Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 30, Part I

By Holice and Debbie

CHAPTER XXX

OTHER FAMOUS FIREMEN.

G. W. Anderson. -- F. F. Ferris. -- J. Hayes. -- H. P. McGown. -- S. Burhans, Jr. -- G. W, Wheeler. -- N. Finch. -- M. Fowler. -- W. R. W. Chambers. -- J. Galvin. -- J. E. Colgrove. -- J. P. Lacour. -- A. Boese. -- J. F. Gillin. -- L. J. Belloni. -- J. Harris. -- A. C. D'Ozeville .-- O. A. Farrin. -- J. Fagin. -- J. H. English. -- J. Kavanagh. -- J. Dailey. -- E. P. Durham. -- J. J. Slevin. -- E. Bonnoll. -- A. J. Allaire. -- J. Mullin. -- J. Buckbee. -- A. Franklin. -- M. J. Keese. -- J. L. Mott. -- H. J. Ockershausen. -- M. F. Odell. -- J. P. Platt -- J. R. Steers. -- J. Cornwell. -- R. McGinnis. -- F. E. Gilbert. -- A. P. Pentz. -- E. Byrnes.

GEORGE W, ANDERSON was born in the Tenth Ward, on January 24, 1834. He joined Phenix Hose Company, No. 22, on March 20, 1854. In succession he was secretary, treasurer, representative, and foreman of the company, holding the last position when the company disbanded in 1865. He is a self-made man, having educated himself. He wanted to be a bookkeeper, and found a position at the Charleston Steamship Company, at Pier 26, N. R. He had been purser, and for the past twelve years had been in the city and harbor transportation business for the Charleston, Morgan, and Guion line of steamers. He was elected supervisor of Kings County in 1878, served four years, and was president of the Board in 1880-81. On retiring from the presidency he was presented with a handsomely framed set of resolutions, which grace the walls of the Washington Club of Brooklyn, of which has been the president since its organization, covering a period of five years. He was one of the organizers of the Volunteer Firemen's Association, of his city. He also belongs to and is a life member of the Exempt Firemen's Association, and a member of the Veteran Firemen's Association, and its president for the last two years. Mr. Anderson is a member of the Brooklyn Bridge Trustees.

JAMES J. FERRIS, first vice-president of the Volunteer Firemen's association of the City of New York, is an old Fourth Warder, and is fifty-two years old. On attaining his majority he joined Eagle Engine Company No. 13. He served upwards of ten years in the company, four years of which he was secretary. His record as a volunteer fireman in the New York Department is one that he may well be proud of. He is also a member of the Association of Exempt Firemen of the city of New York, and held in high esteem by his fellow members. At the commencement of the war he was among the first to subscribe his name on the roll of the "Ellsworth Fire Zouaves," insisting on entering the service as a private, although he had had considerable military experience previously, he being captain in command of the "Continental Blues" (an independent uniformed organization) for some five years before the war, and at the time of entering upon the roll of Company "G" of the Eleventh Regiment. While in active service he always held a position in the "front rank" of the bravest; promotion for meritorious conduct and bravery were his reward. At the first Battle of Bull Run--having been advanced to the rank of sergeant--he was made a lieutenant on the field by Col. Farnham, but never got his commission. He fought bravely, and was badly wounded, on account of which wounds he was finally discharged. He ws one of the incorporators or charter members, of Noah L. Farnham Post, No. 458, G. A. R., and still holds his membership. He served a adjutant of the post for two terms. His happy and genial disposition, coupled with his executive ability, make him a coveted and valuable member and officer of every organization having his name on its roll book. He is now (1887) holding the position of Deputy United States Shipping Commissioner for the port of New York.

JAMES HAYES, a well-known citizen of the Fourteenth Ward, was one of the most active and stirring of politicians and firemen. He joined Marion Engine Company, No. 9, in 1856, was chosen foreman in 1857, and ably filled the position until the end of the Department, in 1865, a period of eight years. No. 9 had a long list of members, numbering seventy men, and the roll was constantly filled. Under the guidance of Mr. Hayes, the strictest discipline was maintained; his word was law, and the members of the company understood it. He held the position of councilman and supervisor, and was elected member of assembly in the years 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1878. Mr. Hayes is a member of the Veteran Firemen's Association, and, although an invalid for a long time, his flow of spirits remains, and he can relate many a story of old-time firemen and politicians with all the vigor of youth.

HENRY P. McGOWN was born and bred in Harlem; he joined Pocahontas Engine Company No. 49 on October 5, 1842, as private. Six months later he was made secretary, and the end of his first year of service found him foreman. The quarters of the company were n Fourth Avenue, between One hundred and Twenty-sixth and One-Hundred and Twenty-seventh Streets, where Engine No. 36 of the present Department is stationed. It was the glory of 49's boys that they were never "washed themselves" and frequently washed their rivals. Once when the frozen surface of a stream had to be cut to let down the suction pipe, Foremen McGown himself stood for hours up to his knees in the icy water, holding the pipe under. He would not take a man from the engine, as he wished to "wash" the machine just ahead.

In racing to fire Hose 43 and Engine 35 were "Pocahontas's" chief opponents.

One bitterly cold night the mansion of John a. Haven, at Fort Washginton, took fire. Mr. Haven was a commission merchant with an office at No. 7 Beaver Street. The alarm was carried from steeple to steeple, and 43 Hose and 49 engine started for the rescue. Scarcely could a foothold be obtained upon the frozen roads, and Beekman Hill was a glace of ice. Mr. Haven's house was on the river bank at the foot of a steep hill about four hundred feet long. The road into the merchant's grounds ran between two massive stone pillars. The Hose Company, which was slightly in advance of No. 49, dashed recklessly down this icy incline. In vain the men at the tongue strove to hold the carriage back. It shot like lightning down the hill, scattering the firemen right and left and running over one, named Wilson. He died from his injuries. Foreman McGown ordered his men to pass the ropes back under the engine, and hang on with all their might. They obeyed, and No. 49 passed between the pillars with but little damage. Mr. Haven's stately house was in flames from roof to cellar. His three young daughters had been rescued, but ran back to get some jewels. They had scarcely re-entered when the walls fell and buried them.

At daybreak, believing that he could be of no further service, Foreman McGown directed his men to "take up." Then Mr. Audubon, son of the famous naturalist, approached and begged him to assist in exhuming the bodies of the three girls. The family particularly desired No. 49 to remain. The men, cold, stiffened, and weary though they were, consented, and the foreman grated Mr. Audubon's request. After the best breakfast obtainable, the sad task begun. Tools were improvised by some men, and others worked with their bare hands. Several hours passed before something white was seen beneath the blackened timbers. It was the skull of one of the girls, denuded of flesh and hair, and bleached by the terrible heat. The right hand had been burned away, and the head lay on the arm in the attitude of sleep. Within a radius of a few feet were the bodies of the other girls. It was after noon when No. 49 finally "took up." They had been at work eighteen hours.

Mr. McGown studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1846. He is now justice of the Ninth District Court. He resigned from the Department May 4, 1857.

SAMUEL BURHANS, JR., took hold of an engine rope as soon as he was old enough to drop his mother's apron-strings. 27 Engine was his first love. She used to lie in Watts Street, between Greenwich and Huson. Mr. Burhans relates, with great gusto, that when the tow engines were racing to a fire down Canal Street 27's men would crowd to the rope furtherest from their opponents so as to avoid a row, leaving him to carry the other side of the rope. "I was so little then," he says, "that I could hardly hold the rope up from the ground, but I managed to get along." On July 16, 1852, he joined National Hose No. 24, and in the following year was elected assistant foreman. On October 3, 1854, he was elected foreman and continued to command the company till November 3, 1857. In the following year he was again elected. He resigned his position as foreman on May 3, 1859, and was afterwards elected representative. On January 28, 1861, he resigned from the Department. On the occasion of his resignation as foreman the company presented him with a handsome gold watch and massive fob chain and seal. While in command of this company Mr. Burhans was instrumental in obtaining a handsome hose carriage in place of the old-fashioned cart that the company had formerly used. He also designed the handsome house in Spring Street which was for many years the quarters of the company. The distinctive badges for Engine, Hose, and Hook and Ladder Companies, adopted in 1860, were also of his design. There used to hang in the house in Spring Street an immense frame containing the portrait of thirty members of the company. It was the first thing of the kind ever made and attracted much attention. On the disbandment of the Department it was placed in the museum at Mount St. Vincent in Central Park, and when that was burned the picture was one of the few objects saved. It is now in possession of Richard L. Simonson, an old member of the company. Mr. Burhans was also vice-president of the Board of Engineers and Foreman under Chief Carson. For fifteen years he was president of the Coney Island and Brooklyn Railroad Company. He is also a life member of the Association of Exempt Firemen. Mr. Burhans is an enthusiast in all matters pertaining to the history of the Volunteer Fire Department. He retired from business in 1867, and has for many years been librarian of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. He is a native of the Fifth Ward.

GEORGE W. WHEELER joined Clinton Engine No. 41, February 9, 1836, although he was far from robust. Mr. Wheeler was a drug clerk, 21 years old, when he joined. He was soon made secretary of the company, and might have held a higher office had he been of stronger frame. In seven years he was "out of his time," but remained three years loner in service. Then an injury to his leg compelled him to abandon the hard life he, with hundreds of others, loved so well. He was appointed bellringer at Essex market, and held the position for fifteen months, when the municipal police were organized, and his occupation was gone. Chief Anderson, a firm friend of the young man, offered him the post of clerk, and Mr. Wheeler accepted. Shortly afterwards Mr. wheeler was made foremen of the repaid shops--a salaried post--and at the same time discharged the duties of clerk. He joined the Exempt Engine Company, and is now secretary of the Exempt Firemen's Association.

Mr. Wheeler was injured three times while performing firemen's duty. Soon after he joined the Department, Truck 5 ran over his leg. In 1839 he fell under the brakes at the foot of Delancey Street, and his back was terribly hurt. It was two years before he completely recovered from this misfortune. A fortnight before his time expired Mr. Wheeler went with his company to a fire in Attorney Street. A sawmill was ablaze. While young Wheeler and a comrade were holding a pipe, the fire leaped across the street, as fires had a trick of doing in those days. The heat compelled the two men to abandon the pipe. They recovered it a few minutes later, and Mr. Wheeler sprang with it upon a pile of mahogany logs, which gave way beneath him. One massive trunk fell across his thigh, causing a compound fracture.

NATHANIEL FINCH, a prominent member of Hose no. 15, went to Pennsylvania at the outbreak of the oil fever, and settled in McKeesport, to which place he was elected mayor several years ago. Mr. Finch is a member of the Exempt Firemen's Association, and was at one time a member of the Executive Committee. He now resides at No. 79 Market Street, McKeesport.

MARK FOWLER joined Engine Company No. 4, in 1836, and served with her for seven years, during which time he was successively elected foreman and representative. He resigned from the Department at the close of his term of service with an excellent record for devotion to duty. Mr. Fowler is now in business in Front Street. He is a member of the Association of Exempt Firemen.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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