Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 7, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



1822-1835. -- An Epoch in the City of New York. -- The Yellow Fever Epidemic. -- Enactment of New Building Laws. -- The City Increasing with Unprecedented Rapidity. -- The Services of Volunteers Dispensed With. -- Location of Engine Houses. -- Praise for the Fire Department. --Public Cisterns.-- Insufficient Supply of Water.--Formation of a Hydrant Company.

The year 1822 forms an epoch in the municipal history of New York. The yellow fever, which ad so often spread suffering and death among the inhabitants, made its last eccentric visit to our city in the autumn of that year. The people of the lower wards fled at its approach; the banker closed his doors, the merchant packed his goods, and churches no longer echoed the words of Divine truth. Hundreds of citizens fled the city altogether.

But a few days elapsed from the first alarm, and business found a refuge and a resting place. What was then the village of Greenwich, and is now the Ninth Ward of the city, suddenly became the center of trade and commerce. At a little distance from the spot where the larger merchants had made their temporary homes, ran a secluded country lane called Southampton Road. Trees that were ancient even in the time of the Revolution spread a grateful shade in the sultry days of summer. A convenient nook by the side of this quiet lane was chosen by a considerable number of Scotch weavers who had fled from the pestilence. This new home they called Paisley Place. Seventeenth Street, from Sixth to Seventh Avenue, is now site of the spot where the Scotch weavers once hummed their native airs and send the shuttle flying. It formed part of the great Warren estate. Admiral Warren, who died in Ireland in 1752, was an adopted citizen of New York, and had exercised considerable influence in the affairs of the colonial government. He had been knighted for his services in the royal navy while in command of a fleet on this station. The admiral married a daughter of Stephen De Lancey, an eminent New York City merchant. In the square now formed by Bleecker, Fourth, Perry, and Charles Streets, stood the Warren mansion, and through the illuminated courts flashed far and wide the splendors of its gayety and fashion, often trod the feet of beauty. For forty years previous to 1867 the homestead was owned by Abraham Van nest, a prominent merchant. A considerable portion of the Warren estate, including the little Paisley nook, passed into the possession of the Astor family.

The strength of the Department in June, 1822, was one thousand two hundred and sixty-nine men, including engineers and fire wardens; forty-six engines, including two at the new almshouse; four hook and ladder trucks; one hose wagon, with ten thousand two hundred and forty-five feet of hose in good order (including six hundred feet at the new almshouse); one thousand two hundred and ten feet of hose ordinary; and eight hundred and eighty feet bad; two hundred and sixty-eight fire buckets, seventeen ladders, twenty-three hooks, one machine for throwing down chimneys, and one copper pump. In February, 1821, old Engine No. 3 was sold for six hundred and forty dollars, and a new one purchased for seven hundred and fifty dollars; in June, old No. 25 was sold for three hundred dollars exclusive of hose, and a new one purchased at a cost of eight hundred and eight dollars; in October, old No. 5 was sold to A. W. Hardenbrook for five hundred dollars; in November, old No. 9 was sold for six hundred dollars. During 1822 (up to June) three new engines, Nos. 5, 9, and 28, were built at the corporation yard under the direction of Jacob Roome, superintendent of repairs, at a cost of five hundred and ninety-six dollars each, at least one hundred and fifty-four dollars apiece lower then the corporation had theretofore paid for engines of a similar size, and in point of workmanship and in other respects far superior (it was claimed) to any other belonging to the corporation.

A building law was enacted by the legislature, April 12, 1822, looking to the more substantial construction of new buildings, and the imposition of penalties for any infraction of the same. Yet another act was passed the following year (April 9, 1823) of a similar nature, requiring that certain buildings should be fireproof. Other laws, of like scope and tendency, were passed at various subsequent dates.

So eager were young men to put on the red shirt and the helmet of the fireman and be recognized as such, that it was only by the most rigid supervision and discrimination they were prevented from being enrolled in the companies, and the law was on all occasions strictly enforced. But in the winter of 1822-'23 a great deficiency of firemen was experienced, and a memorial was presented by the Fire Department to the corporation praying for an amendment of the law so as to permit young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one to be chosen as firemen. But inasmuch as the law passed April 9, 1813, prescribed that none but freeholders and freemen were eligible, the Council decided that they had not the power to do as requested.

Valentine Vandewater, Jameson Cox, Philip W. Engs, and Uzziah Wenman were appointed engineers in December, 1822, in place of Benjamin Strong, James Scott, Hays Pennell, and John Colville, resigned.

From the six years preceding the cash expenses of the corporation for engines and apparatus. Including the ground purchases and the engine houses erected, amounted to seventy-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-six dollars and ninety-four cents, averaging thirteen thousand three hundred and thirty-two dollars per annum. The value of the estate vested in that species of public property was estimated in 1820 at seventy-two thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine dollars.

The number of engine companies (including hook and ladder companies) in January, 1823, was forty-seven, to which one thousand two hundred and fifteen men, all told, were attached, all of whom, when they should have served ten years from 1816, were to be exempted from serving as jurors, and all military duty thereafter. These facts suggested the question whether the existing number of engines was not more then was needed, and whether some if them could not be dispensed with, in view of the fact that the sum of nine thousand five hundred and sixty-six dollars was asked for in the annual estimate for departmental expenses for 1823 for the Fire Department. At that period no city in the Union incurred fire department expenses in anyway proportioned to the city of New York. In Philadelphia the engines and apparatus were furnished by individuals, and the privilege of exemption from jury and military duty were considered a sufficient remuneration, the City Council only appropriating about two thousand dollars toward the necessary repairs. The same economical system was pursued in the other cities throughout the United States. Mayor Allen, calling the attention of the Common Council to this matter, said that while they were drawing upon the property of the citizens in taxes so large an amount for fire purposes, and at the same time compelling them to perform nearly double duty as jurors in consequence of the exemption granted the firemen, it was no more than reasonable that the benefit to be derived in a public point of view should be commensurate with the sacrifice. Before the establishment of fire insurance companies in New York, the benefits derived from the Fire Department were perhaps equal to the expenditure. But it was very questionable then, when almost every species of property liable to be destroyed or injured by fire was insured against loss, whether any material public benefit was derived. The subject was of sufficient importance to this Common Council to cause an injury to be instituted whether the finances could not be relieved by a reduction in the expenses for the fire Department. On the thirteenth of January the Common council decided to apply to the legislature for authority to assess and levy annually a tax on fire insurance companies to be applied towards defraying the expenses of the Fire Department.

In conformity with the presentation of the condition of the finances by Mayor Allen, and his suggestion that retrenchment be introduced, if possible, the chief engineer, in July, 1823, reported that retrenchment was practicable only in the matter of hose, substituting hemp hose for leather, which was only half the price.

The strength of the Fire Department in June, 1823, was one thousand two hundred and eighty-four men, all told; forty-six engines, including two at the new almshouse; four hook and ladders trucks, one hose wagon, and eleven thousand five hundred and seventy-five feet of hose, good bad, and indifferent; two thousand and eighty-five fire buckets, sixteen ladders, twenty-three hooks, one machine for pulling down chimneys, and one copper pump.

The engine houses were located as follows:

Engine #1

Duane Street Market


Eldridge, near Division Street


Beaver, near Broad Street


Ann Street, North Dutch Church


Fulton Street, North Dutch Church


College Yard, near Murray Street


Rose, near Frankfort Street


Chambers, near Cross Street


Marketfield, near Broad Street


Fifth Street, near Second Avenue


Old Slip


Rose, near Frankfort Street


Fulton Street, Firemen's Hall


Vesey Street, near Church


Christie, near Bayard Street


Corporation Yard, Leonard Street


Roosevelt, near Cherry Street


Firemen's Hall, Fulton Street


Eldridge Street, near Division


Cedar, near Washington Street


Fireman's Hall, Fulton Street


Hester, near Orchard


Hospital Yard, Anthony Street


Prince and Wooster Street, Watch House


Tryon Row


Madison, near Rutgers Street


Watts, near Greenwich Street


Mercer Street, near Prince


Christopher and Hudson Streets


Christie, near Stanton


Leonard, near Church Street


Hester, near Orchard


Cherry Street, near Corlears Hook


Christopher and Hudson Streets


Harlem Village


Spring Street Church, near Varick Street


Christie, near Stanton Street


Bloomingdale Road, House of Refuge


Vesey and Church Streets


Mulberry, near Broome Street


Delancey and Attorney Streets


Foot of Roosevelt Street




Columbia, neat Stanton Street




Rose Hill


Tenth Street, near Avenue D


Fitz Roy Road, near Nineteenth Street

Hook and Ladder


Beaver, near Broad


Tryon Row


Christopher and Hudson Streets


Eldridge Street, Watch House


Delancey and Attorney Streets


Mercer, near Prince Street



Tryon Row

Besides the regularly appointed firemen, there were attached to each company a number of self-constituted firemen, who were known as "volunteers." Their services, it appears, were not appreciated by the Common Council, and on the twenty-first of June, 1824, a resolution was approved, and directed as a circular to each company, ordering them to dispense with the services of these men, and, in case of their non-compliance, to send the engine, hook and ladder, or hose cart, as the case might be, to the Corporation Yard, and report the company to the Common Council.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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