Vintage Rye: Ode to the Odell Family

Picture the small hamlet of Rye in the early 1900s. Running down to Home Depot was totally out of the question. Hopping into your Model “A” Ford wasn’t likely either, for the era of the automobile was just beginning, with a mere 30 “new-fangled” cars registered in Rye by 1906.

Published November 3, 2011 6:57 PM
4 min read

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odellthumbPicture the small hamlet of Rye in the early 1900s. Running down to Home Depot was totally out of the question. Hopping into your Model “A” Ford wasn’t likely either, for the era of the automobile was just beginning, with a mere 30 “new-fangled” cars registered in Rye by 1906.

By Karen T. Butler

Picture the small hamlet of Rye in the early 1900s. Running down to Home Depot was totally out of the question. Hopping into your Model “A” Ford wasn’t likely either, for the era of the automobile was just beginning, with a mere 30 “new-fangled” cars registered in Rye by 1906. The successful business that filled the dry goods needs for Rye folks was Holm & Odell’s Plumbing, Tinning & Heating, founded in 1867, selling “everything in the hardware and home furnishing line of goods.’’ They were “experts in sanitary plumbing and any other service a plumber does, steam and hot water heating, tin and sheet iron work.” Their phone number even had a small-town air,  “Telephone 300 Rye.”

odell1In 1903, Louis Odell opened Odell’s Hardware at 39 Purchase Street (where Belle Cleaners is today).

A year later, Rye, with a population of 3,535, held a special, but controversial, vote to become an Incorporated Village. Some claimed they had no voice on the Board of the Town of Rye. Others, who favored town government, criticized it as a  “movement toward the exclusive”. Only male property owners could vote back then, although ladies owning property could have their husbands vote for them.

The election was held at Theodore Fremd’s Meat Market, on the northeast corner of Purdy and Purchase, where Louis Odell had worked for ten years prior to opening his hardware store. The vote — 155 in favor, 47 opposed — was headlined by the New York Sun, which proclaimed: “Rye is Now a Village”.

After World War II, Odell’s Hardware moved a few doors up the street to No. 45. Odell family members were continuous proprietors for 55 years. They sold the business to Jay Feinsod in 1968. He kept the Odell name until 1986, when he bought a second hardware store in Greenwich and decided to call both Feinsod’s Hardware. He served Rye for 32 years, closing his Purchase Street location in 2000.

odell2Odell is a name that can be found throughout the annals of Rye history. In 1663, William Odell was one of the 15 proprietors who followed Peter Disbrow and others three years after they’d laid claim to “Manussing”, (the name the Mohegan Indians gave to Manursing Island). This small band of men from Greenwich was English by birth, Puritan by faith. The Dutch still claimed the territory, not yielding to the British until 1664, so creating this settlement was daring. Fortunately, the Dutch were not interested in settling, but in the more lucrative business of fur trading with the Native Americans.

These proprietors made two treaties with the Mohegan Indians: one to purchase Manursing Island and one to purchase Peningo Neck, presently the village of Rye to Milton Point. Manursing had 100 acres of “upland” and many acres of salt marsh used as feed for the cattle. The Indians had a small village on its southern end and a nearby burial ground, located on land that presently houses the Playland Ice Skating Rink and Casino. Today, Manursing Island is home to prestigious beach clubs and fine homes.

A wilderness of tall trees, primarily oaks and beeches, entwined with succulent wild grapes, stretched inland from the shores of the Sound, or the Sea as some called it, to the Hudson River. As a result of the extreme difficulty in clearing the wilderness, these settlers sought land previously cleared by the Indians for cornfields for their plantations.

odell3This original settlement on Manursing was called Hastings, after the most prominent of the Cinque Ports. The five distinguished seaports on England’s southeast coast date back to medieval times. Cinque Ports, at their own expense, had to provide ships and seamen eager and ready to defend the Crown if invaded from across the English Channel. In exchange, they received special privileges, much like a tax-free port. Early colonial settlers, like those in Rye, showed their allegiance to the Crown by naming their settlements after cities deemed highly loyal to the monarchy.

Once settled on Manursing, they made a strong plea to be protected under the Colony of Connecticut. After much delay, their request was granted.
In need of additional land, these same early settlers, including William Odell, moved inland to Peningo Neck, creating a second settlement of more permanent residences. The two were merged and named Rye, after another Cinque Port, thus establishing the second town in Westchester. Rye remained under the jurisdiction of the Colony of Connecticut until the 1700s when its boundaries were clarified, and eventually became part of the Colony of New York.

Today, the longstanding home of Odell’s Hardware at 45 Purchase Street is Ruby’s Oyster Bar & Bistro. Patrons can enjoy oysters with a fine glass of wine (regrettably not from the succulent grapes that once grew wild here in colonial times). Basking in a bit of “Vintage Rye”, with a long line of memories of Odell vintage spirits dating back to Rye’s birth in 1660, creates a wonderful, historic backdrop to the Ruby’s dining experience.

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