from the Davis Chapel.  The Rev. Wallace W. Downes of the Congregational Church of the Pelhams, will officials."

Source:  LOUIS C. EPPLE, 79, FIREMAN FOR 53 YEARS, IS DEAD -- Had Been Member of Liberty Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 for Many Years His Total Service In the Fire Department Extending for More Than Half a Century -- FIREMEN AND MASONS HONOR HIS WORK AT MEMORIAL RITES -- Had Retired from Business as Florist, but Maintained Interest in Fire Department Matters Until Recent Illness, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 28 1945, Vol. 36, No. 11, p. 1, col. 3.  

"Louis Epple's Estate $15,000; Legatees Listed

WHITE PLAINS -- Louis Epple, of 717 Pelhamdale Avenue, North Pelham, who died June 25, left an estate of about $15,000, according to the will filed in Surrogate's Court.

Beneficiaries include two brothers, Ernest Epple of 8 Harding Avenue, Yonkers, and Fred Epple of Ridgewood, N. J., who receive $500 each; two nieces, Lena Conlon and Elizabeth Weingartner, both of the Bronx, $250 each; two grandchildren, Paul R. Waser and Fleuretta L. Waser, and a son-in-law, Robert E. Waser, all of the North Pelham address, $500 each, and a daughter, Florence R. Waser also of the Pelhamdale Avenue address, who is bequeathed the residue.

First Lieutenant Clarence W. Law, of 88 Young Avenue, Pelham, who was killed on Okinawa last April 20, left an estate an estate of $2,000 to his wife, Mrs. Louise R. Law, of the same address.  

Marie Mueller, of 15 Overhill Place, Yonkers, who died May 16, left an estate of $5,500, one-fifth the residue of which went to each of her four daughters and one son; Grace Langeler, of 448 Highbrook Avenue and Gladys Morgan, of 208 Highbrook Avenue, both of Pelham; Elanor Sorensen of the Yonkers address; Helen E. Hardy, of 5 Franklin Lane, Harrison, and George H. Mueller, of 119 Winifred Avenue Yonkers."

Source: Louis Epple's Estate $15,000; Legatees Listed, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY]. Oct. 12, 1945, p. 10, col. 4.  

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Monday, September 19, 2016

The Dark Spirit of the Devil and His Stepping Stones: A Pelham Legend

A legend has been told around Pelham for eons.  It dates to ancient times when Native Americans populated the region.  Famed American author Washington Irving referenced the legend in his book he published in 1824 entitled "Tales of a Traveller."  Although the legend seems dark and foreboding, it is actually a story of triumph over the darkest evil spirit that ever has existed in Pelham:  the devil.

The legend has many, many versions, some involving Connecticut which is nowhere near The Devil's Stepping Stones area south of City Island, once part of the Town of Pelham.  Only one version of the legend makes sense, geographically, circumstantially, and otherwise.  Only one version can possibly be true based on all the evidence.  That version, of course, is the Pelham version of the legend of The Devil's Stepping Stones, recounted here.  All other versions, most certainly, are corrupted versions of the "true" story.

Long, long ago when Native Americans roamed our region, things turned bad for them; very, very bad.  Local Native Americans suffered many misfortunes including failed crops, poor fishing, brutal snows, and raging storms.  It was time for action.  

The Native Americans knew that the wicked giant devil, known as Habboamoko, long had roamed the region including today's Pelham Bay Park, Westchester County, and portions of southeastern Connecticut.  His giant footprints may still be found in some of the rock outcroppings in places throughout Westchester County and Connecticut.  The giant devil was known to create mayhem and to bring periodic misfortune on the Native peoples.

Concluding that Habboamoko was, once again, the source of their misfortune, warriors gathered from throughout the region to use strength, medicine, and magic to chase Habboamoko out of the region across the Long Island Sound onto Long Island where he would be left to torment others.  The warriors located and rousted Habboamoko and began to battle him.  

Because Habboamoko was a giant, the battle was difficult and raged for a long time.  Slowly, though, the warriors gained the upper hand.  As the Habboamoko began his retreat, he gathered every glacial boulder he could find in the countryside, loading his long, menacing arms with many such boulders.  He retreated to Pelham Neck and then onto City Island.  When he reached the southern tip of City Island with the Native American warriors in pursuit, however, he was not big enough to hop across the waters to the shores of Long Island (where today's Steppingstone Park stands).  

Though Habboamoko was a giant, Long Island Sound was deep.  This the giant devil knew.  As the warriors closed in, Habboamoko began tossing the boulders he had collected into the Sound, using them as stepping stones to make his escape across the deep waters.  Once he had crossed the deep waters, he stood on the shores of Long Island and looked back.  Native American warriors lined the shores of today's City Island, Pelham Bay Park and Pelham laughing and taunting him.  Angrily, Habboamoko took every last boulder still cradled in his arms and, one at a time, threw them across Long Island Sound at the warriors.  

The giant boulders thrown by Habboamoko landed throughout the countryside, though each missed the warriors.  Occasionally Habboamoko threw the boulders with such anger that he flung them great distances, covering much of today's Pelham Bay Park, Westchester County, and lower Connecticut.  

One giant boulder flung by Habboamoko broke in half when it landed.  We know that boulder today as the famous Pelham landmark "Split Rock."  Many others of the boulders likewise have become famous.  They became known as Glover's Rock, the Kemble House Rocking Stone, the Priory Rocking Stone, The Grey Mare, and Mishow, to name a few.  Many of the boulders were never given names.  Nevertheless, they still stand throughout the countryside as silent reminders of the blind anger of the giant devil as he vengefully tried one last time to bring more misery on the Native American lands in and around what later became Pelham.

The many boulders that the Habboamoko threw into Long Island Sound to use as stepping stones to make his escape became known as "The Devil's Stepping Stones."  As the centuries passed, The Devil's Stepping Stones became the bane of mariners who navigated Long Island Sound.  Countless ships were lost trying unsuccessfully to maneuver around these rocky reefs that skipped across Long Island Sound.  

During the 1850s, the Army Corps of Engineers began blasting away many of The Devil's Stepping Stones.  Not all were removed, however.  Thus, the area remained treacherous for mariners.  In 1876 and 1877, authorities built the Stepping Stones Light on one of the few remaining Devil's Stepping Stones.  The square-shaped Second Empire-style lighthouse is built of red brick and is one-and-a-half stories high.  The lighthouse continues to operate and stands many hundreds of yards off the southern tip of City Island.  It is operated by the United States Coast Guard and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Thankfully the Army Corps of Engineers blasted away most of The Devil's Stepping Stones beginning in the 1850s with a second wave of blasting beginning in 1885.  As a consequence, Habboamoko can never return to Pelham.  Instead, the devil has had to remain on Long Island ever since.  This likely explains a lot about Long Island, including its hellish traffic. . . . . . . . 

The Stepping Stones Light on September
4, 2006.  Source:  "Stepping Stones Light"
in Wikipedia -- The Free Encyclopedia (visited
Aug. 27, 2016).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

"In fact, the whole of this neighborhood [the neighborhood of Hell Gate and beyond], was like the straits of Pelorus of yore, a region of fable and romance to me.  From the strait to the Manhattoes, the borders of the Sound are greatly diversified, being broken and indented by rocky nooks overhung with trees, which give them a wild and romantic look.  In the time of my boyhood, they abounded with traditions about pirates, ghosts, smugglers, and buried money which had a wonderful effect upon the young minds of my companions and myself.  

As I grew to more mature years, I made diligent research after the truth of these strange traditions; for I have always been a curious investigator of the valuable but obscure branches of the history of my native province.  I found infinite difficulty, however, in arriving at any precise information.  In seeking to dig up one fact, it is incredible the number of fables that I unearthed.  I will say nothing of the devil's stepping-stones, by which the arch-fiend made his retreat from Connecticut [sic] to Long Island, across the Sound; seeing the subject is likely to be learnedly treated by a worthy friend and contemporary historian, whom I have furnished with particulars thereof.*  [Footnote "*" reads as follows:  "*  For a very interesting and authentic account of the devil and his stepping-stones, see the valuable Memoir read before the New York Historical Society, since the death of Mr. Knickerbocker, by his friend, an eminent jurist of the place."

Source:  Irving, Washington, Tales of a Traveller, pp. 186-87 (NY, NY and London:  G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1824) (from reprint by The Knickerbocker Press, New Rochelle, NY:  1895).  


When the devil set a claim to the fair lands at the north of Long Island Sound, his claim was disputed by the Indians, who prepared to fight for their homes should he attempt to serve his writ of ejectment. Parley resulted in nothing, so the bad one tried force, but he was routed in open fight and found it desirable to get away from the scene of action as soon as possible. He retreated across the Sound near the head of East River. The tide was out, so he stepped from island to island, without trouble, and those reefs and islands are to this day the Devil's Stepping-Stones. On reaching Throgg's Neck he sat down in a despairing attitude and brooded on his defeat, until, roused to a frenzy at the thought of it, he resolved to renew the war on terms advantageous entirely to himself. In that day Connecticut was free from rocks, but Long Island was covered with them; so he gathered all he could lay his hands on and tossed them at the Indians that he could see across the Sound near Cold Spring until the supply had given out. The red men who last inhabited Connecticut used to show white men where the missiles landed and where the devil struck his heel into the ground as he sprang from the shore in his haste to reach Long Island. At Cold Spring other footprints and one of his toes are shown. Establishing himself at Coram, he troubled the people of the country for many years, so that between the devil on the west and the Montauks on the east they were plagued indeed; for though their guard at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and other places often apprised them of the coming of the Montauks, they never knew which way to look for the devil."

Source:  Skinner, Charles Montgomery, Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, Vol. I, pp. 122-23 (4th ed., Philadelphia & London:  J.B. Lippincott Co., 1896).  


An old Native American legend tells of how the Siwanoy Indians duked it out with Habboamoko, the devil, for possession of Connecticut [sic; as has always been said, Stepping Stones were south of City Island, far from Connecticut].  While Habboamoko had many tricks, the Siwanoy, through their own potions and wizardry were able to back the old devil up against Long Island Sound.  Things looked rather bleak for Habboamoko, when he happened to look over his shoulder at low tide toward Long Island and noticed a trail of stepping stones.  He danced across the rocks and fled to Long Island.  So angry at the Siwanoy was he, that he flung every boulder he could find back across the sound.  His aim was not true, but his power was strong and the boulders were flung as far as Maine, littering New England with rock formations. 

Perhaps due to the legend, or the deadly nor'easters which sneak up on the sound, Colonial maps of the area named Long Island Sound, “Devil’s Belt,” and the reefs skipping across it, “Devil’s Stepping Stones.” 

During the 1860s, shipping commerce through Long Island Sound greatly increased, and with it, the need for a lighthouse to define a clear channel.  Congress appropriated $6,000 in 1866 for a light station to replace a buoy on Hart Island, about 1 mile north of Stepping Stones.  Difficulties arose in obtaining land on Hart Island, and in 1874, the Lighthouse Board opted instead to build the light station at Stepping Stones, which lies about 1600 yards offshore. 

Construction of the Second Empire style lighthouse, a sister to the Hudson-Athens lighthouse on the Hudson River, began in 1875.  Under the direction of A. D. Cook, the Stepping Stones Lighthouse was constructed by Irish bargemen and stonemasons from Throggs Neck.  The red brick keeper's dwelling is topped by a mansard roof and attached to a square tower.  Every outside corner of the structure is decorated with quoins.  900 tons of boulders were barged to the site to form the foundation on the reef, which lies just below the water's surface.  The riprap foundation, encased in rough-hewn blocks, has a base diameter of 48 feet, and the lighthouse rises to a height of 49 feet above sea level. 

On March 1, 1877, Findlay Fraser lit the fifth-order Fresnel lens for the first time.  The original characteristic of the light was fixed red, an appropriate choice for the Devil's Stepping Stones.  In 1932, the light was changed to a fourth order-Fresnel lens with a fixed green light.  A modern optic, which produces a flashing green light, was placed in the lantern room when the lighthouse was automated in 1964. 

A ship approaching New York City’s East River can take a clear channel by keeping south of the Great Captain Island and Execution Rocks lighthouses and then staying north of Stepping Stones Lighthouse.  

A couple of notable keepers served at the Stepping Stones Lighthouse over the years.  Ernest Bloom, who started his service at the station on April 20, 1910, was awarded the Lighthouse Service's efficiency pennant for the meticulous manner in which he maintained the lighthouse.  The pennant was flown next to the Stars and Stripes at the lighthouse to honor Bloom.  Keeper Stephen Holm served at Stepping Stones in the early 1920s and during his time rescued several unfortunate mariners.  One example of his lifesaving skills occurred on July 18, 1923 when two men ran the sailboat Mistral onto the rocks just east of the lighthouse.  Holm hurried to rescue the two men, and later towed their damaged boat to Long Island. 

Devil’s Belt has a tricky way of stirring up unexpected storms.  On the morning of February 9, 1934, the mercury at Stepping Stones Lighthouse hit 14 degrees below zero.  With the Sound frozen, Keeper Charles A. Rogers, could not row ashore for supplies.  The weather only got worse.  On February 20, the wind blew in a blizzard, which dumped 17 inches of snow overnight, the worst storm since 1888.  Trapped and with only two days worth of food for his small family, Rogers hung the flag upside down on March 1 hoping someone would notice the distress signal.  Captain Sioss of the tug Muxpet spotted the signal and gradually broke the Muxpet through the ice to the lighthouse.  The captain offered Rogers food, but Rogers refused stating that it was the Lighthouse Service’s responsibility, and asked that the depot at St. George, Staten Island be notified of the situation.  Shortly after being apprised of the situation, the depot dispatched the lighthouse tender Hickory to the station with supplies. 

Today, wicked storms still race across the Sound and mariners continue to be safely guided through a clear channel, past the hidden reef, by the faithful beam of the lighthouse.  

In 2006, the lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was offered at no cost to eligible entities, including federal, state, and local agencies, non-profit corporations, and educational organizations.  The Town of North Hempstead submitted a letter of interest along with five non-profit organizations:  Asian Americans for Equality in Manhattan; Beacon Preservation Inc. of Ansonia, Conn.; Crabber Cup of Greenwich, Conn.; Historic Preservation Society of America of Washington, D.C.; and Korstad Marine Preservation Society of Brooking, Conn.  Eventually all suitors save North Hempstead withdrew their applications, deciding it was too big an undertaking.  The the National Park Service has yet to announce if the town will gain ownership of the lighthouse.  


1.  Lights & Legends, A Historical Guide to Lighthouses of Long Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound, and Block Island Sound, Harlan Hamilton, 1987. 

2.  Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape Mary, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989. 

3.  Lighthouses of New York, Greater New York Harbor, Hudson River & Long Island, Jim Cowley, 2000."

Source:  United States Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Stepping Stones Lighthouse" in ANT NY Lighthouses (visited Aug. 27, 2016).  

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