Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 21, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

Water pipes, connecting with the Croton Aqueduct, were paid down through nearly all the streets of the city south of Twenty-third Street, including Eighth Avenue to Twenty-fifth Street, and third Avenue to Thirty-third Street, and several of the cross streets between third and Fourth Avenues as far north as Twenty-eighth Streets, by May, 1844. In all a total of one hundred and fifty-five and three-quarter miles of pipes had been put down, sufficient to accommodate the existing population south of Twenty-third Street, three hundred and ten thousand. The number of fire hydrants was about one thousand five hundred, and of free hydrants about six hundred.

The number of new buildings erected for the year ending December 31, 1844, was one thousand two hundred and ten.

The actual debt of the city in May, 1845, was twelve million four hundred and fifty-four thousand four hundred and ninety-seven dollars and sixty cents. In that year Avenue A was regulated between Thirteenth and Twenty-third Streets; Fifth Avenue was paved between Twenty-first and Twenty-third Streets; First Avenue was regulated and graded between Thirteenth and Twenty-fifth Streets, and regulated between Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth Streets; Fourth Avenue was numbered from Seventeenth to Twenty-sixth Streets, and opened from Twenty-eighth to thirty-eighth Streets; and Second Avenue was regulated between Eighteenth and Twenty-sixth Streets, and the road worked through the middle of the avenue twenty-five feet in width between Twenty-ninth and Forty-second Streets. The number of buildings erected in the year 1845 was one thousand nine hundred and eighty, being an increase of seven hundred and seventy over the number for 1844, which shows that the year 1845 had been one of increased activity and prosperity.

Measures were taken to open Madison Square in December 1845. The corporation, in 1837, applied to the legislature for an act to alter the plan of this city and to erect a square. Such an act was passed in April of that year, and were it not for that act no square would have been erected, inasmuch as it changed the plan of the city laid out by the commissioners under the act of 1807. The application of the corporation for that act may be considered as the first dedication of the ground for a square. The corporation inclosed nearly the whole of the ground with a fence, which may be considered the second dedication, and, as the third act of dedication, purchased from a Mr. Ward a piece of ground lying within the inclosure. The ground within the inclosure belonging to the corporation was the old Potter's Field, which, after it ceased to be a burying ground, was occupied as an arsenal, and subsequently by the House of Refuge and as a burying ground for the House of Refuge. It was the only piece of ground, with the exception of a small gore, that the corporation owned south of the reservoir.

In May, 1846, the total permanent debt of the city amounted to fourteen million two hundred and sixty-three thousand six hundred and nine dollars. The amount appreciated for the support of the city government for that year, including the estimated revenue not assigned to the sinking fund and the amount to be raised by tax, was one million six hundred and seventeen thousand four hundred and eighty dollars.

The net total debt of the city on the thirtieth of April, 1847, was twelve million six hundred and eighty-seven thousand eight hundred and thirty-three dollars and ninety-nine cents. The expenses for lighting the streets, markets, station houses, etc., for 1846, amounted to one hundred and sixty-two thousand eighth hundred and thirty dollars and eighty-one cents. There were about two thousand six hundred lamps supplied with gas, and seven thousand six hundred with oil. As the gas afford more light, and it was believed that the city could be more economically lighted with it than with oil, the gradual discontinuance of oil lamps was begun.

That noble work, the Croton Aqueduct, the enduring monument to the enterprise of New York, of which all were so justly proud, and whose value was each day more and more forcibly illustrated and properly appreciated, fulfilled all the expectations that had been formed of it at its conception, and was rapidly approaching completion. The work at the High Bridge was nearly finished.

The value of the property in docks and slips belonging to the city was estimated at from one and a half millions to two millions of dollars, the net amount of revenue therefrom amounting to about forty thousand dollars annually. That property in the hands of private individuals would, it was believed, produce a revenue bearing some proportion of its value, while under the management of the city it was almost unproductive. The then mayor, Wm. V. Brady, suggested that the wisest course to pursue would be to dispose of a portion at least of that property, and apply the proceeds to the extinguishment of the city debt.

The number of buildings erected in the city of New York during the year 1846 was one thousand nine hundred and ten, a decrease of seventy from the year 1845, which was mainly attributed to the falling off in the First Ward, which was vastly increased in 1845 on account of building on the "Burnt District."

By the tenor of the existing contract (October, 1847) with the Manhattan Gas Light Company, the city had no right to require the company to furnish any of the public lamps with gas north of the line of Sixth Street. The city had long previously outgrown that provision, the line of Sixth Street being then rather a central than an extreme one; and when it was considered that the existing contract would not expire by its own limitation until 1853, it was plain to the dullest perception that it was wholly inadequate to meet the wants of the rapidly-extending city. By mutual agreement the line of Forty-second Street was substituted for Sixth Street.

The introduction of the Croton water had attracted much attention to the construction of sewers both from the increased necessity which it exacted for drainage and the increased facility which it gave for adapting them to the health and comfort of the citizens. In May, 1848, there were forty miles of sewers in use, ten of which had been built during the preceding year.

The total number of new buildings put up in the city during the year 1848 amounted to one thousand one hundred and ninety-one, a decrease of six hundred and fifty-five from 1847.

The total aggregate of city debt from stocks issued and redeemable from the sinking fund was on the thirty-first of December, 1849, fifteen million three hundred and fifty-six thousand seven hundred and eighty-three dollars. Of that amount three million one hundred and ninety-nine thousand one hundred and five dollars were held by the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund, leaving the net debt of the city redeemable from the sinking fund twelve million one hundred and fifty-seven thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight dollars. The whole amount of stocks issued for the construction of the Croton Water Works was thirteen million eight hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars. It thus appears that entire debt of the city had been in reality incurred for the construction of that stupendous work; and of the total amount of debt created for that purpose one million six hundred and seventy-nine thousand two hundred and thirty-two dollars had in fact already been paid, and it was asserted that the revenues of the city then pledged to the redemption of the principal and interest of the city debt would extinguish the whole amount in less than thirty-five years.

The taxing of the personal property of non-residents was a subject that engaged the earnest attention of the city government. A large amount of property, estimated at several millions, annually escaped taxation because the owners resided outside the city. It seemed singularly unjust toward residents that their personal property should be taxed while that of non-residents was exempt. Though equally protected and benefited by the laws of the municipal and State governments. The existing law operated as a reward to encourage business men to reside without the limits of the county, and it was therefore suggested that immediate measures should be taken to procure the passage of a law authorizing the taxation of the personal property of non-residents.

The extension of wharves and piers was agitated in 1850. The growing commerce of the city demanded an increased amount of wharf accommodations, the want of which had compelled a portion of shipping to seek a harbor on the Brooklyn and Jersey shores, while the New York wharves could have afforded a more convenient, safer, and better harbor if they had been extended at an earlier period. The existing rates of wharfage had been fixed by the legislature as far back as 1813, when the expense of building wharves bore a very inconsiderable proportion of that to this date. They were then seldom required to be more than two hundred to three hundred feet long by thirty feet wide, and rarely had to be extended into a depth of water of more than ten to twenty feet; whereas at this date (January, 1850) the length of piers was required to be from four to six hundred feet long by forty feet wide, and to be built in water from twenty to forty feet in depth. Thus while the corporation and owners of water fronts were necessarily subjected to that great additional expense, the rates of wharfage remained as in early days. An application was therefore contemplated to the legislature for the passage of a law authorizing such an increase of the existing rates of wharfage as would correspond with the increase of expense, and pay a reasonable percentage on the investment. Such a law, it was hoped, would serve a strong incentive to continue the further extension of wharves, thereby affording the additional accommodations so much needed and so long neglected, and would also afford a strong inducement to the proprietors of adjacent property to put up and line the wharves with valuable stores and warehouses, and in that way give life and encouragement to the trading interests, and at the same time enlarge the basis of taxable property in the city.

The avenues and roads had not, in the opinion of reliable authorities, received from the Common Council the attention which the necessities of the rapidly growing population demanded. Many years had elapsed since the avenues were opened in law. The owners through whose land the avenues were laid had been assessed for such opening and the assessments long paid, and in some instances enforced with oppressive severity. But notwithstanding the great lapse of time since the opening in law and the payment of the assessments, yet even at this time some of these avenues had not really been opened, but remained in precisely the same condition as if such opening had not taken place and such assessments had never been paid. Some of them, it was true, or rather some portions of them, had been thrown open and the fences removed, but they had never been put, and were not at this time, in a condition to be travelled or used. It was pertinently asked, with what justice or with what good faith the avenues were ordered to be opened, and the payment of the assessment immediately enforced, unless they wre required for immediate use? Why did the corporation order them to be opened and enforce the payment therefor, unless it was intended in good faith, immediately afterward to put them in a suitable condition for public travel and public use? And why had they not been thus improved?

To the inattention to those improvements and to the wants of the overflowing population in the lower wards, and in the long neglect to provide the ordinary facilities for the public to become acquainted even with the geography of the upper wards ofd the city, was to be traced one of the principal reasons why thousands of citizens had sought residences out of the city, instead of remaining, and locating on this island.

The legislature of 1821, upon the application of the corporation, passed an act tpo extend the Battery into the North and East rivers to a distance of six hundred feet, and for that purpose vested the title to the land under the water in the mayor, aldermen, and commonalty of the city and their successors forever, providing that it should not be appropriated to any other use then that of a public ground. By that act the legislature not only authorized that public improvement, but had thrown around it the shield of its high authority as a guarantee against its use except as a public ground, and against any encroachment or invasion of its borders. The area of the Battery at that time was ten and a half acres, and if extended to the distance authorized by the legislature, would cover about twenty-four acres. The prosecution and completion of the work were warmly urged by the then mayor, Caleb S. Woodhull.

The appropriation for lamps and gas in 1849 was two hundred and ten thousand dollars. For the year 1850 it was one hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars.

The great amount of building, paving, and sewering going on tended greatly to obstruct the streets, and left them encumbered with sand and rubbish. Ordinances were suggested providing a remedy.

In 1847 thirty-three suits were instituted in the State of New Jersey against Cornelius W. Lawrence, formerly mayor, to recover the value of a large amount of personal property destroyed by his order at the great fire of 1835. The defense of those suits had been undertaken by the city. Thirty-one of them had been decided in favor of mr. Lawrence, and the other two were still pending.

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Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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