29.Apr.2017 Albemarle Avenue

Albemarle Avenue is a street in the far southern end of Rochelle Heights – that part along its hem that drags against the sound walls of I-95.  But more on that later.  The word, “Albemarle,” itself refers to a town in Normandy named, “Aumale” – or more precisely, the Latin name of that town, “Alba Marl” (or “white marl,” a type of soil).  The lines of British peerage, such as the Duke of Albemarle and the Earl of Albemarle, are more widely known.

Coat of Arms for the Earl of Albemarle, as featured on a menu for the Albemarle Hotel

Rochelle Heights was laid out in stages between 1905 and 1907 on the former site of George G. Sickles’ country estate.  Sickles was a lawyer and made a fortune in Wall Street investments during the 1850s.  After he passed away in 1887, members of his family, including Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles bought the land at auction with the intent of developing it in a similar fashion as its neighbor to the south, Rochelle Park, which had enjoyed a considerable amount of success as a residential development.  Sidenote: the General Sickles had murdered his wife’s lover (Francis Scott Key’s son) in a fit of rage but was acquitted based on the defense of temporary insanity – reportedly its first use.

1901 Atlas — note “Rochelle Heights” handwritten.

It should be noted that Albemarle Avenue appears to occupy, at least in part, some of the only land in Rochelle Heights not owned by Sickles — but rather by “L. Lang.”  This plot of land appears to have been known as “Lang’s Grove,” a quasi-public picnic ground slash baseball diamond slash rifle range.

The Sickles clan engaged the firm of Mann, MacNeille and Lindeberg to design the development.  Rochelle Heights shared many of the same features as Rochelle Park (and other early suburban developments) such as curvilinear streets, wide setbacks, and abundant greenery.  These features survive in current suburban developments, albeit in dilute facsimile.  And indeed, even as between Rochelle Park and Rochelle Heights, certain features started to disappear – such as the large public space (i.e. the Lawn) that graces the entry of Rochelle Park.  One notable feature — the incorporation of smaller lots around the periphery of the development to insulate the larger, more exclusive, interior lots.  See Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places at 29. **

Albemarle Avenue was one of these buffer streets, added during the last stage of development in 1907.  Nomination at 15.  “Houses on Albemarle Avenue…[were] still smaller versions of the Tudor Revival-, Colonial Revival-, and Craftsman-style architecture found throughout [the] eastern section of Rochelle Heights.”  Id. at 28.  A separate company, the Albemarle Realty Company, was responsible for its development, which was led by H.G. Villard (the son of the very-wealthy Henry Villard, one-time president of Northern Pacific Railway).  I spent considerable effort trying to ascertain if there was a specific reason to pick the name Albemarle for this endeavor — to no avail.  One hypothesis that I cooked up is that there was some connection to the Albemarle Hotel — an exclusive hotel that overlooked Madison Square.  But I could find no basis whatsoever for this contention.  In any event, at some level, the underlying motivations that drove the naming no doubt had some deep basis in the desire to latch on to the aristocratic connotations that the name “Albemarle” provided.

I also note that Albemarle Avenue’s location was also particularly desirable in its heyday due to its proximity to the Pine Brook station on the New York, Westchester, and Boston Railway (shown below).

1929-1931 Westchester Atlas

Pine Brook Station, Railway Electrical Engineer (June 1921)

Getting to the train station would mean only a short walk over to Potter Avenue.  But the New York, Westchester, and Boston declared bankruptcy in the 1930s and was largely (but not entirely) struck from the landscape.

The construction of the New England Thruway (now, Interstate 95) was cataclysmic for Albemarle Avenue.  The entire southern side of the street was demolished.

1947 Aerial Map, showing houses on South side of street

Aerial Map 1960 — post-Thruway

Even in the 1929-1931 atlas above, Albemarle Avenue appears directly in the path of the Pelham-Port Chester Parkway, a proposed Robert Moses parkway and the predecessor to the New England Thruway project.  In the 1950s, the Thruway gained traction and a large swath of New Rochelle was demolished, including Albemarle the south side of Albemarle Avenue.

** Big thank you to City Historian Barbara Davis, who provided invaluable help and a copy of the Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

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