Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 43, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



House in Fulton Street. -- Old Building. -- Site of Firemen's Hall. -- Mercer Street Headquarters. -- Laying of the Corner Stone. -- Imposing Ceremonies. -- Speech by Thomas Franklin.

The first Fireman's Hall stood in Fair (now Fulton) Street, on the north side, just east of Gold Street. The entrance to the lot on which it stood was about twenty-five feet wide, and the building was located on the rear of the lot, and was one hundred feet deep, was much wider at the rear, tapering down to the entrance, and leaving a large courtyard in front the building was very shallow, the engines not having much more them room to be run in. The companies had seats along the sides of their rooms, and when they held a meeting they would run their engine out in the yard. Two companies lay on each side of the entrance hall--Union 18 and Eagle 13, Jack 24 and Fulton 21.

The corner stone of Fireman's Hall, Mercer Street, was laid on the twenty-first of August, 1834. Messrs. Field and Carreja drew the plans, under the direction of Mr. James L. Miller. The Building Committee were, James L. Miller, James F. Wenman, William D. Wade, John S. Belcher, and James Donohue. The occasion was observed as a holiday, and the order of the day was as follows:

The line formed four abreast at 2 P. M. in the Park, opposite the City Hall, the right on the east gate, and marched through Park Row, Broadway, Houston, and Mercer Streets, to Fireman's Hall, in the following order: Grand Marshal, Zophar Mills; Special Aids, William A. Freeborn and Allen R, Jollie.

First Division.--John Barry, Marshal; Committee of Arraignments; Dodworth's Band; Fire Department Banner, in charge of Lafayette Engine Company No. 19; Officers and Trustees of the New York Fire Department; Chief and Assistant Engineers and Representatives of the New York Fire Department.

Second Division.--John T. Rollins, Marshal; Chairman of the Day, Adam P. Pentz; Chaplain, Reverend Isaac Ferris; D. D., Chancellor of the New York University; Orator, Hon. Morris Franklin; His Honor, the Mayor, Jacob A. Westervelt; Exempt Firemen's Association.

Third Division.--Samuel Waddell, Marshal; the Honorable, the Board of Alderman, with their officers; the Honorable, the Board of Councilmen, with their officers; the architects and Builders of the Hall.

Four Division.--Daniel Cogar, Marshal; Governors of the Alms House; Commissioners of Emigration; Heads of Departments and their Bureaus; County Officers; Members of the Press.

Fifth Division.--Owen W. Brennan, Marshal; Collector of the Port; Surveyor; Naval Officer; Assistant Treasurer of the United States; the United States District Attorney and Marshal; Members of Congress; Judges of the United States Courts; Judges of the Supreme and Superior Courts of Common Pleas; Judges of Marine, Police and District Courts.

Sixth Division.--John P. Lacour, Marshal; National Guard Band; Ex-Officers and Trustees of Fire Department; Ex-Chiefs and Assistant Engineers of Fire Department; Foremen, Assistant Foremen and Secretaries of the various Fire Companies.

Seventh Division.--Samuel M. Philips, Marshal; Board of Fire Wardens; Members of the new York Fire Department, citizens etc.

Committee of Arrangements: From Representatives--David P. Nivin. James L. Miller, Isaac G. Seixas, John S. Belcher, John B. Miller, Charles McDougall, president; John J. Tindale, vice-president; William D. Wade, secretary. From the board of Foremen--John B. Leverich, Daniel Stanbury, John Gilleland, Daniel McGarvey, Henry Barrow, Alfred Carson, chief engineer; James F. Wenman, secretary.

Firemen's Hall was erected on lots Nos. 127 and 129 Mercer Street. These lots were formerly occupied by the old Firemen's Hall and the city oil house. The building from front to rear is ninety-five feet, the breadth forty-one feet, height of front elevation, fifty-five feet from the level of the sidewalk. The building is three stories high above the cellar. The first story was originally appropriated to the use of Hose Company No. 5 and Lafayette Hook and Ladder Company No. 6--the former on the south side and the latter on the north side of the main entrance. Each company occupied a space fifteen by ninety feet, which was divided into three rooms, the front room for the apparatus, the center room for their meetings, and the room in the rear for sitting and reading. The main entrance hall is eight feet in width, and is divided from the stairs by a paid of folding doors, which form a large receiving vestibule.

The second story is thirty feet in height, and contains three rooms. One large room is for the meeting of the representatives, the engineers and foremen, and the Exempt Firemen's Association; this room is thirty-eight feet wide and seventy-one feet deep; it is ventilated, having large windows on all sides, and the side walls from the adjoining buildings three feet. On each side of the stairway is a room fifteen feet by twenty feet for committee rooms. The third story is fifteen feet in height, and contains the same number of rooms, and of the same size as the second story. The large room was used for a library and reading room, and the small rooms for the librarian and committees. All the rooms above the first story are heated with hot-air furnaces. The front of the building is Connecticut brown stone, cut in the best manner. The style of architecture is Italian, or in others words, a composition of Greek and roman details applied by the Italians to modern buildings. The outer angles are formed with rusticated quoins. The doors and windows are trimmed with architraves, pilasters, and cornices, supported on ornamental brackets. \

The two vertical lines of pillars extend the height of the elevation on each side of the entrance doorway and the center windows. Upon the face of these autaes on the first story is cut in relief the emblems of the Fire Department, such as hooks and ladders, torches, axes, trumpets etc., and the tops of these autaes are surmounted with a fire hydrant. The name of the building, "Firemen's Hall" is cut on the stone over the second story windows.

The main corner of the front is an elaborate pattern, and is supported by heavy truss brackets. On the top of the cornice is a blocking course with three pedestals, the two side ones surmounted with a cluster of torches, and the center one with the full size statue of a fireman, the same one that had stood so many years in front of the old hall.

In a semi-circular arch over the front entrance door there is carved in bas relief the figures of Protection and Benevolence, as represented on the imitation certificate of the old New York Fire Department, and upon the keystone of the arch is cut a full-size fire-cap. The whole building is constructed in the most substantial manner.

The plans for the building were drawn under the direction of James L. Miller, the chairman of the Building Committee, for the Board of Representatives, by Messrs. Field and Correja, architects, the same gentlemen to whom was awarded the first premium for the plans of the new City Hall, by the unanimous vote of the Common Council Committee.

The estimates were advertised for and awarded to the lowest bidder, as follows:

Messrs. Platt & Fisher, for the mason work $13,311.

Mr. James L. Miller for the carpenter work 11,500

Total $24,811.

The stone cutting was sub-contracted to Messrs. Gayette & McGarigal, two enterprising your firemen who had been but a short time in business, but who had given evidence of their superior ability on several engine and hose houses previously erected.

The iron work was from the works of Messrs. Cornell, the painting by Mr. James Gilmore, the carved work by Mr. Dewitt C. Mott, and the ornamental plastering by Mr. Andrew J. Garvey.

After the establishment of the Paid Fire Department, the Fire Headquarters at various times underwent many alterations in its interior construction, leaving it, when it was vacated for the new up-town building, a different structure to what it was at the beginning of its history.

Mr. Morris Franklin, the orator of the day, was foreman of Engine Company No. 25, son of a chief engineer of the department, and at various times had been a Whig assemblyman and senator, assistant alderman, alderman, and president of the Board of Aldermen. His oration covered many pathetic historical incidents of the department, of which the following are extracts:

"The paying of the corner stone of this building is an interesting era in the history of the department, and I am glad to be informed that accommodations are now to be provided adequate to the wants of those to whose services it is hereafter to be dedicated; yet there are association which force themselves upon the mind upon such an occasion, mingled with emotions of pleasure and pain; for when we look back upon the old Firemen's Hall in Fulton Street, and that which has given place to the present structure, can call to our recollection the countenances of those whom we have so often met within their halls, and taken sweet counsel together, it seems like parting with an old friend, and we can but drop a tear over the knowledge of the fact that, while in our daily walks we meet many of those who, with us, occupied the former, yet how many have long since paid the last debt to nature, while others are scattered over the world, far distant from the familiar scenes of their early life, and perhaps, forgetful of those who were once their associates and friends. In those days, party politics disturbed not the deliberation of the representatives, nor entered into the considerations of their conclusions, but with one heart and one mind connected the general interest with the public good, and cemented together the ties of mutual responsibilities, determined to be foremost in the discharge of their respective duties. Let but such feelings as these continue to animate your exertions, and we shall no longer be pained with the reports which too often reach our ears, emanating from the chief of the department, of the bitter hostilities which so often prevail between the members of the different companies. Then the reputation of the association would resume its former proud prominence, and the badge of a fireman be a sure and certain passport to the confidence and respect of all classes of the community. Then the spirits of our departed associates, if permitted to mingle in the things of life, and to watch the movements of the lower world, would rejoice over the prosperity of an institution which in the day of our pilgrimage constituted their ambition and their pride. With such feelings and desires, I most ardently commend the members of this department to the care and protection of the Almighty Power, without whose sleepless eye the watchman waketh but in vain, and who, through your instrumentality, can alone stay the progress of destruction, and say to the devouring element, 'Peace, be still!'"

"Among the most pleasing recollections of my early days are those which are connected with the Fire Department of our city, and although many of those who were then my companions and friends have long slumbered beneath the cold clods of the valley, but few, if any, are now in the ranks of active duty, yet I rejoice in the opportunity of renewing my association with those who are emphatically the guardians of our safety and the bulwark and boast of our city.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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