Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 50, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

CHIEF NASH was, during the war, a member of Berdan's Corps of Sharpshooters, and attained the rank of assistant Adjutant General. He was buried from 1149 Clinton Street, and his funeral was attended by six companies formed of details from the various battalions, and commanded by Chief William Rowe, and the pall-bearers were: Foreman George W. Erb, Engine 9; Thomas Judge, Engine 11; J. A. Patten, engine 15; John Farlow, Engine 17; Thos. Leonard, Hook and Ladder 6; and J. H., Monroe, Hook and Ladder 9. Maus was buried from No. 159-1/2 Essex Street, and Hughes from No. 10 Monroe Street.

The Board has been for six months without a Treasurer, when, on the 8th of November, Mr. King having signified his declination of he office, and Mr. Hatch refusing to serve, President Perley took the position. In December the Automatic Signal Company were authorized to make connection for the transmission of fire signals. At midnight, December 31, 1875, the fire bells rang out: "1-7-76--1-8-7-6," amid the clang of other bells, firework detonations, cheers and the discharge of fire-arms.

February 8th, 1876, saw one of the most destructive fires new York had ever had. It broke out at 6:25 P. M., at No. 444 Broadway, destroyed, or partly destroyed and damaged 22 buildings, occupied by 37 firms, and the loss on an insurance of $3,418,099.97 was $1,750.000. While firemen were keeping a safe in the ruins of No. 444 Broadway cool with a line of hose, a wall fell and killed Foreman David Clute and David Muldrew, of Engine Company No. 30, and so injured Assistant Foreman John H. Bush, of the same company, that he died. Thomas J. Cortissos, also of the same company, was laid up for several months with injuries received.

In May new and complete regulations for the government of the Fire alarm telegraph, a revised code of signal stations, and new assignments to duty at them were promulgated, bringing the system up to that of the present day.

June 7, Medical Officer Dr. McMillan resigned, and was succeeded by Dr. A. J. Minor, the vice medical officer. Dr. Frank L. Ives was made vice medical officer. In September the estimate for the expenses of 1877 was made at $1, 249,386. On the 22nd of December Col. Carl Jussen was made Secretary of the Board.

COLONEL CARL JUSSEN, Secretary to the Board of Fire Commissioners, was born January 2d, 1843, in Julich, Rhenish Prussia. His family emigrated to this country in 1848, and after a sojourn of six months, settled in Columbus, Wisconsin, where his father engaged in business, and five years later removed to Watertown, Wisconsin. He received a common school education in both places, and was also taught German by his mother, who superintended his education. In 1858 he went to Chicago, and served a two years apprenticeship to an architect, returning to Watertown in 1860. He read law for a few months in the office of his brother in Madison, Wisconsin, and at the age of nineteen, in 1862, enlisted in the 23d Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers (Infantry). He was made sergeant of Co. D before leaving the camp of instruction and rendezvous, and was promoted Sergeant-Major in May, 1863, and Adjutant in August, 1863. He was detailed as acting assistant Adjutant General of the third Brigade, Second Division, 10th Army Corps, and subsequently as Aide-de-Camp to Brigadier-General Alexander Shaler, then commanding first a brigade of the Reserve Corps of the Mississippi, and last the Third Division Seventh Army Corps, and the geographical district of the White river, Arkansas. He participated in a bloodless campaign Kentucky to the Fall of 1862, then in the attack on Vicksburg from the north at the close of that year, the division resulting in the capture of Arkansas post on the Arkansas River; the Vicksburg campaign under General Grant in 1863; the Bayou Teche campaign later in the same year; an expedition to Matagorda Bay, Texas, early in 1864; the disastrous Rd River campaign in the spring of the same year; the expedition to Mobile Bay the same year, and numerous small expeditions and raids. When Colonel Jussen was mustered out of service, honorably discharged on July 4th. 1865, he returned to Watertown, Wisconsin, and engaged in business, remaining there until September, 1866, when he removed to this city. He was employed as draughtsman in the office of Renwick & sands, architects, and was appointed clerk in the Fire Department in 1867. In 1875, was detailed a acting secretary, and appointed Secretary on January 1, 1877.

Colonel Jussen was married on October 14, 1868, to Camilla J. Shaler, oldest daughter of General Shaler, and has four children. At the same time he was appointed Aide-de-Camp by General Shaler, Quartermaster on January 1, 1873, and division Inspector on October 5, 1874, which latter position he still holds, having also served almost continuously as Acting Assistant Attorney General of the First Division N. G. S. N. Y. in charge of the Headquarters records.

The fire a t the Brooklyn theater, on the night of the 5th of December, 1876, by which from 250 to 290 persons lost their lives--the number of victims could only be computed, after positive identification of the majority of them, from stray limbs and ashes, and reports of those who met them on the night of the disaster, never to be seen again--awakened a live and earnest interest in the condition of places of assembly in New York. On the 2d of January, 1877, an order was issued directing proper and complete examination of theaters to discover how the public were protected, and to secure reports of what was needed to prevent such a disaster in this city.

Dr. A. J. Minor, medical officer, resigned in January, 1877, and was succeeded by vice Medial Officer L. F. Ives, whose position was accepted by Dr. Pierre C. F. Des Landes. The cutting down of the estimates necessitated the creation of the rank of private, at $800 a year for new appointees. March 28th, Mr. C. De F. Burns, Librarian of the Lyceum, was appointed Assistant Secretary. The recommendation to managers of place of public amusement not having been generally complied with, the board directed the delinquents to procure proper means for extinguishing and preventing fires without delay, by virtue of the power given them in Section 5, Chapter 742, of the Laws of 1871, and persisted until they were obeyed.

JOHN J. GORMAN, nominated by Mayor Smith Ely, jr., was confirmed January 3d to succeed Judge Hatch. Mr. King was elected President, and Gorman treasurer. Mr. John J. Gorman is a native type of self-made New Yorker. He was born in this city October 5, 1828, and educated in Public School No. 3, corner of Grove and Hudson Streets. At the age of eighteen he became a member of the Volunteer Fire Department (May 12, 1846), and from that date was a prominent member in several companies. At the disbandment of the volunteer Fire Department he was foreman of Exempt Fire Engine Company.

Few men now living can point to a record of greater activity and usefulness in Fire Department matters then Mr. Gorman. The highest offices and honors in the Department have been successively bestowed upon him in recognition of his services. He was elected Fire Commissioner in the Old Department, may 12m 1859, and held that position until 1862; during the last two years of that period he was President of the Board. In 1865 he was elected a Trustee of the Widows' and Orphans' Fund and elected Secretary thereof, which position he held successively for nineteen years; on the twentieth year he was chosen president of the fund, which office he still holds. In May, 1877, Mr. Gorman was appointed Fire Commissioner of the Department as now organized, and continued in the Board until November 15, 1883, at which date he resigned, and was appointed one of the Police magistrates of the city, which position he now occupies. During his terms of Fire Commisioner he introduced numerous improvements, and while president of said Board prepared and introduced a series of invaluable rules and regulations, one of which, regarding the mode for prevention of fire or panic in theatres, was favorably received.

On the organization of the widely known "Free Masons' Club," of this city, he was chosen President, and during its existence devoted considerable time and attention to its interests. In fact, no institution or society has ever been neglected where he was placed in a position of trust and confidence.

Jacob Springsteed, Superintendent of Horses, resigned June 13th, 1877. In July the question of moving the telegraph operators from the first floor of Fireman's hall to the third floor was considered, and preparations were made to fit up the new quarters. In August, William Terhune, Inspector of Combustibles, was removed and succeeded by Peter Seery, and James Cummings, Property-clerk, was succeeded by Samuel T. Keese. Commissioner Perley voted against these changes as against the removal of several clerks. The estimated for 1878 were made at $1,234,870. September 19th, Dr. Pierre C. Des Landes, medical officer, was removed, and Dr. Marion S. Butler was appointed. September 21st, Theodore Elliott, Foreman of Stables, was made Superintendent of Horses. October 23d, arrangements were made to have the gate-house of the Reservoir at Central park connected with Firemen's hall by telegraph, to enable the operators to signal for increased pressure of water when a large fire occurred. Pearce & Jones' bids of $7,300 for apparatus for the new telegraph plant, and one of $2,874 for the cabinet and woodwork were accepted in October.

Early in January interest in the cases of several clerks who had been removed, and who s ought reinstatement in the courts, centered on the proceedings in Supreme Court, General Term. Ex-Commissioner Roswell D. Hatch appeared for the clerks, and Assistant Corporation Counsel Dean for the Commissioners. The clerks who undertook the proceedings were Joseph H. Munday, Michael F. Cummings, and David Graham. The clerks removed were called up to say why they should not be ousted because their duties could be better performed by some one else. Judges David and Daniels concurred in Judge Brady's decision in favor of the clerks, who were reinstated.

The problems arising from the tendency to high buildings, and an unsatisfactory water supply which prevented operations on the upper floors, was the subject of serious consideration, and one the 28th of January, 1878, John Ericsson, Charles H. Haswell, and Julius H. Striedinger, Civil engineers and Assistant Chief of the Department, C. O. Shay, were created a Board of Survey to test the aerial ladder in the possession of the Department, and report on their safety and efficiency. Mr. Ericsson did not serve. Mr. Haswell simply reported plans to improve the aerial ladders, but they were never carried out. The aerial ladders were never again used, and they one which broke on the Tweed Plaza was broken up at he repair shop. The three others were sold in 1885.

In February, were drawn up and promulgated business-like rules and regulations for the guidance and direction of heads of departments, superintendents, clerks and employees. March 13th, William Terhune, the reinstated Inspector of combustibles, was removed, and Peter Seery ws appointed. The same month Chief Orr, of the repair shop, was busy with several sets of swinging harness--a California invention show in general use here--which accelerated hitching up in an extraordinary degree. The new telegraph office was ready for occupation on the 26th of march, 1878. In April, in order that the means of communicating alarms of fire be less restricted, the Commissioners sanctioned the delivery of keys for street boxes to responsible citizens. The spring and summer of the year were uneventful so far as the history of the growth and progress of the Department are concerned. In August the estimated of the expenses for 1879 were made at $1,291,842.50, which were subsequently cut down to $1,254,970, including $30,000 for three new quarters for apparatus. In October, president Gorman reported his visit to the national Firemen's Tournament at Chicago, under resolution of the Board of August 7th, and submitted specifications and drawings of the Corps of Pompiers of St. Louis. November 26th, Assistant Fire Marshal Orr was removed for violating rules and causing false reports of official doings to be published, and ex-Trustee William Dodge succeeded him. Early in the autumn a subscription was started in the Department in aid of the Firemen's Charitable Association of new Orleans, to assist those who suffered from the yellow-fever epidemic. Nearly $2,160 was collected, of which $500 went to Memphis; and the firemen of this city sold 1,160 tickets for a concert given at Gilmore's Garden, in aid of the sufferers, by the Firemen's Ball Committee of the old Volunteer Fire Department. In December, the Firemen's Lyceum ws divided into two equal parts, one of which ws placed in each of the battalions of the Department as a Battalion Library, and the Assistant Foreman of the battalion quarters was designated as Librarian, and Assistant Secretary Charles De F. Burns was appointed General Librarian. The ringing of the tower bells south of 59th Street was discontinued on the 21st of December.

January, 1879, tested the resources of the Fire Department, and many persons were injured. On the 7th, J. W. Irving of Engine 20 was killed at No. 75 Vesey Street. January 14th, 23 engines and 7 Hook and Ladder companies were called to a fire which extended from No. 458 to No. 472 Broadway and No. 134 to No. 136 Grand Street, and caused a loss of $1,321,973.05. Fireman John Reilly, of Engine 17, was killed. January 17th, a fire started at No. 62 and 64 Worth Street, destroyed 4 buildings and damaged 13 others in Worth, Thomas, Duane, Church, and Leonard Streets, and 48 firms lost $1,976,735. January 30th, Fireman Edward McGaffney, of Engine 33, had his sight destroyed at a fire at No. 483 and 485 Broadway. The families of the killed and the injured men were relieved by generous subscriptions and the proceeds of tan entertainment at Niblo's Garden.

When the Legislature of 1879 met, various schemes to upset the Board of fire commissioners were started. Matters went so far that the candidates fir four commissionships to be created were named, but on May 6th, Mayor Edward Cooper nominated Cornelius Van Cott to succeed commissioner Perley, whose term of office had expired, and he was confirmed on the 20th of May. Two days later he again sat in the Board as commissioner.

CORNELIUS VAN COTT, who succeeded Commissioner Perley in the Board of Fire Commissioners, was born in the City of New York, in the Fifteenth Ward, on President Lincoln's birthday, February 12, 1838. He was educated in Public School no. 16, in Thirteenth Street, of which David Patterson was the distinguished principal. He had an early love of books, and chose first the printer's trade, entering the establishment of the old American Tract Society. Subsequently he was apprenticed to Messrs. Dusenbury & Van Dusen, and learned the trade of carriage building. Mr. Van Dusen was foreman of Southwark Engine 38, then located in Ann Street. Young Van Cott quickly got a liking for the firemen's life, when twenty years old, joined Hose Company No. 7. From the very first he was in favor of a paid department. Mr. Van Cott was appointed an Inspector of Customs, a post which he surrendered to engage in the fire insurance business. After he had been elected a director of Aetna Fire insurance Company, (of which Colonel F. A. Conkling was president) he held for several years the office of vice-president of that corporation. He developed into a sound and capable financier, and in time became known as a first-class underwriter. He was also connected with the Hanover Insurance company, and for a number of years has been a trustee of the West Side Savings Bank.

His education and his training peculiarly fitted him for the office of Fire Commissioner, and in 1879 Mayor Havemeyer appointed him to a seat in the Board. Mr. Van Cott served six years and was finally elected treasurer. His services were recognized by a graceful testimonial from members of New York's best known merchants and business men When Mayor Cooper came into power, 1879, Mr. Van Cott was reappointed by him, and his fellow commissioners elected him President of the board, may 9, 1881. Shortly after he resigned the post of President. It was a great tribute to his intregity and ability that he (a republican) should have been appointed by a Democratic Mayor and confirmed by a Democratic Board of Appeals. Subsequently he was re-elected treasurer and again elected President in 1883. His term of office expired in 1885.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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