Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 21, Part III

By Holice and Debbie

A large amount of that property was, however, unproductive, and from the rapid growth of the city some part of it was so situated that it might be made to produce a revenue at this time, and by being brought into use be increased in value. The propriety of adopting some plan of leasing the public lands therefore became a subject of serious consideration.

The Water Commissioners wre processing as rapidly with the Croton Aqueduct as the character of the work and necessary prudence in its erection would admit to. The report made to the Common Council is January, 1839, showed that there had been then expended one million nine hundred and fifty-eight thousand six hundred and seventy dollars and seventy-eight cents, and that the whole line of the aqueduct was then under contract. There had been completed eleven and one-fifth miles, equal to one-fourth of the whole line, and the total amount expended up to May, 1839, amounted to two million three hundred and twenty-six thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dollars and ninety-four cents. The contracts for the work would expire in 1841, and it was conjectural whether the work could be completed by that time. There had been various causes which tended to delay the completion of the work beyond the time originally contemplated, and it would be only under the most favorable circumstances, with the fulfillment of the contracts by all the contractors, and the removal of the difficulties existing as to the mode of crossing the Harlaem River, that such a result could be looked for. The legislature, in the spring of 1839, passed an act prescribing that mode.

The number of new buildings erected within the year 1839 was less than during any similar period for the previous six years. The whole number so erected was six hundred and seventy-four; in the preceding year 1837 it was eight hundred and forty. The heavy pecuniary embarrassments under which the country had been placed produced that result.

About twenty-seven miles of the Croton Aqueduct was completed by May, 1840, and the whole amount expended up to this period was five million four hundred and sixty-five thousand and thirty-six dollars and seventy-one cents.

The number of new buildings erected in the city during 1841 was nine hundred and seventy-one, being an increase over 1840 of one hundred and twenty-one.

The sewer in Canal Street was in such a bad condition in the summer of 1842 that the attention of the authorities was called to it. The refuse from the gas works and distilleries was discharged through it. That, with the accumulation of filth from the city prison, and from the surface of the streets, was not only very offensive to the inhabitants living in Canal Street and the adjoining streets, but the discharge from its mouth at the North river was destructive of the proper uses of the slips into which it emptied, and detrimental to the fish market in canal Street, the fish there sold having in consequence to be kept in "cars" in the slips adjacent.

The whole amount of expenditure in connection with the building of the Croton Aqueduct from the commencement of the work, say from July, 1835, to August 1, 1842, was seven million six hundred and six thousand two hundred and thirteen dollars and eighty-four cents. On the eighth of June of the latter year the commissioners, accompanied by the engineers, commenced a journey on foot through the Aqueduct, which was completed to the Harlaem River, a distance of thirty-three miles, in the two succeeding days. The while line having been found in good condition, orders were given to close the openings; which being done, and the dam raised sufficiently to cause the water to flow into the Aqueduct, it was admitted to a depth of eighteen inches at five o'clock in the morning of June 22. A boat capable of carrying four persons, called the "Croton Maid," was then placed in the Aqueduct to be carried down by the current, and she completed her singular voyage to the Harlaem River almost simultaneously with the first arrival of the water.

On the arrival of the water at Harlaem on Thursday, June 23, formal notice of the event was given by the commissioners to the mayor and the Common Council, who were also informed of the intention to admit it into the Receiving Reservoir at Yorkville on the following Monday.

The intention was completely carried out, the water having been admitted into the reservoir on that day at half past four o'clock P. M. in the presence of a large assemblage, which included the mayor and several members of the Common Council, the governor of the State, the lieutenant governor, and other members of the Court for the Correction of Errors, and many other distinguished persons. A salute of thirty-eight guns was fired. The "Croton maid," which arrived soon afterwards at the reservoir, was hailed with much enthusiasm, and was presented to the Fire Department. The water was retained in that reservoir until July 2, when it was allowed to flow into the iron pipes, which conducted it to the distributing reservoir. At five o'clock on the morning of the Fourth of July the Croton river was in full flow into the reservoir. A jet, which threw the water from forty to fifty feet high, had been prepared at Forty-seventh Street, and was playing at an early hour. At the particular request of the mayor, who stated that the tanks at thirteenth Street were dry, and the city much exposed if a fire should occur, the water was allowed to flow into the distributing pipes, which ash been paid down under the direction of the Common Council.

The citizens and the Common council were certainly to be congratulated on the successful introduction of the Croton water. The Aqueduct could furnish daily fifty millions of gallons. No population of three hundred thousand has ever before voluntarily decreed that they would execute such a work. No population but one of freemen would have conceived the idea, for it was undertaken not commemorate the birth or decease of any monarch, nor to mark a battlefield, or the death or victory of any military chieftain. The stately marble monuments, and the colossal mounds of maimed cannon, only record battles fought. The Croton work was not made for the purpose that the ancient walls of China, Rome, and London, or the more modern walls of Paris, were designed. The great Croton work, vote for by the people, did not contemplate protection from external foes, but it looked to making the population happier, more temperate, and more healthy; and that the countless millions thereafter might enjoy the benefits of the water service.

On the sixteenth of March, 1829, the question of abolishing the system of public cisterns and laying down two lines of twelve-inch iron pipes, one through Broadway and one through the Bowery, and placing a tank or reservoir in thirteenth Street, on the pinnacle of a rock there situated, was discussed. The plan was pronounced by some o to be visionary, and it was declared that water enough could not be procured to fill a tea-kettle, much less the tanks and pipes. The reply to that argument was, "Give us the tank and pipes and we engage to fill them, if we have to carry the water in quart bottles." The tank was constructed, the pipes laid down, the hydrants erected. No public cisterns were afterwards made. Every subsequent year added length to the line of pipes, until in august, 1842, they had one hundred and thirty miles, and the Croton river was flowing into that tank and through those pipe and hydrants.

The reception of the Croton water into the city was a matter for universal congratulation. It was an achievement constituting another evidence of the patriotism, scientific and mechanical talent and energy of the citizens; a work in its conception and execution second only to the Erie Canal. Arrangements were immediately set on foot to conduct it to the market places, to be sued in cleansing them, and by which each hydrant in the city might be used in cleansing the streets.

Eighth Avenue in March, 1843, had been paved from Hudson Street to Twenty-fourth Street, and macadamized thence to Fifty-ninth Street, and gravelled from One Hundred and twenty-fifth Street to McComb's Dam, laving two and one-half miles to be graded and macadamized, which the inhabitants and owners of the property in Manhattanville, Bloomingdale and Chelsea petitioned the Common Council to do.

The whole absolute debt of the city on the Twentieth of May, 1843, was twelve million seven hundred and thirty-one thousand five hundred and eighteen dollars and thirty-three cents.

The number of new buildings erected in 1842 was nine hundred and twelve, a decrease of fifty-nine from 1841; in 1843 one thousand two hundred and seventy-three, an increase over 1842 of three hundred and sixty-one. The sum, however, included a nominal debt to the commissioners of the sinking fund, as holders of its stock, to the amount of nine hundred and sixty-five thousand eighty hundred and five dollars. With this proper deduction the whole absolute debt may be stated at twelve million seven hundred and thirty-one thousand five hundred and eighteen dollars and thirty-three cents. In additional to the above other certificates of stocks and bonds had been issued under the authority of the corporation to the amount of seven hundred and ten thousand one hundred and sixty-two dollars and sixty-four cents, which was properly regarded a contingent liability, and for which the city was indemnified by absolute liens on real estate situate in the county.

The permanent debt subjected the taxable inhabitants to an annual assessment for interest of seven hundred and thirty-two thousand dollars, or three-tenth mills on each dollar of their assessable property. That tax with the State mill tax constituted a severe burden from the weight of which no speedy relief could be expected. To that was to be annually added a large tax for the support of the municipal government.

The actual amount of the city debt in May, 1845, was twelve million four hundred and fifty-four thousand four hundred and ninety-seven dollars and sixty cents. The condition of the streets had long been the subject of complaint, which, instead of diminishing within the year preceding, had greatly increased. The system of cleaning them by men employed at day's work by the corporation had been condemned as too expensive; while the system of cleaning them by contract had proved inefficient. Mayor Havemeyer brought this subject prominently before the Common Council, and urged them to adopt measures looking to a reformation in that respect.

A system which had been attended with flagrant abuses and had wrought most serious injury to many citizens with that of city improvement, including the opening and regulation of streets, etc., and the imposition of assessments. In times past, it was well know, owners of property had been ruined by measures taken professedly for their benefit as well as that of the city; and it was equally notorious that heavy assessments had been laid and collected, years before, for the opening of streets and avenues, which up to the present time had remained unopened. A recent alleged discovery of want of power in the Supreme Court in regard to the confirmation of assessments rendered action by the State Legislature necessary, and, this obtained, a revision of the whole system and its re-establishment on juster principles would, it was hoped, be undertaken.

The total permanent debt of the city in May, 1846, amounted to fourteen million seven hundred and eighty-seven thousand and eighty-eight dollars. One of the obvious means for liquidating the debt and meeting the amount annually required to be provided was the sale of such portion of the city property as was not strictly necessary for city purposes; contemplating, however, the reservation of such lands as public health should require when the densely populated bounds of the city should be limited along by Manhattan Island.

The estimated value of the real estate possessed by the city in 1846, exclusive of wharves and piers, was fifteen million nine hundred and three thousand dollars. The value of that required under the reservations to be permanently held was fourteen million six hundred thousand dollars, leaving available for such other disposition as the city government might order one million three hundred and three thousand dollars, which produced an annual income of forty-six thousand three hundred and fifty dollars.

In this connection the important question was presented, whether the wharves and piers, estimated as being worth from one and a half to two million dollars, and netting an income of scarcely two and a half per centum up on their value, might not, under salutary reservations and restrictions, be sold and an income thence secured more commensurate with their true value. No disposition consistent with the pledges given in creating the debt could be made of the proceeds of such sales except to increase the "sinking fund" provided for the extinguishment of the city debt.

The experiment of using roughly dressed stones for pavements was spoken of in this year (1846), and the utilization of the pauper and penitentiary labor in quarrying and preparing the stones was suggested. The great saving in repairs that such a change in the surface of the streets would effect to the owners of vehicles passing over them, and the increased burdens the same teams would propel, would, it was believed, commend a specific tax upon public conveyances owned in the city, the income of which would go far towards liquidating the expense of the change, while the exemption from the almost intolerable noise and jar, of which the residents of the great thoroughfares were unceasingly complaining, would, with the consent of the owners of property thus benefited, justify a portion of the expense being levied upon them. Another commendable feature of the scheme was that the improvement could be gradually undertaken with the increase of a dollar upon the existing heavy indebtedness, and the change would greatly facilitate and consequently lighten the labor and expense of cleaning the streets.

The expense of lighting the streets and public buildings had reached am amount of considerable magnitude in 1846, the levy for that purpose in that year amounting to one hundred and seventy-four thousand dollars.

The actual amount of the city debt for 1847 was eleven million seven hundred and forty-eight thousand three hundred and seventy-nine dollars and thirty-nine cents. The enormous and increasing expenditures under the head of "Cleaning Streets" called loudly for a thorough change and reform. The net expense for that object during the year was one hundred and seventeen thousand one hundred and ninety-seven dollars and thirty cents. While there is no grounds to doubt the fact of the expenditure, there was equally none for supposing that it was for "cleaning" streets, for it was a source of just and general complaint that the streets had never been more neglected, and that very little or no effort had been made to render them comfortable to the citizens.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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