City Island and Pelham


Fall is here.  The air is crisp.  The sky is that deep blue of autumn.  Lexington Avenue is showing off its colors.





A perfect day to venture up to City Island, with some stops in Pelham Bay Park and Pelham Manor along the way.  My first time to travel with the Victorian Society.

Our first stop was Grace Church in Pelham Manor.  Very classy, as you can see.

Christ Church, Pelham Manor


It dates to 1843, featuring windows by the Bolton brothers, who were credited with creating the first figured stained glass in the U.S.  Their father was the minister, and they were self-taught, with this church as an experimental palette.



We moved quickly on to the 1842 Bartow-Pell Mansion in the northeast Bronx.

My most favorite room was the Orangerie.  Glorious on this beautiful day.







We then crossed the bridge onto City Island.

The island was originally part of Pelham and was intended to rival New York Harbor.  But the island was devastated by the British during the Revolutionary War, and those ambitious plans were never realized.  They then attempted to build the island up based on Salt Works.  But without a bridge (not built until the 1870s), the industry failed, and they turned to oystering.  City Island oysters were even served in Paris.

Pollution put an end to that business after making many fishermen rich.  So the island reinvented itself again around shipbuilding.  Those fortunes built up the island with its mansions and churches constructed by shipbuilding carpenters.  Tourists rode ferries to the island for its beaches and casinos.  With the demise of shipbuilding in the 1980s, the island has become residential.

This is the view from Barbara Dolensek’s house on the west side of the island on Easthaven Bay.

Their wonderful 1900 house was a wreck when they bought in 1979, the dark days of the Bronx, and they were the first owners to live in the house since 1906.  Barbara called it “Mildew Manor.”  They worked on the exterior first, restoring its beauty.  The filmmakers of Long Day’s Journey into Night helped, too, by rebuilding their porch for the first 15 minutes of the film.


See the slide show below for interior pictures and more views from Barbara’s house.




By the way, she edited the Met Museum’s publications, commuting into Manhattan everyday from her beloved City Island. Her husband was the vet for the Bronx Zoo.  One wonderful story she told was that her husband was caring for some lion cubs, and they really needed a lot of attention.  So rather than stay with them over the weekend at the zoo, he brought them home to City Island, where the neighborhood children got to play with them.  Imagine.


Barbara escorted us to her church, Grace Church, which also has a Bolton stained glass window.  But I was enchanted by the boats at the altar–one faces east and the other west.




The church was built in 1862 by local shipwrights.






After visiting the Revolutionary War era Pelham Cemetery, where the dearly departed have the best views into perpetuity, we went on the Inn run by Michele French.









This house was built by an oysterman, Captain Pell, in 1867, and is truly Victorian inside, with weird little cubbyholes in rooms, narrow staircases, and delightful double bay windows on the first two floors.





I loved a couple of other houses nearby, which never let us forget the sea.  One had a masthead and the other a two-story widow’s walk.  Close ups are in the slide show.







And City Island has charming little finds, like this doorway — too fun.







I had wanted to go to City Island for awhile, and that itch has been scratched.  I’m not moving there anytime soon, but will enjoy looking at this slideshow to remember the enchanting day there.