Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 31, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

SEAMAN LICHTENSTEIN, the well known produce merchant, went to work in Washington Market just half a century ago, when he was but eleven years of age, and by dint of sheer hard work was in a position to start in business on his own account at the age of twenty-one, when he secured a good stand, and, by his great popularity and unrivaled reputation for square dealing, laid the foundation of the extensive business of which he is now the head. At the age of fifteen he began to run with Columbia Engine No. 14, and became a member of that crack company in 1849. Among his comrades were such famous firemen as Chief Decker, Owen Brennan, Harry B. Venn, John Baum, and Augustus Taylor. Engine 14 then lay at Vesey and Church Streets, with the entrance on Vesey Street. The bunk-room was two doors away on Vesey Street, over the saloon of Enoch Smith.

"I was a "bunker" for three years," says Mr. Lichtenstein, "and it wasn't very often that I wasn't the first man at the tongue when an alarm was rung. You see I had a little advantage over the boys, for my business made it necessary for me to get up at two o'clock in the morning, and of course I had to get to bed early; so that when an early morning fire came I had had my sleep, and was ready to jump at the first tap of the bell, while the others, who had only turned in a short time before, were deep in their first slumber. In this way I got the first start and never failed to make the most of it. True, I was never a laggard, but a man should be extra wide-awake and smart to get ahead in such trials as this. But despite all active competitors, as the boys say, "I got there all the same."

Mr. Lichtenstein was never an officer of the company, simply because he felt that he could not spare the necessary time from his business, abut he was active in committee work when the welfare of the company was at stake, or when entertainments were projected. He was a member of the committee appointed with power to erect a new engine house on the site of the old one, but with the entrance on Church Street. When it was finished it was pronounced a model house in the city, and, with this end in view, contributed out of his own pockets nearly four thousand dollars for extra furniture and embellishments, the funds originally set aside for the purpose being exhausted. The company took possession of its new quarters with great eclat and kept open house for three days, during which the premises were inspected by hundreds of admiring visitors. Soon after, the honorary members met and subscribed a sum sufficient to reimburse Mr. Lichtenstein for his generous advance.

At the balls given by the company in Tripler Hall and Niblo's Garden Mr. Lichtenstein was always on the committee. He remained an active member of Engine Company No. 14 till the disbandment, up to which time he resided in the Third Ward.

PETER B. VAN ARSDALE was just of age in 1856, when he joined Friendship Hook and Ladder Company No. 12, then stationed in Thirteenth Street near Fourth Avenue. He served there five years, making the bunk room his headquarters. When his time had expired he joined Clinton Hose Company No. 17, and served for three years. During a great portion of this time he was a member of the Board of Representatives.

JAMES A. FLACK was born in Willsborough, Essex County, New York, in the year 1830. At an early age he came to the city of New York, and almost immediately identified himself with the Volunteer Fire Department.

He was a runner with Clinton Engine company No. 41 (commonly known as "Old Stag") long before he became of age, and was elected a member and secretary of the company when he was only nineteen years old. On attaining his majority he continued his association with the old company, and remained with it until the commencement of the war, having served as an active fireman for over ten years.

During his connection with the Department he was the representative of his company for three different terms in Fireman's Hall. He was always an active and efficient fireman, and no duty was too arduous or danger too great for him to perform when occasion required.

Mr. Flack was (1885) elected clerk f the City and County of New York, running on the Tammany Hall ticket, and the respect in which he was held by his old associates in the Department was manifested by the flattering vote which he received.

JOHN W. GARSIDE was born at No. 13 Oak Street, New York city, November 27, 1818. At an early age he was a volunteer with Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12. On the volunteer roll were the names of men who became famous in the history of the Fire Department: William Drew, William M. Tweed, two of the Pentz family, and many others equally well known fire names. August 18, 1840, he became a member of the company. About the time of the Croton celebration, October 14, 1842, a trouble occurred between C. V. Anderson, chief engineer, and the company, and after the parade the company never performed any duty. In 1844 the company was reorganized under the name of Tradesmen's Engine Company No. 12. Mr. Garside was a leading member, and was elected assistant foreman, and later on foreman. In 1847 No. 12 was disbanded. During 1847 he joined Colombian Hose Company No. 9; in 1848 was elected assistant foreman, in 1850 elected foreman, and resigned from No. 9 in 1860, after serving thirteen years in the company. On October 14, 1853, the members of No. 9, appreciating the valuable services of Mr. Garside, presented him with a handsome silver trumpet. On July 1, 1854, a fire occurred at noonday, in Grand Street, opposite Essex market. Three persons were in the burning building unable to escape, the stairs having burnt away. Mr. Garside, by main strength and activity, clambered from the window of an adjoining building, lifted the imperilled persons form their dangerous positions, and passed them to the next window; thus saved their lives, and received the hearty plaudits of an excited and enthusiastic throng. The papers published highly laudatory notices of the heroic deed, nor did the appreciation of the people end here. A few days after, a gentleman invited Mr. Garside to call at Henry T. Gratacap's store in Grand Street. When he entered the store he found a committee waiting for him. Among the party was Thomas Asten, John Slowey, Henry T. Gratacap, Frederick W. William, and James Ridabock. After hearty greetings Dr. Wilson represented to Mr. Garside a magnificent gold watch and chain. The Common Council passed a resolution directing the comptroller to draw a warrant for a gold medal to be presented to John W. Garside. The medal was made--a very elegant specimen of workmanship--the precious metal used in its manufacture costing over one hundred dollars in gold. The city's gift was presented to the brave fireman by Mayor Fernando Wood at his office in City Hall. Mr. Garside was appointed bell ringer in 1849, and retained the position until 1860. When the Exempt Engine Company was organized he joined, and was elected second assistant foreman at the first meeting of the company, and afterwards first assistant foreman. He was on the police force, first and last, thirty years. He is now a member of the Volunteer Firemen's Association.

JOHN J. BLAIR, ex-fire commissioner, was born in New York City April 17, 1833. He joined engine Company No. No. 6 in 18852, when William M. Tweed was foreman, and Joseph H. Johnson assistant foremen. Mr. Blair's life has been one of unusual activity. He was a constable in the Seventh Ward before he had reached his voting age. When he was twenty-two years of age he was appointed assistant captain of police, and held the position until the legislature passed the new police act; was "superintendent of repairs to gunboats and machinery" at Hilton Head in 1862, and was noted as one of the most skillful machinists in the service of the United States. When his labors for the government were finished he returned to New York, and for a time was connected with the Fifth Judicial District Court. He was the first president of the Workingmen's Union in this city. Mr. Blair was elected to the legislature in 1867, and defeated the ring candidate in t a district that was supposed to be entirely in the hands of the bosses. He was returned to the legislature in 1870, 1871, and 1872. Was chairman of the "Committee on Engrossed bills," and received from his fellow members a set of engrossed resolutions, expressing their personal regard and their appreciation of his parliamentary and legislative knowledge.

Mr. Alvord said in seconding the resolutions: "In my acquaintance with legislative duties I have never yet seen so prompt, punctual, and straight-forward a chairman of the engrossing committee as Mr. Blair, and I pronounce him the noblest work of God, in this respect, that he is an honest man." In 1870 Mr. was appointed fire commissioners, and made a valuable and efficient officer. During all his official years he never ceased to remember his old companions, the Volunteers. He is now one of the directors of the Volunteer Firemen's Association. Mr. Blair studied for the bar, was called, but has not practiced to any extent. His practical mind turned to machinery, and at present he has entire charge of the machinery connected with the New York Post-Office.

JOHN M. VAN ALST ran as a boy with engine No. 8, lying at 91 Ludlow Street, and joined her on July 15, 1846. He was then some months under the legal age, but, as he says now with a merry twinkle, "I think I'll be forgiven for a small fib in a good cause." After serving his time with engine No. 8 he joined Hose No. 19 and ran with that company as an active and honorary member for nine years. In 1854 he became a member of the Exempt firemen's association. He is now a life member.

Engine No. 12 in Delancey Street was the principal rival of 8 engine. "We never went out without meeting her," says Mr. Van Alst, "and we rarely met without a row. I always thought fighting was a bad business, and I'm not ashamed to say that I never struck a man in my life, although I was knocked down once and was pretty badly hurt. Those were rough times--fighting times and drinking times, but I kept away from the rows and the whiskey, and I'm feeling the benefit of it now." Mr. Van Alst is in his sixtieth year, but is as active as most men of forty. He thinks that if the Volunteer Department was in existence to-day he would join it.

FRANCIS J. TWOMEY, now clerk of the Common Council, was born in 1825 in Canada, not far from Montreal, and came to New York with his parents when he was eleven years old. After running with the engines a a lad he joined Aurora Engine company No. 46, then lying on the northeast corner of Eighty-fifth Street and Third Avenue, on February 2, 1847. He served his full time with that company, and subsequently assisted in organizing Aqueduct Engine No. 10, lying in Eighty-second Street, near Third Avenue, and served with her for several years. He is a member of the association of Exempt Firemen. Captain Twomey began life in the printing office of Francis L. Hawkes, D.D., of St. Thomas's Hall College, Flushing L. I., where he served his apprenticeship. In the fall of 1844, his apprenticeship being over, he came to New York and went to work in the Sun job printing office, then at the corner of Nassau and Fulton Streets. Subsequently he worked as a compositor on the Evening Mirror, the owned and edited by General George P. Morris, Nathaniel P. Willis, and Hiram fuller, and on the Home Journal. In 1849 he entered the employ of Messrs. McSpedon & baker, printers to the Corporation, at No. 25 Pine Street, and remained with them till 1855. For two years he had complete charge of their establishment. In 1855 he was elected one of the assessors of the Nineteenth Ward, and in the following year was appointed police captain of that Ward by Mayor Fernando wood, Recorder James M. Smith and City Judge Sydney H. Stuart, who were then police commissioners. He continued in command until the organization of the metropolitan Police Department in the following year. On October 1, 1857, he was appointed as assistant clerk in the office of David T. Valentine, then clerk of the Common council, and in the following year he was made deputy clerk, a post which he held for ten years under Mr. Valentine, and for six years under his successors. In 1875 he was elected clerk of the Common Council, an office which he has held ever since, with the exception of a few months when he was deputy to Jacob M. Patterson, the present police justice.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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