Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 20, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

The evidence for the defense went to prove that the prisoner left Miss Sands's house shortly after eight in the evening, leaving Miss sands behind in the house; and that he proceeded in his sleigh alone to his own dwelling. The verdict of the jury declared the prisoner not guilty of the crime charged in the indictment, and he was accordingly acquitted.

The Manhattan well, where the remains of miss sands were found, was for along time an object of morbid curiosity. It was also invested with a supernatural degree of interest. Screams, fireballs, and a figure in white were nightly reported to have been heard and seen there. No clue has ever been discovered to clear away the mystery which forever enshrouds the tragic fate of the beautiful, and but unfortunate, Juliana Elmore Sands.

Another, but a more pleasing, incident may be called in connection with those wells. A story, which for some years was received as correct, was to the effect that the celebrated poem, "the old Oaken Bucket," had its origin in the author's love of liquor, and was first suggested to him in a remorseful moment in a Bowery tavern. The truth seems to be that on returning one sultry day to his home on Duane Street from his office in the region of Lower Wall Street, the author, Samuel Woodworth, drank a glass of water from one of the old-time pumps of the neighborhood and remarked: "That is very refreshing, but how much more refreshing would it be to take a good long draught from the old oaken bucket I left hanging in my father's well at home?" The poet's wife thereupon remarked: "Why wouldn't that be a good subject for a poem?" The poet, taking the hint, sat down and from the depths of his heart poured out the lines which millions have since read with varied emotions.

In July, 1774, the proposal of Christopher Colles to erect a reservoir and to convey water through the several streets of the city was accepted by the Common Council. Mr. Colle's scheme was simply that of the Manhattan Company--to dig large wells, and from them to pump water into reservoirs.

To no single individual is the system of American improvements more indebted than to Christopher Colles. Born in Ireland in the year 1738, he first appears in this country in 1772, as a lecturer upon pneumatics, illustrated by experiments in an air-pump of his own invention. He is also said to have been the first in this country to undertake the building of a steam engine. In 1773 he lectured in this city on the advantages of lock navigation and one year later he proposed the erection of a reservoir, and the laying down of a system of conduit pipes. With the aid of the corporation of steam pumping engine was erected near the Collect Pond. The engine carried a pump eleven inches in diameter and six feet stroke, which lifted four hundred and seventeen thousand six hundred gallons daily. The war of the Revolution caused an abandonment of this plan.

All the authorities concur in giving to Colles the credit for having been not only the first to propose, but the first to bring before the public, in a practical form, the feasibility and vast national advantages of a system of water communication which should unite the great lakes and their boundless tributory territory with the Atlantic Ocean. This distinguished citizen was also the first (in 1812) to make "formal public proposal for telegraphic intercourse along the whole American coast, from Passamaquoddy to New Orleans." A semaphoric telegraph was established to signalize intelligence between New York and Sandy Hook, which for many years was under his personal direction. He died in this city on the fourth day of October, 1816, in the seventy-ninth year of his age, and was buried in St. Paul's cemetery.

The ground selected to carry out Mr. Colles's scheme was on the east line of Broadway, between Pearl and White Streets, where a spacious reservoir was constructed. On August 8, 1774, the Aldermen passed the following resolution:

Ordered, that the northerly part of the property of Augustus Van Cortlandt and Frederick Van Cortlandt, be purchased at six hundred pounds per acre for a reservoir, provided that upon sinking a well there good water be found. If not, the well to be filled up by the corporation.

The water proved satisfactory, and treasury notes to the amount of two thousand five hundred pounds were ordered to be issued to meet the expenses. Subsequently other proposals were made, and in 1798, it was found necessary to look outside the city for a sufficient supply of water, and the Bronx River was mentioned. The yellow fever, which

had made great ravages, was said to have been aggravated by the scarcity of good water. Dr. Brown, in his report to the Common council, underrated the quantity needed. He considered three hundred and sixty-two thousand eight hundred gallons as an ample daily supply, and two hundred thousand dollars as the utmost expenditure required for bringing the Bronx to the city, for laying down twenty miles of pipes in the streets, and erecting two public reservoirs. The water was to be elevated eighty feet above the level of Harlem River; the machinery for the purpose was to propelled by the surplus waters from the Bronx, which was estimated to discharge one thousand two hundred cubic feet, or seven thousand four hundred ale gallons per minute. A Mr. Weston, however, estimated that the city would require three million gallons per day.

Up to the year 1816 no serious effort was made to supply the city with a sufficiency of good water. Then the matter was thoroughly discussed, and in august of 1819 Robert Macomb asked permission of the corporation to furnish the city with water. After many inquires and experiments the first positive step towards something like action on the part of the corporation was taken on the recommendation of the Fire Department in 1829. A report made by Alderman Samuel Stevens in favor of the establishment of a well and reservoir in Fourteenth Street, where water might be distributed was accepted and favorably acted upon. It was the beginning of the noble Croton Aqueduct.

The Manhattan Reservoir on chambers Street did not contain a quantity equal to the daily consumption, for it was five times filled and emptied in every twenty-four hours, and the water when distributed for use was in the same state as the water in the pumps and well. The company had on an average laid one mile of pipe, mostly of wood, every year since its corporation to 1823, and the best pump water on the island, by having a dense population collected around its sources, had lost its purity, and then contained foreign matter destructive to health.

The Manhattan Company had, however, the ability from their charter, if not to defeat, at least to procrastinate the introduction of water by the city for many years.

In 1823 the legislature of New York incorporated the Sharon Canal Company, with the power to make a canal from the Western boundary of the State of Connecticut to the City of New York. The grant secured the Canal Company all the water on its route for the use of their works and to supply the city with pure and wholesome water.

In 1825 a new company was incorporated, styled the City was New York Water Works, to bring water from Westchester County. But owing to the difficulties in which the company was placed by the opposition of the Sharon Canal and the Manhattan Company, nothing was done and the company voluntarily gave up their grant.

The New York & Harlaem Spring Water company was incorporated on the 18th of April, 1826, for supplying water from springs supposed to exist in the highlands near Harlaem and Manhattanville. Experiments were made by sinking shafts, etc., but no water was found in sufficient quantities to warrant any further expense, and the company ceased to exist by non-user.

A fifth company was incorporated in 1827, styled the New York Well Company. The water was to be procured on the island by sinking wells on the most elevated grounds. The company made several attempts to procure water, but being satisfied by their experiments of the impracticality of the undertaking, the concern fell through.

In 1825 five additional cisterns wre ordered to be constructed. In consequence of a serious fire in the Eighth Ward, the fire companies were ordered to fill all the cisterns with water. Two years later (1827) seven additional cisterns wre ordered; eighteen more in 1828, and sixteen additional ones in 1829. The city then possessed forty public cisterns, at an estimated cost of twenty-four thousand dollars. East cistern contained usually about one hundred hogsheads of water. But the supply of water was nevertheless insufficient. At least sixty additional cisterns were required for that portion of the city between Fourteenth and Grand Streets on Broadway, and Fourteenth and Pearl Streets on Chatham Street, and on the east side. It was therefore recommended that the city lay down two lines of iron pipes, for the security of the city in the section mentioned.

The firemen built a cistern under the entrance-way to the Old Firemen's Hall in Fulton Street. This was the first cistern every built in the city, and contained a hundred hogsheads of water. Engine Companies Nos. 13, 18, 21, and 24 share the credit of this work.

Much disagreement and dissension appear to have prevailed among citizens and officials as to the propriety of making the cost of constructing cisterns a public charge. Fully a year had been occupied with such dissensions, when, finally, on march 29, 1827, the Committee on Assessments of the Common Council reported favorably for making the cost of cisterns a public charge. This report was negatived. Public cisterns were, however, established for the use of the Department, some twenty-five additional having been erected up to August, 1828, for which assessments were levied.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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