Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 25, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

Mr. Purdy was a man of strong frame, and owing to his temperate habits, is still hale and hearty. He is full of reminiscences. "I was in the '35 fire," said he to the writer, "although our engine was not, because we had been to a fire the night before. She froze up coming home, for it was a bitterly cold night, and she could not be thawed out, notwithstanding that we kept a fire in the engine house all day long. At the great fire our men helped other companies. I remained on the scene all night and the greater part of the next day. I was also present at the big '45 fire. At the burning of the Lorillard tobacco factory in Wooster Street, between Broome and Grand Streets, I was instrumental in checking the progress of the flames. No. 19 Hose was in the building, and, being notified of their danger, would not come out. I saved myself by jumping from a ladder." Of Mr. Uzziah Wenman, who was chief in his time, and was removed from that position on petition of the firemen, Mr. Purdy said: "At a fire you never knew where to find Mr. Wenman, because he was always working up somewhere out of our reach. He was so full of energy, dash, and courage he could not confine himself to a post in the street, where a chief should always be. When our company was down town are rivals were Nos. 4, 5, 9, 13, and 39. About 1835 No. 13 got a new engine and had it handsomely painted and everything about it in first-class condition. They declared that the first company that washed them its foreman should have a new suit of clothes. Well, at the Colgate fire in Dutch Street, near Fulton Street, we got the suction. No. 1 came from Duane Street and took our water, and the line was formed with No. 40 in it. No. 1 was the old 'Mosquito' float,' and No. 40 belonged in the 'Holy Alliance.' Both companies had all the men they wanted. We worked away and got them right up to the rabbets, when they would stop. I went to Anderson and told him they had better either work away or take all the water out of their boxes. If they would only work we would wash them inside of five minutes. Anderson said to them, 'If you don't work I will wash you right away from the engine.' Finally No. 1 was ordered out of the line, and No. 13 was sent to take her place. I went back into the line. If I had one I had twenty men ready to hold the pipe. I said "No" to all of them. I had one of the best men to h old the butt--Cornelius Keef. I said to them: 'The first man who attempts to take it out I'll knock him down.' There were lots of friends sanding around waiting to help us. I told my assistant not to let a man work longer than ten or fifteen seconds. We had the old-fashioned goose neck engine--our stroke was from one hundred and thirty to one hundred and fifty a minute. Many men would want to stay longer to show their powers. In less than five minutes we had No. 13 boiling over, and our suit of clothes was won. Then we let up. David T. Williams, afterward alderman of the Fourth Ward, was foremen of No. 13. When he saw that he was beaten he went into Fulton Market to hide his tears. That was the kind of enthusiastic men there were in those days.

"But our own engine also got washed once. It was at the time of the split in No. 11 Company. There was a fire near Maiden Lane, and we had not a dozen of our men left. No. 5 washed us. When I got to the engine I found my assistant foreman, William H. Baird, on top, shouting he would bet one hundred dollars they could not wash the engine again. Mr. Hoffmire ordered him down. Baird refused and was dismissed. I saw that every one was disheartened. I went to work, planked up so as to make it easier for the men, got help, and said, "If you will go to work, boys, we can rake all the water they can give us." And so we did, although we were at it for three-quarters of an hour.

"White I was foremen of No. 11 I always managed to get the suction. I would often take the engine apart to make sure that everything was in good condition. I had made more experiments than any other fireman on engines. I even went so far as to have a large paid of cylinders put in, but I had to take them out and put the small regulation ones in, as the law required. Our engine house was a kind of primitive place. Our seats were the lockers in which the wood was stored. When the boys wanted a 'spree' they would go to a hotel, generally the old Shakespeare in Fulton Street. When I first joined we used to go to Burr's place in Washington Market, not that I ever took anything stronger than a cigar, which may account for the good health I enjoy to-day. Other rendezvous were Conklin Titus's, Dutch and Ann Streets, and Harry Ludlam's. (Harry was the machinist in the corporation yard). Ours was the first company that ever turned out in fire dress on State occasions. That was in 1830 on the occasion of the celebration of the French Revolution. We all appeared in neat kersey suits.

"The first company who ever had a horse to run was Hook and Ladder No. 1. The introduction of horse power was owing to a squabble in the company, which resulted in the resignation of so many members that not enough remained to draw the truck to a fire. No. 11 was the means of killing that horse. There was a fire up in Broadway, and we and Hook and Ladder No. 1 ran side by side. Going up the hill at Canal Street was the proudest moment of my life. We beat the horse, and No. 1 did not get to the fire till some time after us. We winded the horse, which was no good after that. I recollect, by the way, that at that time Canal Street has numerous lumber yards. There was a horse market in Sullivan Street between Grand and Broome Streets--all open lots. There were lots of fun to be had with the old nags up for sale. How well, too, I recollect the playing matches at the Cold Spring Garden! The first well, too, I recollect was between Nos. 27 and 36. Each had fifty feet of hose and worked five minutes, at the expiration of which that engine which was found to have the most water lost the match. The first time No. 27 won. It was asserted that No. 36 had a secret valve for letting out the water, but the boys would make any excuse to avoid the disgrace of being washed. The match was played over again with picked men. I worked with No. 36, and we won. The son of Seth Gear, the builder was foreman of No. 36. The old man came along, looked at the fun and said, 'I will bet one thousand dollars to one hundred dollars that 36 wins.' There were no takers. The next contest was between Nos. 30 and 37, when No. 37 won. Going to the second building of the Bowery Theater we got ahead of all the others at Chrystie Street. Having to come up from Old Slip we never knew where the fire was till we got to the City Hall, where the 'pointer' was.

"Some of the well known firemen of my time were J. D. Bedell, foreman of No. 4, a fine business man, afterwards assistant alderman of the Eighth Ward; Samuel J. Willis, foreman of No. 5, alderman of the Seventh Ward in 1833 and 1839; Robert Thompson, his assistant; Joseph Crosswaite, foreman of No. 21; Peter McNamara, foreman of No. 22; Dwight B. Palmer, foreman of No. 41; John Goodwin (the butcher), foreman of No. 40; Bill Snell, foreman of No. 39; William Rhodes, foreman of No. 30; Jacob Brush, foreman of No. 29; James K, Rowe, foreman of No. 28; Ezeriah W. Ross (the builder), foreman of No. 27; Randolph Lowrey, his assistant; John Murphy, foreman of No. 26; and John Cox, his assistant; Abraham Rich, foreman of No. 20, and David Beck, foreman of No. 19. Jim Bevans, also a foreman of No. 21, was a noted fighter and a betting man; he fought and beat 'Sandy' Graham, of No. 40, on the 'Island,' as we used to call Brooklyn. Bevans was at the time a runner with No. 11, and had he been beaten he would have run no more with us. We used to call a runner 'panfish.' Then, there was the Brennan family--Matt., Owen, and Tim, the last two belonging to us. Matt. could run with his lame leg in a surprisingly swift manner. No. 30 used to have a lot of butchers. Amon its members were John and Chris Thiel or Theall, who were noted for their strength, and fighting qualities. The boys would then take a civil knock-down and forget all about it afterwards. Abel K. Woolsey, of No. 15, was also noted for his strength, and Rawlinson M. Smith, a sailmaker, of the same company. Other names that recur to me are those of Manus Kelly, 'Johnny Ketchy,' and Seth Douglas. The last died a short time ago; his father was foreman of No. 27.

"Through my life I never had a week's sickness. I used to find the career of a fireman very hard. Up at a fire all night, I used to almost fall asleep at the bench during the day, and would swear that I would never go to a fire again. But in the evening when I made myself spruce I felt equal to anything that might happen. The life was especially hard for one who did his whole duty. The drones wre soon weeded out of a company."

ANTHONY YEOMAN joined Warren Hose Company No. 33, December 7, 1852, located in Sullivan Street, Eighth Ward. Mr. Yeoman was a thoroughly active fireman. No. 33 was doing duty in the Third, Fourth and Eighth Districts. He was elected assistant foreman, and afterwards foreman. Subsequently he retired from office, and resumed the more congenial, active duties of a "high private,' and as such he remained with the company until the final disbandment of the Department, having served as a working member in one company with unflagging interest for thirteen years. He is one of the trustees of the Fire Department Fund, and is serving his twelfth year in that honorable and trustworthy position. That he had been for thirty-three years a trusted official in the New York Post-Office is a signal proof of Mr.Yeoman's capacity and faithfulness in public as well as private life.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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