Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 22, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



Markets and their ancient mode of Doing Business. -- New York takes Rank as the Third City in Christendom, and Exceeds in Expenditure any other Municipality in the World. -- The Growth and Prosperity Unparalleled. -- Ancient Nomenclature of Streets. -- Reduction In the Rate of Taxation. -- Sales of Real Estate. -- Public Works and Construction of Drives And Parks. -- The Croton and the Aqueduct.

In 1851 New York City was, and had been for some years previously, the great emporium of the western world, the very heart of commerce, whose pulsations were felt and responded to in every section of the Union. But it was not wise to rely upon its natural advantages, which made the city pre-eminent in the inducements it offered to commercial enterprise. It was not enough that wharves and piers should be provided for the accommodations of the fleets of sailing vessels. Accommodations should also be provided for ocean steamers, the number of which had increased with a rapidity unparalleled in the history of the world. The immense increase of our maritime intercourse with foreign countries is well illustrated by the following comparative figures of the tonnage employed in the foreign trade:



Number of vessels




Men Employed



Number of vessels




Men Employed


The coasting traded employed three hundred times as many vessels as the foreign, with a proportionate increase in tonnage.

The amount appropriated and expended during the year 1851 for building and extending piers and wharves and for repairs, alterations and additions, was three hundred thousand dollars, of which sum one hundred and ten thousand dollars was appropriated for building the bulkhead at the foot of Gansevoort Street.

The extension of Second Avenue was being rapidly pushed forward. Eighth Avenue was nearly completed to the width of forty feet as far as One Hundred and Twentieth Street by January, 1852. Broadway was being regulated, and soon after was opened for travel to its junction with Tenth Avenue at Seventy-first Street, and Sixth Avenue was completed to Fifty-seventh Street.

The additional number of gas lamps erected, and lighted during the year 1851 was one thousand one hundred and twenty-six, which made a total of gas lamps in the city of six thousand six hundred and ninety-six. The whole number of oil lamps then lighted was five thousand six hundred and two. The wharves and piers were as yet unlighted with gas, and as numerous accidents, some terminating fatally, had been reported, due in great part to the darkness which pervaded these localities, and which also invited depredations upon the shipping as well as upon the various goods which were of necessity sometimes left upon the wharves at night, provisions were made for lighting them with gas.

Nearly eleven miles of public sewers had been laid during 1851, and three thousand two hundred and fifty feet of culverts constructed, together with one hundred and fifty-nine receiving basins.

In May, 1851, Mayor Kingsland suggested the expediency of setting apart some portion of the island as a public park, to be laid out on a scale commensurate with the rapidly increasing population, and one which would afford the citizens more ample accommodations for relaxation and exercise than they then enjoyed. In accordance with that suggestion application was made to the legislature, and an act was passed at the special session held in July, authorizing the Common Council to take for the purpose of a public park the grounds lying between Sixty-sixth and Seventy-fifth Streets, and Third Avenue and the East River. Application was made to the Supreme Court for the appointment of commissioners, to estimate and award the amounts to be paid to the several owners of the property thus to be applied. The right of the Common Council to proceed under that law was contested in the Supreme Court by some of the owners of the property interested, and a decision was handed down adverse to the appointment of commissioners under the then existing law. It was therefore determined that renewed application be made to he legislature for the enactment of a law which would meet the exigencies of the case. It was regarded as a matter of deep regret to all interested in the improvement that the contractor for extending the Second Avenue to Harlem had deemed it necessary to open that avenue though the sire which a great majority of the people as well as the deliberate judgment of their immediate representative had fixed upon as the most suitable on the island for the new park, thus marring many of the natural beauties of the location.

In 1853 numerous petitions were sent to the Common Council, setting forth that there existed a necessity for the lighting of the streets all night. When the moon gave light the lamps were kept burning only a portion of the night, and the time of lighting and extinguishing them was determined by the rising and setting of the moon. During stormy and cloudy weather the moon was not visible, could not give any light whatever, and thus the city was left in darkness. Arrangements were accordingly made with the companies to have the streets lighted from dark until daylight throughout the year.

Railroads for city travel were in operation in January, 1854, on Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth and Eighth Avenues.

In February, 1766, the corporation of this city leased to Rev. Mr. Rogers and his associates forever the triangular piece of ground bounded by Beekman and Nassau Streets and Park row, and occupied in 1854 by the Brick Presbyterian Church, on the express condition that the premises should never, "at any time forever after," be appropriated to private secular uses, at an annual rent of forty pounds, which was paid until September 3, 1785, when the corporation reduced the rent to twenty-one pounds, three shillings. In 1822 the trustees of the Brick Church, at considerable expense, erected a large number of vaults on the church grounds for the interment of the dead, which promised to yield a handsome revenue. The Common Council prohibited interments in the same year south of Grand Street. The Board of trustees was desirous of selling their property in 1854, and, petitioning for the removal of the restriction in the grant, offered the city one-quarter of the amount for which the property could be sold, fixing the minimum at $225,000. The Common Council accepted the proposition.

Indifference to commercial progress was evinced in nothing more than in the neglect to provide proper dockage, thus presenting a singular contrast to every other seaport of any magnitude known to ancient or modern commerce. The quays and docks of London, Liverpool, Cardiff, and indeed nearly all English ports were first-class. At St. Petersburg, in Russia, there was (in 1856) one granite pier four miles in extent. At Havre, France, the docks were the principal structures of importance, having cost immense sums, and were justly the pride of its citizens. In fact there was not a city in Europe possessing navigation which did not surpass New York in the necessary provision for the proper convenience and protection of its shipping. Fernando Wood, mayor in 1856, earnestly presented these facts to the Common Council, and urged that measures be taken at once to place New York on an equal footing with the great seaports of Europe.

The system under which the work of street opening was carried on in 1856 originated in 1807, though the operation of the system had become very different from what it was then. The gradual increase of the expensiveness of street openings had become alarmingly perceptible. From 1814 to 1837 the average amount per mile for fees of counsel, commissioners and others employed by them was eight hundred and fifty dollars. From 1837 to 1844 it increased to two thousand three hundred dollars per mile, and in 1855, taking he Bowery opening from Chatham to Franklin Square, as a guide, a distance of about one thousand four hundred and fifty feet, for which upward of twenty thousand dollars per mile for the same service. In that case the surveyor's fees alone were taxed at five thousand three hundred dollars.

New York inherited from its old-fashioned ancestors, the Hollander and the Britisher, its present system of public markets. So far as the system was concerned, she stood in 1856 precisely where she did in 1664, when Governor Nichols took New Netherlands from the Dutch; or in 1673, when the Dutch took it as New York back again; or in 1674, when the British reoccupied it; or in 1776, when Uncle Sam was born; or in 1815, when he became a man and realized his strength and independence by the treaty of peace with Great Britain.

Mayor wood considered that ancient mode as wrong and obnoxious to the great republican principle that government should not interfere with private enterprise; that that is the best government which governs the least; that government should avoid becoming a proprietor or restricting the free exercise off individual rights so long as no encroachment was made upon the rights of others or of the community. He therefore recommended the abolition of the system of sale of the market property and the adoption of the principle, permitting any individual to open a shop for the sale of meats, etc., the same as for other articles of trade. In 1836 the class known as shop butchers first established themselves in this city in defiance of law at that time, and a strong effort was made to break them up, but it failed. Relief to Broadway, immediately and effective relief from the glut of traffic to the great thoroughfare, gave employment to the thoughts of the City Fathers in 1857, and efforts were contemplated for the accomplishment of so desirable an object. The suggestion of making a parallel avenue contiguous to and in the immediate vicinity of Broadway, by which to draw off some of the travel, received a good deal of consideration, as it would decrease, it was thought, the obstructions to a considerable extent. But the most practical suggestion was that of widening the carriage-way by withdrawing the permission granted to owners of property to occupy a portion of the highway with areas, step, porticos, etc. An average width of sixth feet on either side of the street was thus be gained--twelve feet added to the roadway.

In 1854 the subject of erecting a new City hall was agitated. The old Alms-house buildings on chambers Street, which had been for several years used for public purposes, wre destroyed by fire about that time, and the necessity for more room, not only for court, but for municipal uses, became so apparent that it was resolved to build a new City Hall. The only steps taken for this purpose appear to have been confined to the adoption of the plans.

No little embarrassment was caused in the discussion of that project by the expressed belief that the old park where the present City Hall stands was too far "down town," and Madison park (Madison Square) was spoken of as the fittest place for the proposed new Hall, and even Mayor Fernando Wood recommended that site.

In 1861 New York had grown to be the third city in Christendom, and if all who lived within a radius of five miles from its center wre included, the population would have been second only to that of London. At that time the union of New York and Brooklyn under one municipal government was much talked of, and was favored by some of the most responsible citizens.

The net amount of the city debt on December 31, 1862, was fifteen million three hundred and five thousand six hundred and sixty-three dollars and fifty-five cents, as against fifteen million five hundred and twenty-one thousand two hundred and ninety-one dollars and seventy-seven cents on December 31, 1861.

Perhaps no city in the world is more favorably located than New York for a well-devised system of drainage. The natural formation of the soil and the close proximity of the rivers surrounding the island greatly facilitate the construction of sewers. To these natural advantages could in a great degree be attributed the absence of a regular system which characterized the sewerage of the lower and more compact parts of the city in 1863, and these advantages had enabled even badly designed sewers in those localities to do their work with tolerable efficiency. The evils arising from a want of system were, however, becoming very apparent, and were constantly increasing. The neglect of a proper system of sewerage had forced the rebuilding of many of the London sewers at an enormous cost to the city, and it was urged as the part of sound policy to anticipate such a contingency by inaugurating as complete a system as human foresight and skill could devise.

It was officially stated in 1864 that the expenditures of the city exceeded in proportion those of any other municipality in the world. This fact was and had been for years the source of continual and well-grounded complaint. The ratio of increase was certainly greatly beyond what night have been reasonably expected from the growth of the city in wealth and population. The following table shows the relative advance for a number of years:


Population according to Census

Value Real and Personal Estate

Tax Levied


















Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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