Thursday, March 25, 2010

Broadway: A Millionaires’ Playground

The New York City Coaching Club's road coach "Pioneer" stopping to change horses in Hastings on the way to the Ardlsey Country Club, ca. 1900. (This photograph is a detail of the photograph further down the page. Click either one to examine it more closely in Flickr.)

The Historical Society has a fabulous collection of personal reminiscences from Hastings residents. Buried in the notes of those who were children at the turn of the century are several references to a coach and a barn “owned by Vanderbilt”.

Albert Shaw Jr. wrote that, as a child, he used to go down in his pony cart to Broadway near Washington Avenue “where the coach-horses were changed when Vanderbilt drove up every day from New York City to the Ardsley Country Club.”

In the 1920s, village President Alfred F. Kneen remembered that there was a barn a little to the north of Washington Avenue, across from or at the foot of Olinda Avenue, that was owned by “Vanderbilt” and where the “Tallyho” changed horses.

Memories of those days were so dim that, by the time they were written down, some people thought the coach that came through Hastings had belonged to the Astors rather than to the Vanderbilts. Everyone agreed, though, that going to see the horses changed was a tremendously thrilling event. A little research tells us why, and lets us in on a very odd corner of American history: the late 19th century sport of coaching.

Ardsley Country Club's own four-in-hand coach, the "Tally-Ho", on Broadway on its way through Hastings to the Brunswick Hotel in the city. Road coaches could seat 12 on the outside of the coach -- only the occasional lady's maid sat inside.

It was the English nobility who first turned coach driving into a sport. In the middle of the 19th century stagecoaches as public transportation were rendered obsolete by the railroads. But riding along an open country road in a brightly painted rig filled with well-dressed ladies and gentlemen still had an appeal. There were also some gentlemen who loved the challenges of coach driving—picking and training the properly balanced four-horse teams, and controlling the teams during the drive.

In 1875, two wealthy anglophiles, Colonel William Jay and Colonel DeLancey Astor Kane, helped to found New York City’s Coaching Club. Col. Kane’s own yellow road coach, imported from England and called the “Tally-ho”, made such an impression on the public that, from that moment on, all road coaches were referred to as “tallyhos.” Frank Leslie’s Magazine referred to coaching as “the sport of millionaires,” and the costs associated with it were very high—members of the Coaching Club owned both the coach itself and several changes of horses (Alfred G. Vanderbilt had 71 trotters), as well as employing grooms and trainers, and renting stables along the coaching routes where the horses would be changed—like the barn in Hastings.

The Coaching Club indulged in pleasant outings to one another’s country homes and in annual parades around Central Park—and also in what was called “public coaching.” In his 1967 article for American Heritage Magazine, Frank Kintrea defined the term: “Briefly, public coaching meant simply this: a gentleman or group of gentlemen, of sufficient wealth and ample leisure, would undertake to drive a coach on a regular schedule over a specified route, carrying passengers who had paid a fare. Anyone, theoretically, could reserve a seat on such a coach, and by paying fifty cents or a dollar extra, he could ride on the box beside the coachman, who might be DeLancey Astor Kane or Reginald Rives or even, if he were lucky, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. It may be too much to expect to fathom why Messrs. Kane, Rives, and Vanderbilt should have derived pleasure from such employment, but it is indisputable that they did.”

In theory, as Kintrea says, anyone could buy a ticket, and it only cost a few dollars. But one had to buy it at the swank New York hotel from which the coach departed. Most often, the passengers were friends and relatives of the driver or wealthy out-of-town visitors.

This is the photograph that the first detail was taken from -- here you can see the stable on the left with the sign that reads "Pioneer Coach Stable", the flock of boys running out to get a good look at the coach and its occupants (according to an 1899 article, this was one of the most amusing features of the ride for the passengers), and the cop keeping order from the sidelines. We are on Broadway, looking south, and Washington Avenue is on the right, just beyond the picket fence. In the foreground is the wheel of an automobile.

The coach that ran through Hastings was the “Pioneer” on its route from the Holland House hotel on Madison Square to the Ardsley Country Club. The run was 26 miles, and since it was thought to be best to change horses every four or five miles, Hastings was only one of five or six stops. The steep stretch from Yonkers to Hastings was thought to be the hardest on the horses, which may explain why they were changed in Hastings. At each of these stops there would be a new set of horses and possibly an extra groom to help with the change. The drive was timed for two and a half hours each way with a three hour stopover for lunch at the country club before returning to New York City. At its fastest, the coach reached speeds of almost 12 miles an hour.

The “Pioneer” did not belong to an individual, but was sponsored by the Coaching Club as a whole. Two of the most common drivers were Alfred G. Vanderbilt and Reginald W. Rives. Alfred Vanderbilt was the son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Rives became a millionaire after inheriting the estate of his father, who claimed descent from English kings. During the years 1898 to 1907, Vanderbilt, Rives, or one of the other members of the Coaching Club drove the route every day but Saturday for eight weeks beginning the Monday after Easter. But already in 1903 coaching enthusiasts could see the writing on the wall. “The witchery inseparable from handling four good horses is but little appreciated by the youth of the day, who seem to prefer the ‘honk’ of the hooting automobile to the ringing music of a ‘yard of tin’ [coach horn],” said one fan.

In 1907, having lost $6,000 on public coaching the previous year, the Coaching Club withdrew from this activity. That fall, Alfred Vanderbilt, one of public coaching’s greatest enthusiasts, drove his own coach, the “Venture,” along the old route to Ardsley, but that was to be public coaching’s last season in the United States.

Diagram of the "Pioneer" from a 1904 article in the magazine Outing, written by Reginald Rives. On the bottom he shows how the names of the places through which the coach will pass is written on the sides of the coach -- Hastings appears on the right, under Dobbs Ferry.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mystery Photo: An Irish Field Day in 1949

The picture you see below is 8 inches high and 29 inches long. It was taken in Draper Park on June 24th of 1949 and shows the Hastings Irish American Club's second annual Field Day in Draper Park. Click on either the top or the bottom photograph to look at it more closely in Flickr. Choose the "All Sizes" link above the photograph and then select "Original Size" so you can see the faces. At the moment we have not a single identification for all the friends and relatives of Ireland shown in this photograph. If you recognize anyone, let us know!

And PS -- don't miss the collection of St. Patrick's Day postcards in the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery!

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tales of the Blizzard -- of 1947

Warburton Avenue looking north from Williams Street. (click on any image for more information about the photograph)

You think we had a tough time a couple of weeks ago with 20.9 inches of snow? Well, the 26.4 inches that fell on December 26, 1947 hit New York much harder. “Metropolis Resembles Ghost City As It Digs Out of Record Fall” read one headline. Buses, cars, trains, subways – all were paralyzed, and 77 people lost their lives. As bad as conditions were in Hastings in 1947, the local shutterbugs were all out with their cameras, so we have a good record of what our village looked like. Here are four of the scenes they captured, along with snippets from the Herald Statesman newspaper put out the day after the blizzard.

“The city’s usually congested streets were still congested – but by lines of stalled automobiles, buses and trucks, bumper to bumper, stretching block after block. Other streets, piled high with drifts, were as deserted as country lanes.”

“The Hudson Tubes, which connect this city to New Jersey points via the tunnels under the Hudson River, the ferry houses, and rail and bus stations, were filled to overflowing and at one time the situation grew so grave that additional policemen were assigned to handle the anxious – and often stranded – crowds.”

“The city’s gala nightclub life was stifled by the transportation snarl. At Midnight only eight patrons were present at the usually noisy and gay Monte Carlo club, while the headwaiter at the swank Stork Club said business was ‘knocked out.’”

Main Street looking west toward the Palisades

“At one time officials of bus companies reported 2,000 vehicles “lost,” their whereabouts temporarily unknown.”

“Telephone communication also was almost completely paralyzed yesterday as a record-smashing volume of calls tied up all boards. A 20-minute or half hour wait sometimes resulted in an operator answering telephone but for the most part coin boxes brought no action.”

“Swamped with telephone calls, a Brooklyn firm that provides limousine service to hospitals for expectant mothers couldn’t operate its automobiles and tried to rent horses and sleighs. Police cars served as ambulances for several expectant mothers.”

“Even the cemetery was a welcome place of refuge last night. One group beat the storm by spending the night in the office of St. Mary’s Cemetery, Sprain Road.”

“Two detectives had nearly dug out their snow-bound car before discovering it was the wrong car.”

“Trains resumed running to and from New York at about 7AM today after the worst tieup in more than two generations. Only the strike of 1946 had stopped the trains completely since the Blizzard of 1888…. On the Hudson Division a train reached Harmon from New York about 6 o’clock this morning – just 12 hours late.”

"Mount Haines," the pile of snow dumped off the bridge during village cleanup by the D.P.W. and named after its chief, Melville Haines.

“Hastings had difficulty with its snow-clearing equipment. During the height of the storm, three of the four plows broke down.”

“Milk deliveries were just about halted. The Borden company said it got three trailers through from its pasteurizing plant in Mount Vernon and is going ahead with deliveries. Sheffield company reported it was concentrating wholely on house deliveries “to get milk to the children” and not paying attention to wholesalers, stores, etc.”

“The Liner Queen Mary, some of whose passengers brought their luggage to the pier aboard sleds, finally sailed at 4:25 A.M. today after the storm had delayed her departure nearly 12 hours.”

“The mailman’s slogan fell by the wayside in the day-after Christmas snowstorm of 1947. The snowstorm stopped mail deliveries in Yonkers today and no trucks and no carriers went out of the Yonkers Post Office… Carriers and trucks went out yesterday, in an effort to keep schedules but many were stranded and had not yet returned home by noon today…”

“A pair of skiers tried out their boards on fashionable Madison Avenue. There was skiing in Central Park, too, and up at Bear Mountain. Officials of Palisades Interstate Park were as joyful about the snow as local street-cleaners were glum. They predicted record crowds for Winter sports.”

Snow day on "Mount Haines." Sue Lindemann (later Staropoli) takes the plunge while Phyllis Schumm, Jimmy McCue, Bill Costello, Steve Ravinsky, and Jack Ayres look on.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hudson River Maps at the New York Public Library

The 2009 Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial has stirred an excitement in early New York history that lingers on into 2010, especially at institutions that have collections rich in that period. Such is the case with the New York Public Library. Their current exhibition entitled “Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609 - 2009” opened in September 2009 at the 42nd Street branch of the library, and remains on view until this coming June.

The library’s map collection is one of the best in the world. But this exhibition also draws on their impressive store of prints, photographs, ephemera, documents from the genealogical collection, and, naturally, books. The display illustrates how knowledge of the New York shoreline -- and the shoreline itself -- changed from the time of the earliest European explorers to today. There is a focus on the Dutch period and on the American Revolution, but the show also traces the development of transportation along the waterways and the impact of other events like California’s Gold Rush. Many of the items relate to Manhattan’s shoreline, especially its southern tip, but others show the Jersey shore, the Long Island Sound, and, naturally, the Hudson River.

This is, of course, where Hastings comes in. It is fun to walk from decade to decade trying to find a mention of Hastings’ tribe of Weckuaesgeeks, and spot the first appearance of “W. Chester.” There is an entire small gallery devoted to maps of the Hudson River, including a map pasted onto the floor so you can walk, with a giant’s steps, the entire length of the Hudson River in a few paces. Naturally, we think that more attention should have been paid to Hastings-on-Hudson. One map places it below the Greystone train station, and another attributes to John William Draper the first photograph ever taken and dates it a decade before the camera was even invented. Tsk tsk. As we all know, John William Draper is only credited with taking the first photograph of the moon and one of the first photographs of the human face.

But, all in all, this is a fascinating show for anyone interested in the history of New York or the Hudson River, and offers many different ways to look at, and think about, New York. Look for the 1719 view of “Ye Flourishing City of New York”, the copy of The New York Mercury from 1787 with news from the East and West Indies, and the wonderful 19th-century prints of New York Harbor and the Brooklyn Bridge. There is also an interesting video showing how one of the documents on display was prepared for the exhibition by the library’s staff of paper conservators, and another, more high-tech, video showing how some of the library’s old maps can be digitally mapped onto a Google globe of the Earth.

The exhibition is free, and open during New York Public Library hours. See their web site for further information and related programs, and also take a look at their related Flickr photostream set -- it includes many images of the Hudson River, including postcards and stereoviews, that are not in the exhibition.

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