Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 4, Part III

By Holice and Debbie

The meddlesome and often obstructive character of the help given to the firemen by boys and excitable your men, which caused so much trouble and anxiety in later times to the controllers of the Department, seems to have developed itself as early as 1789, for it is recorded as a decree of the august and reverend fathers of the city, that after the twelfth of August, of that year, no person under the age of thirty years should be appointed to the office of a fireman. But the law proved to be a decided drawback instead of a benefit to the Department, and it was therefore repealed in the following November.

The fire engines of the smallest size were used to approach nearest to the fire, and were, therefore, best adapted for the "leaders" to convey water through windows and narrow passes. When the "leaders" were used, none but firemen were willing to support them, and "it was attended by a general wetting by the water which gushes out of the seams." The foreman of these engines petitioned the Common Council for an assignment of ten men to each company, and their petition was acceded to March, 1790.

A project was conceived about the year 1789 for converting the Fred Water Pond, and the grounds adjacent, to the embellishment of the city. A company was formed with that view, and a plan drawn, laying out a park, embracing the great and lesser Collect, and extending from the north side of Reade Street to the present sire of Grand Street, so as to include the eminence called "Bunker's Hill." The "Little Collect: commenced at the foot of the hill, on the north side of Reade Street, and was divided from the principal pond by a mound or knoll, through which Pearl Street was carried. On this knoll stood the "Old Powder House," from which the street leading to it from Broadway, now part of Pearl Street, derived its name of Magazine Street.

The plan for the conversion of the Collect, as stated, fell through, principally because the supposition if the city's ever extending so far out upon the island was thought by capitalists too visionary to be acted on. Another project, of a more utilitarian character, was subsequently entertained, namely, to connect warehouses surrounding its margin. But such were the limited views in size, business, wealth, and population, it was believed the dock would never be wanted.

Between 1787 and 1790 the streets leading from Broadway to Hudson River, from Cortlandt Street upward to the hospital, were regulated, and some of them paved. On the west side, Broadway was paved as far out as Warren Street, and large and substantial brick homes were gradually making their appearance. Greenwich Street, in which the most conspicuous object was the Bear Market, now superseded by the more extensive erection dignified with the name of Washington Market, was prolonged, by leveling high grounds extending northward from the foot of Warren Street, where stood Vauxhall House and Garden, one the seat of Sir Peter Warren. In this year the first sidewalks in the city were laid on the west side of Broadway, from Vesey to Murray Streets, and opposite for the same distance along the bridewell fence. These were narrow pavements of brick and stone, scarcely wide enough to permit two persons to walk abreast.

On March 24, 1791, the Legislature passed a law prohibiting the erecting of wooden buildings of three or more stories below what is now Canal Street. All buildings to be erected within this space should be constructed of stone or brick, and should be covered, "except the flat roof thereof," with slate or tile. But such flat roof "may be composed of board or shingles, provided it does not exceed two-fifths of the space of the roof, and be surrounded by a substantial balcony or balustrade." An exception is made to the roofing of existing buildings, and also in favor of buildings erected on ground "not capable of sustaining a foundation, upon which a stone or brick structure can be sustained." This latter exception authorizes the erection of wooden buildings on such grounds within the limits named, after the filing of a favorable report of the majority of five disinterested persons appointed by the mayor to examine the condition of the ground in question.

A revised law for preventing and extinguishing fires was passed on November 10, 1791, which, among other provisions, called for the appointment of fire wardens in the respective wards of the city. In accordance therewith the following appointments were made:

First Ward.--John Remsen and Thomas Ludlow.
Second Ward.--Walker Bicker and George Harsen.
Third Ward.--Jeronimus Alstyne and William Hardenbrook.
Fourth Ward.--George Stanton and Anthony Post.
Fifth Ward.--John Franklin and Benjamin Egberts.
Sixth Ward. --William Arnold and Jacob Harsen.
Seventh Ward.--Richard Varian and Charles Wright.

As marks of distinction at fires, and insignia of official position, it was decreed by the same law that the wardens should wear caps and carry certain wands and trumpets. And it was further ordered that all fines recovered as penalties for violations of the fire laws should be paid to the engineer, and by him appropriated as the fire marshal should direct.

In this year belong the earliest extant records of any fire company in the city, namely, those of Engine No. 13, which began in the month of November; also, the first written report known to have been made of the doings of the Fire Department proper, was made on the fourth of this month. The meeting was held in the house of Jacob Brouwer, in Nassau Street. The minutes of this meeting inform us that "engineers, firemen, and representatives" attended, but that the engineer and foremen were the only "representatives" present. The engineers were: Ahasuerus Turk, chairman; William J. Elsworth, John Stagg, Francis Bassett, Isaac Mead, and John Quackenbush. The foremen were: Abraham Franklin, Evert Wessels, Gabriel Furman, John Post, Joseph Smith, Frederick Eckert, Sylvester Buskirk, Bartholomew Skaats, Jackamiah Ackerly, Thomas Ash, John B. Dash, Archibald Kerly, William Wright, David Coutant, John Clark and David Morris. These names represent some of the most respectable residents of the city.

The Fire Department, on the twentieth of December, 1791, held a meeting of representatives of their organization, authorized by their different companies, and framed a constitution, for the purpose of establishing a fund for the relief of unfortunate firemen whose misfortune was occasioned while doing duty as firemen. This constitution reads as follows:

ARTICLE I. A fund, which shall be called The Fire Department Fund, shall be established with the moneys arising from chimney fires, certificates, and donations, and with such other moneys as may hereafter be agreed on by such fire companies as have agreed or may hereafter agree to fund the same.

ART. II. The Fire Department shall be represented as follows, viz: The engineers send one; a company composed of eighteen men or upwards to have two; and under eighteen, one representative; and such company to choose them on or before the first day of June in every year.

ART. III. There shall be annually chosen, by ballot, by the representatives, out of their own body, a President and Vice-President, and out of the whole body of Firemen, at their first meeting, nine Trustees, a Treasurer, and Secretary, which Treasurer shall give security to the Trustees for the faithful performance of his trust.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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March 2001

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