History of the Fire Department of the City of New York

Chapter 21, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



Creation of a Street Commissioners' Department. -- Active Measures of Improvement Inaugurated. -- Construction of Wells and Pumps. -- The City South of Grant Street Lighted with Gas. -- Ancient Burial Grounds Obliterated. -- Public Schools. -- Wharves, Slips, and Piers. -- New Buildings Created. -- The Croton Aqueduct.--Public Cisterns.-- City Debt. -- Water Pipes.

Opportunity has been taken at various parts of preceding chapters to point out many of the leading improvements of former years. It will now suit our purpose best to take up these improvements at the year 1830, when the records are more definite on the subject, and within the compass of a couple of chapters to mark thenceforth to the present time the rapid progress made, and to record the material growth and prosperity of the city.

A new street was opened in 1830, coming in from Sixth Avenue to Christopher Street, where it united with Asylum Street, coming in from Eighth Avenue on the north, and at Sixth Avenue its opening was immediately opposite Fourth Street, of which, in fact, it was a continuation. The new street received the name of Asylum Street, and was so known up to December 9, 1833, at which date it was determined to change the name to Fourth Street. The change was made in Janaury, 1834.

A Street Commissioner's Department was created by a law passed and approved October 5, 1831. The duty of the street commissioner required him to advertise for estimates and to contract for wells and pumps, canals and sewers, paving or repairing streets, constructing roads, building wharves and piers; to report such estimates to the Common Council previous to furnished contracts; to inquire into the subject matter of all applications to the Common Council for regulating, paving, or otherwise improving the streets, road, or wharves, and report the particular state of the circumstances of each case, and if necessary a survey or plan of the improvements thereby intended; to attend to the due execution of all ordinances of the Common Council for regulating, digging, filling, paving, or repairing streets, roads, wharves, and common sewers; to report to the attorney of the Common Council all offenders against the provisions of the ordinance, and particularly of person guilty of intrusion or encroachment on the public streets or roads; to take the general charge or viewing or determining from time to time whether any and what improvements and repairs are necessary and can be made to any of the streets, roads, etc., and to report to the Common Council the best mode of doing the same, etc.

A deputy street commissioner was appointed to assist the commissioner, etc. Both were sworn to the faithful performance of their duties, and gave bonds respectively in the sums of ten thousand dollars and five thousand dollars for the same.

Active measures were at once begun to forward the work of improvement, and the citizens were not slow to avail themselves of the advantages presented by the official guidance and assistance of the newly organized Department. Steps were taken to fill in the sunken lot on the south side of Fifth Street, between Avenue D and Lewis Street. It was decided to regulate and pave Market Street between Division Street and East Broadway. The street had been widened, but the pavement at this time (the fall of 1831) had become so bad that the thoroughfare was impassable for vehicles. Suitable places for bathing were spoken of, located on the North and East rivers, to prevent the unsightly exhibitions of naked humanity which had become to frequent along the river front. Wells and pumps were favorably reported for the northeast corner of Suffolk and Rivington streets, Avenue D and Seventh Street, Third Street between Avenues C and D, Twentieth and sixteenth Street, Seventeenth Street near Seventh Avenue, eighteenth Street, Eighth Avenue near Seventeenth Street, Second Street and Avenue D, Second Street and Avenue B, King Street between Varick and Smith Streets, and the junction of Weehawken and Christopher Streets. The low grounds in the vicinity of Third Avenue and Second Avenue were filled up; the water drained off the grounds at Nineteenth Street and Seventh Avenue. Horatio Street was opened and regulated from Greenwich to West Streets; Washington and West Streets were continued in survey to Tenth Avenue; and Canal Street was lighted with gas from Centre Street to the North River. Permission was given to pave the sidewalks of Sixth Avenue from fourth Streets to Barrow Street.

Increased activity was displayed by the Street Commissioner's Department in 1832. The citizens also evinced their appreciation of the growing necessities of the metropolis, and push forward improvements as far as the means of executing them permitted. A well and pump were constructed in Eighth Street, near Third Avenue; and a boring was made for water successfully in Watts Street, near Sullivan and Varick Streets, where a well and pump were built.

In September of this year the rector, churchwardens, and vestrymen of St. mark's Church petitioned that Stuyvesant and Tenth Streets should be regulated and paved between Second and Third Avenues. Stuyvesant Street was built upon to a considerable extent, and there were a few buildings on Tenth Street. In fact, considering the number and cost of the houses recently erected and being commenced, that part of the city was improving in an unexampled degree. The Common Council did not hesitate to grant the prayer of the petitioners, and the work was immediately begun.

The regulating and paving of Third Avenue between Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Streets was begun in October, 1832, in conformity with the plan of improving cross sections of the island.

Samuel B. Ruggles, in 1831 and 1832, acquired the tract of land between Third and Fourth Avenues, which he laid out in building lots, forty-two of which he set aside for an ornamental square (now Gramercy Park). He caused a street to be laid out extending from Fourteenth Street to Thirty-first Street, and in testimony of the respect and gratitude justly due the distinguished Washington Irving, he petitioned the Common Council to be permitted to name the Street "Irving Place." His prayer was granted, and the thoroughfare was so named in January 1833.

Among the numerous improvements which marked the close of the year 1833 were the building of towers and buttresses on the University; wells and pumps at Minetta Street near Macdougal Street, Eighteenth Street near Tenth Avenue; at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Macdougal Street; in Christie Street between north (Now Houston) and Stanton Streets.

Measures were taken to open Twenty-eighth Street from Third to Fourth Avenue. Twenty-eighth Street leads from third Avenue to a point where Fourth Avenue, the Middle road, and the road coming on from the House of Refuge, commonly called the Eastern Post road, all united, and has become a very considerable channel of communication between the eastern and western parts of the city--and was, in fact, indispensable to maintain the means of passing across.

The name of North Street was change to Houston Street. Sidewalks were made on West Street from Canal to Harrison Street; on Avenue C, from North Street to Third Street; on Third Street, between Avenues C and D; on Factory Street, between Charles and Hammond Streets; on Fourth Street, between Bowery and Second Avenue.

Twenty-fifth Street, from Second Avenue to the Old Post road; Nineteenth Street, from Third Avenue to the Bloomingdale Road and Twenty-fourth Street from third Avenue to the Old Post road, were opened. Also, Seventeenth Street, from Sixth to third Avenue.

Old Slip was filled up to a line with South Street, and Coffee House and Burling Slips similarly filled up, and piers built across them.

Eleventh Street, between First and Second Avenues, and South Street, between Pike and Rutgers Streets, were filled up and regulated, and Sixteenth and Seventeenth Streets, between Third Avenue and Union Place, were regulated.

That open spaces in the dense and crowded parts of the city contribute largely to the preservation of the public health and become enduring ornaments to large cities, seems to have been clearly appreciated in those days. Many inhabitants of the Tenth and Eleventh Wards of the city petitioned the Common Council in January, 1834, to take the property bounded by Allen, Rivington, Orchard, and Stanton Streets for the purpose of a public square. Other owners of property in these wards protested against such a course, deeming a public square wholly unnecessary, and because they did not wish to part with their property at that time for any purpose. The remonstrants prevailed.

In this year Third Street, between Lewis and Mangin, was regulated and paved; Gold Street, between Frankfort and Fulton Street, was widened from twenty-five feet to fifty feet; Avenue B, from Fifth to Tenth Street, was filled up and regulated; Beaver Street, from William to Broad Street, was widened; Twenty-seventh Street, between Second avenue and the Old Post Road; Tompkins Square; eighth Street, from Avenue B to the East river; Gay Street, from Christopher to Sixth Street; Eighteenth Street, from Bloomingdale Road to the land ceded by peter Stuyvesant; Eighteenth Street, from third Avenue to First Avenue, and First Avenue, from Eighty-fourth Street to Eighty-sixth Street, were opened. Whitehall Street, between Marketfield and Front Streets, were lighted with gas. The name of Augustus Street was changed to City Hall Place. Sidewalks were laid on Wooster Street from Amity to Fourth Street, and on Fourteenth Street from Sixth to Ninth Avenues.

The construction of wells and pumps was continued with unabated energy, and as the necessities of the inhabitants demanded. On Sixteenth Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues; on eighteenth Street, near Ninth Avenue; Twentieth Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues; at junction of Ninth Avenue and Seventeenth Street; and on Twentieth Street, near Sixth Avenue, wells and pumps were built. These works were originally constructed at the expense of the residents. When made conformable to the city regulations, being of proper size, having a sufficient depth of water and properly made, it was customary for the public authorities to take charge of them.

The public improvements which had been commenced during the year 1834 were generally of a character to produce permanent advantages both of safety and convenience to the inhabitants. The question of securing an ample supply of pure and wholesome water had been submitted directly to the people, and their decision in favor of the measure had been made in the manner prescribed by law. In looking to future events connected with their commercial and domestic prospects the fact was not lost sight of that sister cities of other States were entering into competition with a zeal and enterprise which rendered them formidable but not unworthy rivals. Philadelphia and Baltimore, by the completion of their various works of internal communication, were already attracting a considerable proportion of the valuable trade of the West, and it became necessary for the people of New York to consider what steps were required to secure their position upon an equality with those enterprising cities.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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