Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 5, Part III

By Holice and Debbie

The streets were swept twice a week by the inhabitants, each opposite his own house; and for the collection of garbage a bell-cart came round daily in each street. The city was lit by lamps, with oil. Wood was the principle article of fuel, and hickory was deemed the best. The chimneys were swept by small negro boys, whose street cries in the morning drew forth many a denunciation from those whose slumbers were thus disturbed. With the break of day did the streets ring with their cries of "Sweep, ho! sweep ho! from the bottom to the top, without a ladder or a rope, sweep, ho!" to a chorus or cry, in which often were added dulcet sound of real harmony.

In 1807 there was a number of the old Dutch houses still standing, with their gable ends to the street, and the date of their erection in iron figures placed in the wall in front. Several of these stood in Broad, William, Garden, and Pearl Streets; two stood at the head of Coenties Slip, west side, near Pearl. The dates generally were from 1696, 1697, 1701, and 1702, showing that the city was pretty much confined to the near proximity of the old Dutch Church in Garden Street, build in 1693, and below Wall Street. Every one of these buildings has long since disappeared.

The city, at the time in question, contained about sixty thousand inhabitants. A large majority of the residents dwelt below Cortlandt Street and Maiden Lane. A sparse population then occupied that portion of the island which lay above the site of the New York Hospital on Broadway, and the grounds stretching northerly, now covered with magnificent buildings, were then graced with the sycamore, the elm, the oak, the chestnut, the wild cherry, the peach, the pear, and the plum tree, and further ornamented with gardens appropriated to horticulture products, with here and there the artichoke, the tulip, and the sunflower. Where now stand the Astor Library, the Mercantile Library, the Academy of Music, the Cooper Institute and the bible House, old Dutch gardens were abundant, cultivated with something of the artistic regularity of the Hollanders, luxuriating in the sweet marjoram, the mint, the thyme, the currant, and the gooseberry. Avenues, squares, and leading roads had not been yet laid out, and the street regulations in paving and sidewalks had reached but little above the City Hall Park, and in the Bowery only within the precincts of Bayard Street. The present City Hall was in a state of erection, and so circumscribed, at that time, was the idea of the city's progress, that the Board of Supervisors, by a slender majority, after a serious discussion, for economy's sake, decided that the postern part of the hall should be composed of red stone, "inasmuch as it was not likely to attract much notice from the scattered inhabitants who might reside above Chambers Street."

Fire plugs were first introduced in 1807, the first plug being put down at the corner of William and Liberty Street. The chief engineer approved of it so highly that he recommended that each block in the city be similarly supplied.

In June of this year a petition of residents in the vicinity of Corlears Hook for a fire engine was acceded to, and old No. 1, which had been superseded at the Methodist Meeting House by a larger engine, was sent there.

The full strength of the Fire Department was eight hundred and sixty-nine men, as compared with seven hundred and sixty-one in the previous year (1806). It was made up of seven engineer, forty-eight fire wardens, seven hundred and seventy-eight fire engine men, and thirty-six hook and ladder men. The number of fire engine companies was thirty-four, of which Nos. 28 and 33 were the smallest, having only ten men each, and Nos. 25, 3, and 8 were the largest, having forty, thirty-two, and thirty men respectively. The floating engine was in charge of forty men. There were only two hook and ladder companies. In November the strength of Engine Company No. 25 was raised to fifty. Two years later, in December, the full strength of the department was nine hundred and fifty-five men, of whom seven were engineers, fifty-five fire wardens, eight hundred and forty-seven fire engine men, and forty-six hook and ladder men--an increase of twenty-eight men over the previous year (1808).

An ordinance, passed January 11m 1808, provides that the Fire Department shall consist of "a chief engineer, and as many other engineers, fire wardens, fire engine men, hose men, and ladder men," as may be appointed by the Common Council. It gives absolute control in case of fire to the chief engineer over men and machines. The chief engineer must make examination of all apparatus, etc., at least once in six months, and report the same, with list of fore, to the Common Council, to be published. He had charge of repairs, and was required when a fire was over to send all private fire buckets found in the vicinity to the City Hall for identification. The provisions are substantially as in the 1805 ordinance, with the exception of some addition and alterations which it is not necessary to notice.

The following appointments were made in March, 1809:

William W. Gallatian, upholsterer, 28 Beaver Street, to Engine Company No. 3, vice Jacob P. Roome, resigned.

James Segoine, shoemaker, 53 Water Street, to Engine Company No. 11, instead of Daniel Updike, resigned.

Andrew M. Arcularius grocer, 151 Fly market, to Engine Company 24, vice Alexander Nicoll, resigned.

Lewis Thomas, wheelwright, Greenwich Street, to Engine Company No. 27, in place of Abraham Powles, resigned.

A hook and ladder company, consisting of ten men, was established in the village of Greenwich in the summer of 1809. The members of the company were:

Henry Blacklidge, James Reeves, Andrew Hegerman, John Jennings, William Lezong, William Welling, John H. Blanck, William P. Gilbert, Thomas Sherwood, and John Brown.

This was the origin of Hook and Ladder Company No. 3. Messrs. Sherwood and Hegerman remained only about one month with the company, and were replaced by Isaac De Boise ands Andrew Blakeley.

The expenses incurred by the city for supplies to the Fire Department for the eight years ending 1809 amounted to forty-three thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight dollars, and it was suggested that, inasmuch as the fire insurance companies were greatly benefitted by the existing organization of the Fire Department, they should be called upon to defray some proportion of the expense.

The engine house standing on the burial ground of the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church, was donated to the church society by the city in May, `809.

An attempt was made on the evening of the thirtieth of November, 1809, to set fire to the range of wooden buildings in Front Street, between Crane Wharf and Beekman Slip, by placing a coal of fire in some damp powder, and laying the same in a pile of staves at the read of the store, No. 203 Front Street. The mayor, DeWitt Clinton, issued a proclamation, offering three hundred dollars reward for information which would lead to the discovery of the incendiaries.

Among the appointments made in March, 1810, we find:

Philip W. Engs, accountant, 222 William Street, in place of John McGregor, resigned, to Engine Company No. 21.

John Vreeland, merchant, Broadway, vice Andrew maverick, resigned, to Engine Company No. 16.

The population of the city in 1810 was over ninety-six thousand; having added thirty-six thousand in ten years, and increased nearly threefold in twenty years. the city had extended with unprecedented rapidity, and, at the time mentioned, it covered more than four times the area that it embraced twenty years before. Broadway had been opened through to the Bowery, and on either side of the streets had been laid out as far up as Amity and Great John Streets. To the east of the Bowery, the streets running eastward were laid out as high up as North (Houston) Street, which had been fixed as the permanent boundary of the city; and crossing these, the present streets were maid out as far east as Norfolk Street.

The city was again devastated by a terrible conflagration (May 10, 1811), which broke out about nine o'clock on Sunday morning, near the northwest corner of Duane and Chatham Streets. The steeple of the Brick Church, and the cupola of the jail caught fire.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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