Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 17, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

Monday, July 13, 1863

11:05 A.M.--No. 667 Third Avenue, brick building, Provost marshal Jenkins's enrolling office; three buildings destroyed. Total value about twenty-five thousand dollars.  

3:05 P.M.--Lexington Avenue, between Forty-fourth and Forty-fifth Streets, two brown- stone dwelling houses and their contents, valued at seventy-five thousand dollars, totally destroyed.

4:35 P.M.--Forty-fourth Street, between Fourth and Fifth Avenue, Bull's Head Hotel, brick building, owned by Mr. Allerton, destroyed with its contents.  Loss about seventy thousand dollars.

4:50 P.M.--A five-story brick building, northeast corner of Twenty-first Street and Second Avenue, used for manufacturing firearms by Marston & Co., completely destroyed, together with contents. Loss about seventy-five thousand dollars.

5:15 P.M.--No. 1140 Broadway, Provost Marshal B. F. Manierre's enrolling office, twelve brick buildings destroyed, the whole block on Broadway, from Twenty-eight to Twenty-ninth Street, and buildings on Twenty-right and Twenty-ninth Streets. Total Value, including their contents, one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.

6:50 P.M.--Fifth Avenue, between Forty-third and Forty-fourth Street, Colored Orphans Asylum, brick building, totally destroyed. Loss about thirty-five thousand dollars.

8:18 P.M.--No. 429 Grand Street, enrolling office and dwelling of Provost Marshal Captain John Duffy, brick building, sacked and burned. Loss, including contents, about ten thousand dollars.

9:20 P.M.--No. 62 Roosevelt Street, frame dwelling, occupied by colored people. Damage, about one hundred dollars.

9:27 P.M.--Eighty-seventh Street, residence of postmaster Abram Wakeman, totally destroyed. Loss twenty-five thousand dollars. The Twenty-third Precinct Police Station, directly In the rear, on Eighty-sixth Street, caught on fire from sparks and was also destroyed.

Tuesday July 14.

3:30 A.M.--One hundred and Twenty-ninth Street, corner of Third Avenue, six frame buildings were burned. Total value about twenty-two thousand dollars.

12:22 P.M.--Eleventh Avenue and Forty-first Street, hotel owned by Mr. Allerton, brick building destroyed. Loss about fifteen thousand dollars.

3:04 P.M.--Weehawken Ferry house, frame, foot of Forty-second Street, North River, Loss six thousand dollars.

5:03 P.M.--Nos. 73 and 75 Roosevelt Street, brick front, two dwellings houses, occupied by colored families, totally destroyed. Loss three thousand dollars.

11 P.M.--No. 163 East Twenty-second Street, Eighteenth precinct Station House, brick building; also the fire alarm bell tower, and No. 51 Engine House, all destroyed. Loss about twenty thousand dollars.

11:45 P.M.--No. 24 East Thirty-third Street, dwelling house of Mr. Jared W. Peck, port warden, brick building; a library, valued at five thousand dollars, destroyed; the building fired. Loss by the fire about one thousand dollars.

Wednesday, July 15

2:40 A. M.--Avenue C, corner of Fourteenth Street, lumber yard of Ogden & Co. Damage about two thousand dollars.

10:50 A.M.--No. 91 West thirty-second Street, three brick tenement houses, occupied by colored people,. All destroyed. Loss about fifteen thousand dollars. The total amount is estimated at three hundred and sixty thousand one hundred dollars.

At a fire in Twenty-ninth Street, on December 2, 1863, John Brown, Assistant foremen of Hose Company No. 30, rescued some persons from the flames, and for his gallantry received a silver trumpet from the Common Council. Eight hundred and sixty-seven thousand three hundred and thirty-four dollars was lost in the destruction of Auffmordt & Hessenburg's extensive establishment in Duane Street on January 16, 1864. John Fitzpatrick, of No. 34 engine, had just emerged from the building with two children, when the wall fell and he narrowly escaped. Not so, however, George W. Burridge, an honorary member of No. 42 Engine, who was caught under the wall and instantly killed.

Between one and two o'clock on Sunday morning, May 29, 1864, a fire broke out in the second-hand furniture store No, 75 Division Street, owned by Bernard Heller, who also occupied the upper part of the building as a dwelling. When the doors were broken open the fire was seen burning in the center of the store. The flames immediately rushed out at the door, and extended up the front of the building, which was of wood, and two stories and an attic in height. The occupants of the premises were aroused, but too late to escape by the stairs, which were at the rear part of the store. Engine No. 31 and Hook and Ladder Company No. 11 were quickly on the spot, and it was through their exertions that Mr. Heller and his wife and four children were taken from the second floor, through the windows. Mr. Heller had fallen on the floor, where he was found by the firemen nearly exhausted. He was very badly burned about the face and hands, and his wife was also much injured about the breast, face, hands, and arms. The youngest child, a boy ten months old, was severely burned. Three girls, five, seven, and eight years old respectively, were rescued uninjured. The firemen carried the baby and one of the girls to the hospital. Frank Mahedy, foreman of No. 31, whose untimely end while chief of battalion in the new Department is recorded in another chapter, distinguished himself in rescuing the family. So, too, did Thomas McGrath, of the same company. In a short time the entire building was enveloped in flames, when the front wall bulged. Assistant engineer Perley ordered the firemen out of the building, but the order being misunderstood was not obeyed. Shortly afterwards the chimney fell, which carried down the floors, and several firemen were buried beneath the timbers. They were soon extricated, however, from their perilous position. Mahedy was very badly bruised, but had no bones broken. He was taken to the engine house and his hurts attended to by a surgeon. Messrs. John Armstrong and Eberhardt, of the same company, were also much bruised, as were also Roundsman Witcomb, of the Seventh Precinct, and several others. Jacob Deitschburger, a cigarmaker, who occupied a room in the attic, jumped from the roof to the awning, escaping with only a few bruises. A child named Batti, three years old, was burned to death in the building, without the knowledge of the firemen.

July 11, 1864, at 1 o'clock A.M., the steamboat "John Potter" was destroyed by fire at Pier No. 1, North River. Several companies were on the dock with their apparatus and while busy at work were surrounded by the fire. Southwark engine Company No. 38 had to abandon the big old white hand engine belonging to Fulton Engine Company No. 21, temporarily placed in their charge. The small jumper of City Hose Company No. 8 was also abandoned. The truck of Mutual Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 was dragged off the dock in time to save it from destruction. A large number of firemen had to jump overboard and were picked up by small boats, or had to climb out as best they could. No lives wre lost.

The Lafayette Theater, in Laurens Street, with several adjacent buildings, was entirely destroyed by fire on Thursday, April 10, 1829. The loss was two hundred thousand dollars. Henry Yates owned the theater, and had not a cent insured.

On July 13 a famous place of amusement was destroyed--Barnum's Museum, which then stood at the corner of Ann Street and Broadway. It was about noon when the fire broke out, and at that hour there were few persons in the building, so that no human lives were lost, but half a million dollars' worth of property was destroyed. It was a unique scene, and afforded opportunity for a great deal of graphic and humorous writing in the press. The firemen had much fun with the monkeys, the whale, the bear, and the "Happy Family." The Fat Lady and the Giantess were handed out in safety with the tenderest solicitude for their welfare. Several of the laddies said they were completely smitten with the woolly-headed Albino woman. The enterprising Barnum soon erected another and more splendid edifice, the burning of which gave occasion for similar gallantry on the part of the New Department of 1868.

But a serious and almost tragic affair took place about the same time in Forty-fourth Street, west of Eighth Avenue. This was the site of the old village of Bloomingdale, where vegetable markets abounded. Several houses were on fire, and at an upper window of one of them a woman appeared with a child in her arms. The fire at Barnum's left this locality short of its compliment of engines, and no hook and ladder company was at hand. But the members of Equitable Engine Company No. 36 were equal to the occasion, and adopted an ingenious mode of saving life. One of the men climbed up the front of the building by the windows until he reached the room in which the woman stood. A comrade stood in the window below. Two others stationed themselves in the window on the lower floor. Others held a bed beneath, and then, first the child and afterwards the woman were lowered from story to story, and dropped on the bed. The spectators hailed this daring act with cheer upon cheer.

In Trinity Church yard, facing Broadway, is a memorial shaft and tablet, commemorative of the death and burial of a number of firemen.


The left hand side of the tablet bears the following:

AUG. L. COWDREY- Born Dec. 3rd, 1822. Killed July 19, 1845, while in the discharge of his duty as a fireman at the Great Fire.

JNO. B. O'DONNELL - Born august 16, 1832. Killed April 26, 1854. While endeavoring to rescue his brother Firemen from the ruins of the burning building No. 231 Broadway.

GEO. W. BURRIDGE - Born March 12, 1833. Killed Jan. 16, 1864. While in the discharge of his duty as a Fireman at the fire at No. 146 Duane Street.

The right hand side of the tablet bears the following:

COL. NOAH L. FARNHAM - Born March 1, 1829, died Aug. 14, 1861, from wounds received at the Battle of Bull Run, Va.

LT. TIMOTHY KING - Born Sept. 27, 1833, killed May 31, 1862, at the battle of Fair Oaks, Va.

SGT. WM. R. FINCH - Born Feb. 18, 1831, died July 7, 1863, while in the U. S. service at Baton Rouge, La.

The last hour of the gallant old Volunteers was at hand, and their last duty was marked by disaster to themselves. On August 21, 1865, several of these brave and devoted citizens were injured by the falling of a wall at Nos. 203 and 205 South Street. A fire extended from No. 294 South Street to the bonded warehouse of J. J. Hicks at No. 401 Water Street, and the loss amounted to three hundred thousand dollars. The beloved engines had thrown their last streams, the noble men who had risked their lives for their fellow citizens stood silent and mournful in the station houses. The ties that had bound them together were broken, and they made way for the New Organization, which is perpetuating their glory, their daring, and their historic self-sacrifice. The deeds of the Old Volunteers have gone into history and will live forever.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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