Ruminations: The Names Behind the History

When you walk or drive around town, you often come upon streets that make you wonder, why is it named that? Not so much streets like Central Avenue, especially the last four years that the bridge has been out. What I wonder about in that case is how long we will have to wait before…

Published October 21, 2011 2:48 PM
4 min read

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ruminthumbWhen you walk or drive around town, you often come upon streets that make you wonder, why is it named that? Not so much streets like Central Avenue, especially the last four years that the bridge has been out. What I wonder about in that case is how long we will have to wait before Rye’s induction into the “Guinness Book of Records” as the city that waited the longest to fix a broken bridge.

 

By John A. Schwarz

 

When you walk or drive around town, you often come upon streets that make you wonder, why is it named that? Not so much streets like Central Avenue, especially the last four years that the bridge has been out. What I wonder about in that case is how long we will have to wait before Rye’s induction into the “Guinness Book of Records” as the city that waited the longest to fix a broken bridge.

 

It’s the streets with people’s names that fascinate me and countless others. Take Peck Avenue, named after Jared Peck, a very interesting and successful Port Chester businessman. He joined the Union League Club in New York City, which was formed in 1863 as an anti-slavery group, as well as one determined to keep the United States united. Some of the founding members were from Rye, as are some current members, me included.

 

ruminIn addition to Peck, John C. Jay, also of Rye, was a member, and one of its first presidents (1866-1869). The club organized a black regiment in 1864. New York was a very dangerous place due to the draft riots. Many people were killed and several blacks were lynched. To show their support for the black troops, 300 members of the Union League Club marched with them down to the piers at the Battery. For his efforts, Peck had his house burned down. Next time you see the Peck Avenue sign, you’ll think to yourself: “There was a brave man”. By the way, he is buried in Greenwood Union Cemetery, where the Rye Historical Society held its walking tour October 16.

 

When you drive from Rye to Port Chester on Boston Post Road, right after you pass the car wash and Sound Shore Tennis on your right, you quickly come to a fork. If you stay to the left you go up Pearl Street, and if you veer to the right you remain on the Post Road. If you look around you’ll probably kill yourself. That is one truly bad intersection. As a result, you may have missed the small, triangular park that holds a statue of Civil War officer, Lt. Col. Nelson Bartram.

Bartram grew up in Port Chester and was a public school teacher in Manhattan in the years leading up to the Civil War. He enlisted in the Army, where he had a brilliant career. A highly decorated officer, Bartram fought in many of the major battles, including Bull Run and Antietam. He commanded the 17th NY Infantry Regiment before taking over command of the 20th Regiment of the US Colored Troops. The statue of him was erected to honor the many men from Rye and Port Chester who fought in the war as members of the Grand Army of the Republic.

 

When you read the history of Rye prior to 1900, you realize how intertwined Rye and Port Chester were. The wealth and big industries were in Port Chester. Rye started to become more important after the railroad came through in 1849. For the uninitiated, it’s a little confusing the first time you read Rye’s history: there was the town of Rye, the village of Rye, and finally, in 1942, the city of Rye.

 

As you probably know, Rye began when Peter Disbrow waded ashore in 1660. I suspect a lot of the kids playing Little League baseball at Disbrow Park don’t have a clue for whom the park was named. Thirty-five years later, in 1695, Rye’s first Episcopal church was founded. Rye Presbyterian Church was built a century later, in 1795. Incidentally, Barbara Pierce and George H. W. Bush were married in that church in 1945. For 200 years, relations were very chilly between the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians.

 

Since there seem to be an extremely large number of Catholics wandering around Rye, you are probably wondering when they arrived and where they attended church? Before 1840 they were a small — really small — group. You were as likely to come across a Catholic in Rye back then as you are to see a Mets pitcher throw a no-hitter today. (There’s never been a Mets no-hitter.)

 

Our Lady of Mercy started in Port Chester in 1834, but a church wasn’t erected until 1854. Catholics in Rye walked, rode a horse, or took a horse and carriage to go to mass in Port Chester until 1880. Mass was first celebrated that year at The Church of the Resurrection on Purchase Street, across from where Arcade Books is today. Resurrection was in several locations before the present church opened its doors, appropriately enough, on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1931.

 

The Irish Catholic influx started in 1840 as a trickle. By 1880 it was a flood! Near where we live, the area was called Dublin, and the neighborhood by Kelly’s was Limerick. At this point, the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians were probably yearning for “the good old days” when they just had to deal with one another. Today, we all get along very well and together wonder when we are going to be able to use the bridge on Central Avenue.

 

There’s lot of fascinating history connected to our beautiful, wonderful, colonial town, some of which is reflected in our street signs.

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