Samuel Pell House


586 City Island Avenue

Built by a local builder

ca. 1876

This three-story Second Empire style frame house was originally the home of Samuel Pell (1847-1894), a descendant of Thomas Pell, to whom King Charles of England granted a charter for the Manor of Pelham in 1654. When Samuel Pell was born on City Island it was still part of Westchester’s Town of Pelham. City Island was only annexed to New York City in 1895.

“Captain” Samuel Pell was a leading oysterman at a time when oysters were the most commonly eaten shell fish in the metropolitan area. In the 19th century, oysters were a much desired New York City export both within the United States and abroad. City Island dominated the East River trade with its natural and artificial oyster beds. Pell, who had property on both sides of the island, enjoyed riparian (shoreline) water rights in Eastchester Bay that facilitated shipment of his oysters to market.

Situated on nautical City Island’s main street, Pell’s gracious home was befitting a successful businessman of his prominence.  Its fifteen rooms, nicely accommodated his large family, and included bedrooms, a parlor, music room, dining room and servant’s quarters. What is particularly striking about the house is its mansard roof, pedimented dormer windows, polychrome slate shingles, two-story bay windows, and much original ornamental woodwork. The front entrance has a wide wooden porch with attractive double doors topped with transoms and flanked by four, floor-to-ceiling windows. The 1½ story kitchen wing has a small wooden porch. 

The Pells occupied the house until 1907 and it remained a private residence for many years. The house was the site of the 1969 television film “Arsenic and Old Lace,” played by actors Fred Gwynne as Jonathan, with Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes as the aunts.  In 2005 and following restoration, the house opened as La Reserve Inn Bed and Breakfast, which earned praise for its fine French cuisine, décor and elegant reception site. In Spring 2011 La Reserve closed. The house was placed on the market and its future is uncertain. It will either be taken over as another business establishment, or revert to a private residence again. Whatever its fate, this well preserved house will remain a City Island fixture. It has enjoyed New York City landmark status since 2002.


Janet Butler Munch