Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 22, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

The tower on the Brooklyn side of the suspension bridge between New York and Brooklyn was nearly finished by the opening of 1875. On the New York the tower had been carried a few feet above the springing of the arches and would be completed within the ensuing season. The Brooklyn anchorage was within twenty feet of completion and would require about three months to finish it. The castings required to support the cables of both towers had been made. A consolidation of the cities of New York and Brooklyn into one municipality appeared to be only a question of time, and when the bridge should have been completed that union was regarded as a prospective surety.

The extent of the operations of the Department of Public Works, in 1875, may be perceived from the fact that the attention of its officers was constantly required, by not only the works of construction in progress, but by two hundred and about seventy-five miles of street pavements, twelve and a half miles of boulevards and about fifty miles of streets regulated and graded but not then paved; by three hundred and fifty-two miles of sewers with four thousand three hundred and nine receiving basins, and by twenty thousand one hundred and thirty-nine street lamps. There were also distributed through four hundred and ten miles of mains one hundred and five million gallons of Croton water daily, being about one hundred gallons to each of the inhabitants every day. The revenues by the city from the use of Croton water were about one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars per annum. During 1875 the Department, among other works of public improvement, constructed thirteen miles of sewers, culverts, and drains with one hundred and twenty-nine receiving basins.

The question of accommodation for travel across the Harlem River again forced itself upon public attention by reason of the frequent interruption at the Third Avenue bridge for repairs, and because of the age and weakness of the structure at McComb's Dam. The rebuilding of the Central Bridge was therefore suggested, and the providing of a steam engine to work the draw of the third Avenue bridge; and preparation were set a foot for two additional bridges--a suspension bridge half a mile north of High Bridge and a bridge at Madison Avenue.

On the 31st of December, 1876, the net debt of the city amounted to one hundred and thirteen million eight hundred and thirty thousand six hundred and eleven dollars.

A deficient supply of Croton water during 1876 had occasioned much inconvenience, and many remedies had been suggested. The financial condition of the city precluded all thought of undertaking the construction of a new Aqueduct, as the existing one had cost ten millions of dollars when laborers received only fifty cents a day and an additional aqueduct would probably cost double that sum.

The aqueduct conveyed to New York one hundred and ten millions of gallons per day, an amount beyond the existing necessities, and on the completion of the new reservoirs in Westchester county, that quantity could be furnished regularly during the whole year. These reservoirs would be completed within a year, and than s supply of water, it was believed, would be at hand, sufficient to meet the requirements of the city. Besides, the new high-service water-works for the purpose of supplying water to the elevated localities would soon be furnished, when it was hoped water could be furnished in the upper stories of most of the buildings. It was a fact worthy of consideration that during 1876 when there had been an exceptional scarcity of water, there was a sufficient supply for all necessary and legitimate purposes and that as soon as the authorities took steps to stop the waste of water all danger of a failure of supply wa at once averted.

For twenty years (from 1857) the city debt kept steadily increasing. From an indebtedness of about eighteen million dollars at that time, at the expiration of ten years, namely, December 31, 1867, the amount had increased to thirty-two million nine hundred and fourteen thousand four hundred and twenty-one dollars and twenty-six cents. This covered the period of the war, during two years of which, 1863 and 1864, more than twelve million dollars was added to the debt.

From 1867-8 may be dated the accession of the corrupt administration known as "the Ring" to full control. That dynasty continued in power for nearly five years, until 1872. During that period the aggregate debt of the city increased as follows:

December 31, 1868


December 31, 1869


December 31, 1870


December 31, 1871


December 31, 1872


Thus followed an almost entire change of administration and many sincere efforts to economize expenditures and diminish the increase of the public debt. But these efforts could hardly be said to be successful as the debt continued to increase until on December 31, 1876, the bonded debt amounted to $119,811,310.39. During 1877 a decrease of more than two millions was affected, attributable mainly to the careful and economical management of the finances.

A large amount of block-pavement was laid in 1877. Murray, John, Maiden Lane, Dey, Cortlandt, Rector, Nassau, Ferry, Warren, and Spruce Streets were paved with granite blocks and trap-rock.

The deficient supply of Croton water during 1877 attracted much attention. The supply during the drought in the fall was so diminished as to cause much serious inconvenience. It was expected that the new reservoir, near Brewster's Station, would be completed in the spring of 1878, which would hold three to four millions of gallons. That, with the existing resources would furnish at all seasons of the year the ninety million of gallons daily which was all that could safely be brought to the city by the existing aqueduct.

The necessity for a larger water supply was again keenly experienced in 1881. It was seen that the single conduit in use for bringing water from the Croton valley and its vicinity would at no distant day prove inadequate for that service. In 1842, when the Croton Aqueduct was completed, New York contained about three hundred and thirty thousand inhabitants, and the daily supply was forty million gallons. The population had increased to one million two hundred and eight thousand, according to the census of 1880, and the average daily consumption of water was ninety-three million five hundred thousand gallons. The subject of an additional source of supply both as an auxiliary to the Croton aqueduct for general service, and as its temporary substitute in emergency, was, therefore, receiving careful and earnest consideration.

The net funded debt of New York on December 30, 1881, was $98,302,854.18. Since 1876 the decrease had been $16,655,757.58. For 1881, the decrease was $3,207,037.38, as against $2,912,170.98 for the year 1880, which figures were a gratifying comment upon the administration of the municipal finances. The tax rate for 1882, namely, two dollars and twenty-five cents, was materially less then during any year for the previous ten years.

The year 1883 was made memorable in the history of New York and Brooklyn by the completion and dedication to public use of the Bridge which connects them, thus uniting two great cities whose interests are almost identical by a structure great in itself, but greater still in its promised benefits to the best interest of the people of both.

Abundant evidences were to be found in 1884, on every hand, of the continued prosperity and vigorous growth of the city. new avenues of transportation had been opened to and from the interior of the country, great warehouses had been constructed, new exchanges, great office buildings had been completed, modest dwellings and palatial residences had been built in great numbers, and the wharves and piers had proven far too limited in number and space to accommodate the foreign and domestic commerce which sought this port.

The net bonded debt of the city on December 31, 1883, was ninety-two million five hundred and forty-six thousand and twenty-five dollars and eighty-eight cents, a decrease during that year of three million five hundred and ninety-five thousand nine hundred and twenty-two dollars and seventy cents.

On the ninth of January, 1883, the State Senate, by resolution, requested the mayor of New York to select and appoint five citizens who in conjunction with himself should, without delay, examine, etc., a plan for a new aqueduct submitted to the mayor by the Commissioner of Public Works, in February, 1882. Pursuant to that resolution the mayor appointed Orlando B. Potter, John T. Agnew, Wm. Dowd, Amos F. Eno, and Hugh N. Camp. Those gentlemen reported tot he Senate on March 7.

The legislature subsequently passed an act entitled "An Act to provide new reservoirs, dams, and a new aqueduct with the appurtenances thereto for the purpose of supplying the city of New York with an increased supply of pure and wholesome water." That act created a commission consisting of the mayor, comptroller, the commissioner of Public Works, James C. Spencer, George W. Lane, and William Dowd, who were empowered and directed to carry out the provisions of the act. At the time of the approval of the act by the governor on the first of June, 1883, one of the gentlemen composing the commission was absent in Europe, and therefore no legal organization could be effected until his return, which occurred late in the month of July. Early in

August the commission duly organized, and entered upon the active discharge of its duties.

At the first regular meeting in august, 1883, the Commissioner of Public Works submitted plans for the construction of a dam now known as the "Quaker Bridge Dam," and for an aqueduct from the site of said dam to the Harlem River near High Bridge upon line commonly known as the "Hudson River Route." That route met with serious opposition from property owners throughout almost its entire length, passing as it did in many places near the existing Croton Aqueduct and through much highly improved and very valuable property. After a good deal of earnest examination of all the schemes proposed the Commission finally decided upon a modification of the "Hudson River Route." A more detailed statement of this subject will be found in the preceding chapter.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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