Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 19, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

Mr Curtis offered the following resolution, which was adopted unanimously:

Resolved. That the northwestern chamber of the City Hall, known as the Superior Court Room, be placed at the disposal of the merchants of the city for their used as a Merchants' Exchange room. Laid on the table, Mr. Whiting offered the following resolution:

Resolved. That a committee of two from each Board be appointed to act conjointly with the chief engineer, and that they give him all the aid in their power, and that they have power to destroy any buildings they may think proper to prevent any further extension of the fire.

Adopted; and Messrs. Whiting and Jordan were appointed to wait on the Board of Aldermen with a copy of the resolution.

Mr. Whiting, on behalf of the committee, reported that they had presented the resolution with which they were intrusted to the Board of Aldermen, and that said Board had laid the resolution on the table.

The Board of Assistant met on the eighteenth of December. There were present: James r. Whiting, Esq., President; Messrs. Townsend, Brady, Paulding, Greenfield, Ingraham, Stewart, Power, and Ward. Mr. Ingraham offered the following resolution, which was adopted:

Whereas, the Franklin market, at the Old Slip, has been destroyed at the late fire, and the butchers having stands therein have been deprived of the same, therefore, Resolved, that the Superintendent of Buildings, under the direction of the market committee, cause a temporary shed to be erected in Old Slip or Broad Street, for the accommodation of the butchers and others having stalls in the late Franklin Market, until other provision shall be made therefore.

The president offered the following resolution, which was adopted: Whereas, The late conflagration should admonish us of the necessity of establishing a more perfect and proper organization of the Fire Department, and of the necessity and propriety of being better prepared to resist the ravages of fire; therefore,

Resolved. If the Board of Aldermen concur, that a committee of three from each Board be appointed to devise, with his honor the mayor and chief engineer, some plan and system of operations to e pursued in case this city should again be visited with a fire threatening to be calamitous. Adopted, and the Fire and Water Committee, with the President of the Board, appointed.

Mr. Ingraham offered the following resolution: Whereas, The late extensive conflagration on the night of the sixteenth of December, instant, was increased to a very great extent by the narrow streets and high stores on each side thereof, and the total destruction of all the buildings in that section of the city, renders it expedient and advisable to alter the route and width of the streets through the same; therefore:

Resolved. That the Common Council recommend to the owners of the lots in that section of the city to meet together on Wednesday next at twelve o'clock, in the Superior Room of the City Hall, and take the necessary measures for the adoption of a suitable plan for altering the same before commencing any building thereon. Adopted unanimously.

There are many well-known citizens still living who worked at or witnessed the Great Fire, and among them are Mr. Zophar Mills, Harry Howard, ex-Chief of the Volunteer Fire Department; ex-chief Justice Charles P. Daly, Mr. William Callender, Mr. George Wilson, of the Chamber of Commerce, and Mr. George W. Wheeler, the only surviving member of Clinton Engine Company No. 41. The reminiscences of these veterans we here reproduce:

"The thermometer was seventeen degrees below zero," said Mr. Mills not long ago, who, with Mr. wheeler, was discussing this memorable night, "and the fire broke out about nine o'clock in the evening. The wind was northwest and blowing a gale. The hydrants would not furnish half enough water for one engine, and as the wind made the tide very low there was a great scarcity of water, eh, George?"

"Yes, yes; oh, yes," responded Mr. Wheeler, rubbing his silk hat the wrong way.

"Hence the suctions of the engines could not reach the water in the river, and they had to be lowered in the dark and cold down on to the boats and the decks of vessels. Everything seemed to conspire to cause the greatest conflagration that ever afflicted this city, and cause terror and despair in the hearts of those who witnessed it--what, George?"

"Oh, yes; yes, yes," said Mr. Wheeler, arousing himself from a reclining position for just a moment.

"Hundreds of buildings were burned that did not have a drop of water thrown upon them. I was foreman of Eagle Fire Engine Company No. 13, which was located in Dover Street, near Pearl. When the City Hall bell struck the alarm we rolled out-----"

"There wasn't any City Hall bell then," interrupted Mr. Wheeler, as he adjusted his stock and high turn over collar.

"You're right, George," (with a brotherly lingering upon the name of George (. "It was the bell on the old jail that used to be between the City hall and Broadway. Well, with a fast run, we were the first company at the fire, which was in merchant Street, near Wall, a very narrow street. Hanover Street is where Merchant Street was, and it's twice as wide. Two four story stores were blazing from bottom to top, like a carpenter's shop on fire. The fire had already crossed Merchant Street toward Pearl. An engineer ordered me to take my hose into Pearl Street, and, if possible, stop the fire from crossing that street. Five or six stores were then blazing in Pearl Street. Our one stream of water seemed almost useless to contend with such a conflagration. There were no iron shutters there then, and in a few minutes twenty windows of the upper stories of the high buildings on the east side of Pearl Street were in a blaze. Although Chief Gulick and every man under him did everything possible to stop the fire, my heart sank within me to notice the awful destruction of property. After the fire crossed Pearl Street it rushed to the river and south to Coenties Slip with little opposition. Over six hundred buildings and property worth twenty million dollars were destroyed. The Merchants' Exchange stood where the Custom House now stand, corner of Wall and Hanover Streets. It was a large white marble building. Chief Gulick ordered me to take my engine to the front. The building was high, and I was ordered away to keep the fire from crossing Hanover Street, and as stopped the fire then and there, to out great joy. We thus saved all of our buildings on that side of Wall Street, from Hanover to Pearl, the only buildings saved on that side of Wall Street from William to the East River. Am I right, George?'

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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March 2001

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