A SCHEME A CENTURY AND A HALF OLD.
The proposal to use salt water for fire protection is in no wise original, the suggestion having been first made over 150 years ago, as may be seen by the following extract from the New York “Gazette” of November 5, 1750. The locations referred to are practically the same as exist today, with the exception that city hall was then located on the site of the present Sub-Treasury, while the Fly-Market was on the East River, at the foot of Maiden lane: “Nov. 5, 1750. Number 407.
“New York Gazette revived in the Weekly Post Hoy With the freshest advices foreign and domestic.
“New York Nov. 5. Last Tuesday Evening, being the Anniversary of his Majesty’s Birthday; it is supposed from some Squibs thrown by the Boys. A House took Fire at the Corner of Pearl Street near the White Hall Slip, and the Roof was in a light Blaze before it was observed; but by good Providence, it being very calm, and nigh the River, it was prevented from spreading any farther, and extinguished with little more damage, than what was done to the House it begain in.
“As no doubt you’ll advertise the Readers of your weekly Paper of the late Fire in the. South Ward of this City; please to add these few Hints for our future Safety. It is well known that the Fires in this Town of late, as that in Duke Street, the School House and This, happened to be situate within Reach of the Rivers; by which Means, the Engines could be supplied without great Difficulty; and thus to our happy Deliverance, as those raging Fires were extinguished.
“But suppose a Fire should come to a Head, as either of those did, in the Heart of our City, how should we master it? The Wells and Cisterns in a neighborhood we know are soon dry. Heaven, indeed hath blessed in, the late Fire, with a calm serene air; but if it should prove windy in Place remote from the Water Side, when a House should be in Flame, must we not expect, for want of Water, the combustible thatching must be carried to other Roofs, and if once four or five Houses are on fire, must we not give over and see most of the town laid in Rubbish? This I take to be matter of an importance, deserving the serious concern of our worthy Corporation, and even the whole legislative Power. In order to find out Ways & Means to save the Town in such like Emergencies, I shall here (under Submission of better Judgement) for my Part, utter my further thought on this Head, and call on the Public for their Mutual Assistance.
“I propose that a Drain or Brick Channel may he carried up at Low Water from under the Long Bridge, in Broad Street, that, at three of four convenient Places opposite to Thwart Street a large Pump or two be filled in such Drain or Channel to serve in case of Fires in those Streets or Neighborhood; that the Drain end in a large Well or Basin, near City Hall having three or four Pumps to serve in the Neighborhood about the public Building; and perhaps an expedient may be found to convey the Water issuing out of this inexhaustible Fountain, by some Means or other Parts of the City remote from the Water Side. The same I would propose to be put in Practise from under the Fly-Market, or near the Widow Rutger’s Brew House, and also in any other convenient Part of the City; so that we were sure to find Water in any Part of the Town altlwutgh remote from the River Side, for as we are still striving to bring the River farther off by wharfing out we ought to be secure another Way. I think it would not be amiss if Magistrates should reserve, in their Grants, certain Sinks, Slips or Drains, to let the River Water come to its old Stations, for such use, and as the Corporation have exerted themselves, particularly in providing those excellent and useful Engines, may they now, with their usual zeal, provide their Water, as their Wisdom may direct; the charge might indeed seem insurmountable but I think it may be easily overcome; And no doubt the Wealthy amongst us would voluntarily subscribe above their Quotas to ease their poor Neighbors. Some may object perhaps that such a Course of Salt Water will spoil the Wells near it, and make the Water brackish: even this I question, it is confined in a Brick Channel; and if it should, Tea-Water is daily brought at the Doors, and the other will do to wash their Houses.”