Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 21, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

Arrangements were completed, during 1834, for the erection of buildings on the site of the public yards fronting on elm and Centre Streets, for a House of Detention for persons accused of crime and for other purposes connected with the Criminal and Police Department. The foundation for the "Asylum for Lunatics" was laid on Blackwell's Island, and the erection of an Almshouse was in contemplation for the accommodation of the poor and such other dependents on the public bounty as had not already been provided for in the public institutions.

Sixth Avenue was opened on June 22, 1835, from Thirty-fourth Street, where it intersected the Bloomingdale Road, to One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Street. Tenth Avenue from Thirteenth to Sixteenth Street was made in the fall of that year; and all the streets and avenues, as laid down on the then map of the city, were opened, up to and including Forty-second Street, it being understood that that land would be required for uses connected with the Aqueduct. Mount Morris Park in Harlaem was mapped out; and plans were prepared for regulating the Avenues and Streets of Harlaem from One Hundred and Ninth to One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street and from Ninth Avenue to the Harlaem River.

A law was passed by the legislature in the spring of 1836, on the application of the Common Council, authorizing a loan of five hundred thousand dollars for the purpose of raising the means necessary for the erection of public buildings. That measure was resorted to upon the ground that, while a large amount of public property was held for the future advantage of the city, and was increasing rapidly and continually in value, it was obviously unjust top the taxpaying citizens to assess them for all the improvements in progress for the public service. The policy which appropriates the property and the resources of the city to the creation of necessary and permanent improvements for the public service was regarded as sound and judicious; and it was therefore held to be but just to themselves and to posterity, while the public property was held for future accumulation, to transmit the improvements and the obligations by which they were created to those who should come after them.

On the twelfth of May, 1823, the corporation entered into a contract with the new York Gas Company to furnish a sufficient supply of the best quality of gas for al the public lamps south of a line running parallel with Grand Street, and in return for the advantages contemplated to be derived from having that part of the city well lighted, the corporation granted to the new York Gas company the exclusive privilege of laying their pies and vending gas in all the streets south of said line. The whole number of public lamps furnished with gas up to September, 1835, was four hundred and forty-four. In January, 1836, there were six hundred and eighty-eight lamps in the city lighted with gas, four hundred and forty-six by the lighters of the new York Gas Company, and two hundred and twenty-two lighted by the lighters of the municipal corporation.

In 1792, when Chambers Street was opened, it passed through the burial ground of the Africans. In 1800 Bancker (now Madison) Street cut through the burial places of the Jews. In 1815 Second Avenue ran through the burial ground of the Methodist Congregation. In 1817 First Street passed through the cemeteries of St. Stephen's Church and of the Methodists. In 1826 First Street travelled over a portion of Potter's Field, and passed directly through the cemetery of the Cedar Street Presbyterian Church. In 1827, in widening Nassau and Liberty Streets, the church vaults of the Middle Dutch Church were cut through and their silent inhabitants removed. In 1830 Elizabeth Street cut off portions of the cemeteries of the Jews and of the Presbyterian Church at the corner of Grand and Mercer Streets. In view of these frequent violations of the sanctity of the grave, the common Council, in 1823, set apart a portion of the common lands of the city lying between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and between Fortieth and Forty-fifth Streets, for a public burial ground. The plot contained about twenty-six acres, and the design was to sell or otherwise dispose of portions of it to the different churches, and so to ornament the grounds as to make this Public Cemetery a place of resort for strangers as well as for the citizens; and it was thought that the distance of three miles from the City Hall would effectually protect the spot thus appropriated from any intrusion. But time disclosed the fact that the growth of the city outran even the wildest calculations. The city was even then upon the boundary line of the then proposed Public Cemetery.

In 1825 the grounds occupied as a Potter's field wre filled up and regulated, and the name of the place subsequently became the "Washington Parade Ground." A portion of the common lands lying between Third and Fourth Avenue and forty-eighth and Fiftieth Streets was afterwards occupied as a Potter's Field, which in 1836 was removed to the "Long Island Farms."

The Public School Society of New York was declared to have been "established for the promotion of the literary, moral, and religious welfare of the rising generation." In 1827 that society consisted of nine schools, containing four thousand five hundred and fifty-eight boys and girls, in May, 1836, there were fifteen schools, containing nine thousand one hundred and eighty-two scholars of both sexes; twenty-six primary schools, containing two thousand nine hundred and forty-six children, and public primary schools for one thousand one hundred and seventy-one colored children. The whole amount expended for that object by the School Society in 1836 was one hundred and thirty-two thousand five hundred and twenty-three dollars and thirty-eight cents, of which eighty-seven thousand three hundred and sixty-four dollars and thirty-one cents were paid by the city.

The enlargement and extension of the wharves, slips and piers received a good deal of deserved attention in the summer of 1837. This being emphatically a commercial city, all judicious efforts to invite hither and give security and protection to the vessels of every nation were universally commended.

The formation of public squares at suitable intervals was also actively agitated. It had been the policy of the common council, while land was comparatively cheap, to locate such squares as in their opinion would ultimately be wanted. An adherence to that policy allowed of a gradual, cheap and permanent regulation of them.

The system of paving was defective and unnecessarily expensive. A method was suggested which proposed that the spaces in the pavements laid in the usual manner should be filled with a substance which would at once form a solid mass, furnish a smooth and agreeable surface, be impervious to water and not affected by the frost, and yet be favorable to health and economy.

In December, 1837, that portion of Mill Street in a direct line between William and Broad Streets was changed to that of South William Street. It was originally a mere alley connecting with Stone and Broad Streets. William Street was widened and extended from maiden Lane to Chatham Street in March, 1838.

From the year of its discovery up to the year 1838, this city, at first known as the city of "New Netherlands," was considered a commercial city. Those who at so early a period became acquainted with the position of the "Island of Manhattoes" foresaw that nature had prepared a splendid banquet for those who should possess it. They beheld the great rivers of the East and West and of the Far West, the beautiful lakes of the continent, and learned the unsurpassed fertility of the soil which borders them; they felt that at no very distant day New York must become and remain the queen of cities. In such a commercial mart suitable and plenteous accommodations for the craft in which wealth, business and traffic should come were of immense interest. That was verified by the experience of past ages. It was as true of ancient as it was of modern times. The piers and moles of Tyre, Syracuse, Carthage, Alexandria, Athens, and other cities formed one of the mightiest of the causes of their superior prosperity. And it was everywhere declared that the perfect safety and convenience for all descriptions of shipping so extensively provided at London, Liverpool, Havre, Naples, Palermo, and Boston had attracted and perpetuated much of the business which gave them wealth and power, and would continue in their possession. There was a time when the wharves, slips and piers constructed by this city were "well enough' and perhaps were as ample and extensive as the demand for them justified. But the times were changed, and those important works should change with them. Ships were now constructed of huge dimensions, drawing great depth of water; and the kinds of conveyance by water too had been wonderfully altered and multiplied. The addition and general use of steamboats and towboats in various forms had created a demand for a species of dock room and a sort of exclusive use thereof that had not been dreamed of by any one a few years before. The unconquerable industry and enterprise of the State of New York, as well as of new England and of the "Great West," like the power of a slumbering lion, were only at rest, and would, ii was hoped, again spring forth to new achievements and high objects. The natural advantages, and those derived from the various canals and railroads, to be continued and enlarged by the energies of the aspiring, ingenious and indomitable owners of an immense territory, were again to pour their treasures into this city and give it new life, vigor, animation and advancement.

The amount of real estate owned by the corporation in 1839 was fifteen million five hundred and sixty-three thousand nine hundred and twelve dollars and twenty cents, having an income of one hundred and sixty-six thousand one hundred and ninety-two dollars and thirty-two cents. This amount of property, though not producing a sum at all equal even to a lower rate of interest on its value, was still looked upon as a security pledged to the public creditors and as a source from which funds might be obtained, when necessary, to discharge those debts, and no doubt added to the confidence of capitalists who made investments in public stocks.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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