Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 57, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



Improved Engine Houses. -- Description of the New Headquarters' Building. -- A Fine Edifice. -- The Fire Marshal. -- Knowing Horses and Dogs. -- Life in the Engine House. -- Getting Quickly to a Fire. -- Running Risks. -- St. George's Flats.

There are many interesting things about the new fire Department which yet remain to be told. Some of them we group together in this chapter under appropriate headings.


It is interesting to note the various steps by which the houses of the old-time Volunteer Fire Department have been developed into the typical house of the present Department. The old-time company partook largely of the nature of a club, and this was evident throughout the building. The front was often of brown stone, richly decorated, the first story always nicely furnished, and the second story generally divided into parlors, having woodwork, mantels, and plaster ornaments, such as were to be found in the parlors of the most fashionable swellings in the city. The present house is more substantially built than the old, but all the glitter is rigidly excluded, and perhaps nothing remains of the old plan, but the fact that each much contain a room in the first story for the apparatus.

There were two kinds of houses in use at the beginning of the present Department, regulated by the size of the lot on which they were built. In the smaller buildings, not having room for the horses outside, they were placed installs at the rear of the house and facing the side wall. The ones had a separate stable built at the rear of the lot and with an open space or yard intervening between it and the front building. When an alarm came, two sets of wide double doors had to be opened, and the horses crossed this yard before reaching the apparatus. As the value of seconds in reaching a fire began to be appreciated, the horses gradually removed from the separate stables and located at the rear of the apparatus room, as in the smaller houses above noted.

In 1877 the development of the present house may be said to have begun. The experiment was than tried of extending the first story of one of these old houses to the rear of the lot. In this extension stalls were built along the walls on each side. They were open at each end, and the horses faced towards the front, and when an alarm o fire arrived, no time was, therefore, lost, as formerly, in the horses backing from their stalls, and turning around to get to their places. This change was no sooner made than a further improvement suggested itself. Why not put the stalls forward, near the apparatus? This was immediately done, and as the horses would thereby reach the engine quicker then the men could from the story above, the extension was used as a bunk room. Some little time before this the Department commenced substituting sliding front doors for the old folding ones.

The new buildings erected at this time were generally on the same plan, but the stories were made much higher than formerly, and the window area was greatly increased. The second story was used as a sitting room, and in the third story, rear, was placed a drying room and the wardrobes for the men. At the front was a hay and feed room, connecting with the first story by a hay shute, and galvanized iron leaders for the feed, stored in the metallic feed boxes. Over the roof was placed a hose tower and a tank room. The fronts were quite simple,. Built of iron in the first story, and brick and brown stone above, the whole being surmounted by a galvanized iron cornice. Above the roof the towers were unornamented.

On the introduction, a few years ago, of sliding poles between the stories, the first story read bunk room was no longer required, but this space was made available for apparatus and spare horses. the bunk room was then placed in the second story, and the third story remained as before. Under this arrangement, the upper stores were made longer then previously, and wherever the lot admitted of it, a small rear yard was left. The towers above the roof were also made decorative in galvanized iron, and the fronts elaborated by terra-cotta diaper work over the windows and in the cornice.

When the bunk room was moved to the second story, the desirability of removing the hay and feed room from the third story and throwing it open as a sitting room, became apparent. In the houses, therefore, subsequently built, a shallow, fourth story at the front was added, to contain the tank and the hay and feed, and it also supplanted the towers. The drying room was removed to the cellar, thus leaving the third story entirely unencumbered. The addition of this fourth story also improved the external appearance of the houses at an insignificant additional expense. In one of the houses, where space was available, it was economized by the introduction of a spiral iron staircase, and this was found to be such an improvement that spiral stairs are now built in the rear of all the new houses.

This is substantially the evolution in the planning of the houses within the last nine years, and further improvements, suggested by the president of the department, and greatly increasing the capacity of the houses, is about being made, by introducing a powerful hydraulic elevator at the rear, connecting the cellar with the first story, by which additional reserve engines may be ready for use when required.

In regard to minor details, the change is not less striking. In the interior, the elaborate ornamentation of the old houses has entirely disappeared, and for it has been substituted work of a simple and substantial character far more appropriate. The first story is now, after a series of experiments, entirely Georgia pine, all laid edge grain and tightly caulked. The second and third stories are wainscotted, and the fourth story is lined similar to the first. All the woodwork throughout the buildings is varnished. No plaster cornices or ornaments work of any kind is used. In fact, the health and comfort of the men and horses, and the ability to answer an alarm in the shortest possible time, alone governs the planning of the present buildings.


The New Fire Department headquarters, just completed, is situated on the north side of Sixty-seventh Street, west of Third Avenue, and covers a plot of ground fifty by one hundred feet. Before entering the building to see the conveniently placed offices, we will glance at the front. Although simple in its design, it expresses that dignity and solidity in its construction befitting the home of such am important Municipal Department. The first story is divided into three large openings. The two western ones give access to the quarters of Engine No. 39 and Hook and Ladder No. 16; they are framed with iron, the lintels over them being of singular design, decorated with salamander heads. The third opening gives access to the elevator and stairs leading to the general offices of the department. This door is quite elaborate in treatment. On either side are two red Scotch granite columns supporting large carved capitals carrying a decorated arch and pediment. The bases of the columns re decorated with grotesque heads of animals; on the lintel of the door is a "ribbon moulding," which may stand as an architectural representation of some of the apparatus of the Life Saving Corps, while over the pediment is a flaming torch in stone. The wall surface of this story, as well as the story above, is boldly rusticated. The windows of the stories above all center over these openings. The line of single windows over the eastern door prepares the eye for the tower which soars above the roof, while the continuing of a solid pier over the iron column separating the engine room from that of the truck company, preserves an appearance of solidity of support which might easily have been destroyed by these necessarily large openings. The second story is also divided into three openings; the two western ones having such two heavy stone mullions separating them into three windows. The piers of this story being quite large, the monotony which might otherwise have existed in the simple rustication is avoided by two polished black granite tables, containing the date of erection, names of the commissioners, the architects, and the purposes of the building.

Above this story the building is constructed of brick with stone trimmings, and although the third story is thus constructed of the inferior materials--brick--it is here, nevertheless, that the main effect of the front is concentrated, and the passer-by would at once recognize--by the two large windows, each fifteen by eight feet, with their noble stone balconies, encircled with carving and polished black granite balustrades, by the superior enrichment of the third window of this story, and the greater attention paid to carved detail throughout--that here are the apartments of the commissioners. The fourth story is divided into five arched windows, four of them being in pairs. Carving is used sparingly in this story. The story above is divided into seven openings, six og them intwo groups of three windows each, with polished black granite columns between them. This story is decidedly more ornate than the one below, which serves as a foil to the rest of the front, and by the increased depth of the jambs, gives shadow to the upper part of the building, and aids the effect of the stone cornice above. This cornice does not run entirely across the front, but stops some thirteen feet from the eastern side, thus marking the tower which starts at the sixth story. Above the cornice is a Mansard roof slated with black slate, and containing two large stone Mansard windows, each of two arched openings, united by a gable containing some simple but effective carving. The roof is terminated by a deck moulding of copper of ornamental design, and having a row of flaming torches. The tower in this story contains two small windows. Above thereof is the belfry story of tower, having a large arched window on each side, through which the bell may be seen from the street below. The front window has a stone balcony, giving an extended view of the city, but the view is not to be compared to the one to be had from the broad iron balcony of the story above, and which runs around the tower and forms the cornice of the belfry story. From here is a noble view of the city and all the surrounding country. Between the brackets of the balcony are boldly projecting stone shields on the four sides of the tower. The lookout story itself is of iron, treated as such, with no attempt to imitate a more valuable material, and surmounted by a slated spire, terminated by a copper finial.

The dimensions of the front are: height to cresting of Mansard, 101 feet; and to top of spire, 160 feet above the curb. The materials are granite, brown sand stone from Kocher's quarry, Philadelphia brick and iron.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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