Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 56, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

The objection to placing the floor joists and the timbers of flat roofs apart, is that it gives rise to a current of air between them, and to prevent such a draft, sheet iron is in some systems of budding fixed between them.

Of course the wood construction is a special one, and only applicable and useful in the smaller description of buildings. Brick or burnt clay is probably the best description of fire-proof material in existence. Stone is not to be relied upon, with few exceptions. If it be granite it will freely crack and splinter under the influence of extreme heat, while if it be limestone, either in the form of marble, or in the softer varieties, it will be quickly changed to lime.

The most successful forms of fire-proof floors re those which consist of iron joists or beams supporting arches of brick between them. The iron is protected by a thick covering of fire-clay or concrete, and the supporting iron columns are shielded in the same manner. Where this is done, and the party or divisional walls are of sufficient width and are constructed of brick, a buildings is rendered as nearly fire-proof as may be.

Among the special aids for the prevention of fire are the use of asbestos, fire-proof paint and other materials. Ion the case of theaters the law compels the owner to saturate with some approved non-combustible material all the stage scenery, curtains, decorations and woodwork on or about the stage.

It has been pointed out with reason that comparing New York to a city like London, there are many more great fires in the former than the latter. In a paper printed in the Forum, Commissioner Henry d. Purroy shows very clearly to what this is due. The principal reason is the humidity of the atmosphere in London, which is very uniform, and on the average lacks only 18 per cent, of complete saturation. This wetness, naturally, prevents wood from easily catching light, and is a most important aid in the prevention of fire. In New York the atmosphere is on the average considerably less moist, and the wood work correspondingly drier. Then a second cause is the difference in temperature in the two cities during the winter months. When the thermostat lowers, the number of domestic fires and extent of artificial heating is greater and the liability of fire increased, London is 6,68 degrees warmer in the winter than New York, and it will be seen how far that lessens the liability of conflagrations.

A further important cause is the density of population, which is about 40 per cent higher in new York than in the most crowded parts of England's metropolis. The style of the buildings, the great extent and height of them, and the large quantities of timber employed in their construction, added to the many old timber dwellings still standing, render the fact of the liability of a fire taking place here much more likely than in London.

The splendid system and organization of the Fire Department, however, ensures that, notwithstanding these facts, the loss of property by fire is undoubtedly and emphatically kept at a minimum.

The various appliances in use for preventing the spread of fires are many. In large buildings the danger of fire increasing is very great, chiefly from the great impetus they attain by the extent of combustible material. To lessen this danger a special provision is made in the local buildings laws, which provides that iron doors of a suitable thickness shall be placed in proper positions to divide a building up into sections. Such doors are closed every night, and are so constructed that on a fire occurring during the day they may be readily shut,. In this way is the fire confined to the portion of a large building where it broke out.

One of the most fruitful sources of the rapid spread of fire is the modern method of building in this city, which gives rise to a considerable number of large or smaller vertical shafts. A fire occurring at the bottom of such a shaft may very quickly reach the top of the building, as the shaft promotes a draught. In the enormous number of apartment houses built throughout the city this danger is perhaps the greatest of any. The peculiar arrangement of the rooms necessitated by the high price of land, and the consequent desire to get as much as possible on it gives rise to air shafts from top to bottom of the building. Sometimes there are two, but oftener several, and, as pointed out, the danger is great. Then there are the numerous shafts for dumb waiters and elevators, which increase the danger from the same source.

In the larger buildings, as those numerous ones found in the power portion of the city, special construction is provided to lessen this danger. These usually consist of iron or other screens, which may be readily drawn across the shaft at night, and any other time when necessary.

The City of New York now comprises an ear of forty-one and one-half square miles, or twenty-six thousand acres, and includes the whole of Manhattan Island, and various of the smaller islands, in the East river and in the Bay. Its northern limit is Yonkers, and one the remained three sides it is bounded by water--the East and the Hudson River; on the south the grand new York Bay, to which is to a great extend probably due to its great and rapid growth.

The lower portion of the city is very densely populated, and the whole of the island, from the Battery up to High Bridge--a distance of nearly fifteen miles--is well covered with habitations. Building operations are being carried onto a very considerable extent, and especially in that portion of the city above Forty-ninth Street.

Comparing its population and extent of dwellings with the greatest Metropolis of the world--London--it will be found that in the portion of the city south of Fortieth Street it is more thickly populated. Thus, taking the last census of 1880, we find that in New York there was a population of eight hundred and thirteen thousand and seventy-six persons, and seventy-three thousand six hundred and eight-four dwellings, in the district bounded by Fortieth Street and the East and Hudson Rivers, or 16.37 persons on the average to each building.

Taking London as being comprised within the district measuring one hundred and twenty-two square miles, that is, excluding the more suburban districts, we have a population of three million, eight hundred and fourteen thousand, five hundred and seventy-four persons, and five hundred and twenty-eight thousand seven hundred and ninety four dwellings, or 7,21 per dwelling, against 16. 37 in this city.

Of course, the American style of living to a great extent in flats and apartment houses, gives rise to these figures, but the bearing they have upon the likelihood of conflagrations is important. It is probably, too, that if a smaller section of the city were taken, comprised in the smaller tenements-house districts, the figures given above would be much higher.

Within the past few years was made an innovation of great importance to New York City in the shape of the four lines of elevated railroads. The system is admirable in its practical usefulness to the traveling public, although its effect upon the architectural beauty of the city, and upon the fine avenues it overshadows, is very serious. It is safe to say that in no country in the world outside of America would personal rights to property, and the artistic beauty of a city, be allowed to be so largely interfered with as they are by these railways. Still it is now an accomplished fact, and of inestimable advantage in traveling. The only pity was that some other and better system--such as an underground railway, for instance--ws not found to accomplish the same result.

The road is purely and entirely a work of the engineer, and no attempt whatever has been made to render the road ornamental or pleasing to the city beyond the most meagre description at the stations. Considering the harm it did to the appearance of the city, the buildings it hid, and the conspicuous position of it, one would have thought tht a graceful and ornamental appearance would have been aimed at. This would not have been difficult. A series of interlaced arches, spaced up and forming arcades, would have made the structure much less an eyesore than it is at present. Still it is useful, eminently so, and there the matter ends.

The fist of the elevated roads erected was a small experimental piece, commenced in 1868, on Greenwich Street. This was about a half a mile long, and remained until 1873, when it was carried on up to Thirtieth Street. In 1876 it ws extended to Sixty-first Street and to the Battery. The sixth Avenue line was built up to Fifty-ninth Street in 1878, and was afterward extended to One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Street. During 1878 the railroad along Third Avenue was erected, and in the following year the Second Avenue.

This bold and original engineering scheme represents an investment of over $43,000.000. the height above the roadway is 124 feet at the lowest parts, but in many portions considerably exceeds that height. The high viaduct above Central Park is 45 feet high, and at Eighth Avenue and One Hundred and Tenth Street is 59 feet above the sidewalk. The foundation used for the upright pillars upon which the whole structure is erected, extend in some case to the great depth of 36 feet below the surface. Thus, the total depth from top to bottom of the structure at these points is 95 feet.

The extent of the material required in its erection can be gathered from the fact that in the West Side extension from Eighty-third Street to the Harlem River, and having a length of about four miles, there were 16,200 tons of iron required. The cost of the foundations for the high pillars reached the high sum of $200,000 a mile, so that it can be easily understood that the erection of the railroad was a very costly undertaking.

The elevated roads, although of so considerable an advantage, do not meet the growing requirements of the traffic. With the enormous increase in the size of the city, a quicker system is needed, and various schemes have been put forth to solve the problem which as arisen. Among these is a system of underground railroads, and this will be the one which will most probably prove most acceptable to the public in general.

An improvement in the same direction will probably take place in the system of traffic outside the elevated roads.

Within the next ten to twenty years it is not improbably that tunnels will be found beneath the North and East rivers, connecting all the railroads at one central depot underneath the ground. Goods could then be forwarded by being placed directly on to the tracks by means of shafts and elevators placed upon the line of tracks at suitable intervals, and the saving and advantage is obviously great.

For a number of years the idea of building a bridge across the East river to connect the two cities was entertained by the more enthusiastic of our engineers, but for a long time it was thought to be impracticable. In the year 1867, however, a scheme became matured and was made of practical effect by being incorporated by the New York Legislature as a company. Various surveys were made and data and opinions collected as to the best site, and eventually in 1869 the Brooklyn tower ws located, and the complete plans of the work settled and approved by the Secretary of War.

On January, 3rd, 1870, work was commenced on the foundations of the tower, and progressed quickly to a completion in May 24th, 1883, when the bridge was opened to the public. The extent of the structure may be fairly appreciated from the following figures: From anchorage to anchorage it is 2,325 feet long, with an approach of 900 feet in length on the Brooklyn side and 12,546 feet on the New York side. The height of the roadway is 119-1/4 above mean high tide, while from the top of the ridge of stone on the Brooklyn tower to the bottom above the foundation is 316 feet. Measuring between corresponding points on the New York tower, the height is 349-1/2 feet. the extent and solidity of these towers are very great. One measures 141 feet by 59 feet, and the other 141 feet by 57 feet. The weight of the Brooklyn tower is 93,079 tons.

The bridge, being a suspension one, the support really depends upon a number of cables, each of which is 15-3/4 inches in diameter and contains 3,515 miles of wire. A number of other minor wire ropes are extended to form a description of network beneath the cable to assist in the support of this structure.

There are roads for vehicles and a wide footway for passengers, and, in addition, a service of cars operated by moving cables.

The total cost of the structure was $15,337,057, and of this two-thirds was paid by the city of Brooklyn, and one-third by the city of New York.

As indicating the extent to which this bridge is used, it maybe mentioned that during the year 1886 27,436,7078 persons crossed from side to side, of whom 2,965,400 walked.

The style and description of the architecture of a city, will obviously depend largely upon the materials at the command of the builder, and not the least among the reasons to which the fine architecture of the city has reached may be attributed the fact of the facility with which he can get materials of the best kinds.

New York is happily situated for architecture in this respect, as it is by reason of its clear sky and absence of smoke. Brick is largely employed for ht less important description of buildings, but stone of different varieties--white and variegated marble, brown and blue freestone--are used, often with granite, for a great number of the buildings.

The abundance of timber has had the effect of producing a very excellent system generally in construction. Not only are the roof and floor timbers of the buildings, as a rule, of ample dimensions, but the interior of the houses, even of those making no pretensions to elegance, are generally finished in a very complete manner, and are frequently fitted up in polished walnut or other hard wood. In many of the plain brick houses the stone sills and trimmings are of marble, as suitable and enduring a material as could be obtained.

It is much to be regretted that the general standard of substantiality in construction and material of the buildings of the city should be Been so greatly lowered by the reprehensible practices of forming many of the cornices of sheet-iron, and painting them in imitation of stone. The custom is of comparatively recent date, and considering the abundance of material, and the decided lowering in merit and architectural value of a building, it is surprising that builders should continue to spoil their buildings with such shams.

But as a whole, the architecture of the city is extraordinary in its completeness and elegance, growing at so rapid a pace year by year, that one is lost in wonderment as to where it will end.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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