THE OLD VOLUNTEER FIREMEN.
FROM the work entitled “ The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department,” recently published by Harper & Bros., we extract the following from the statement of one of the old veterans:
“ At a fire in Hester Street, about the year 1825, during a long continued drought, when cisterns and wells all over the town had run dry, the only way to obtain water was to station engines in line from the East River up Pike Street, across Division Street, and thence up Hester to the scene of the fire—a distance of nearly, if not quite, a mile. It was on these occasions that the rivalry of the different companies came strongly to the front; for as water was pumped from one engine to another, it was a strife between them to see whose box should overflow or whose be sucked dry by the superior pumping of a contending company. To such straits were the firemen put to obtain a supply of water, before the building of the Thirteenth Street Reservoir and the introduction of Croton water.
“ I those days cotton fires, or rather fires occurring in cotton warehouses, were looked upon as among the worst with which our firemen had to contend. One of these happened in the storehouse of Denis Doyle, on the corner of Front and Roosevelt Streets, then adjoining the river, the building having been erected somewhat about 1800. The walls of this storehouse were built upon the old-fashioned plan, when the mortar used had the tenacity of cement. The fire raged three successive days, necessitating the constant presence of a fire watch ; yet at its end the eighteeninch walls stood as intact as if fire had never touched them, and are, I believe, still standing, having been immediately afterward rebuilt and incorporated in the buildings now located on the same site. This presents a marked contrast to the manner of building to-day : when the walls of Morrell’s warehouse tumbled, the bricks fell asunder as clean as if never in contact with mortar of any description.
“ During the progress of the fire of 1835, while the flames were raging onward unchecked, General Swift called for the keys of the large double warehouse of Messrs. Pentz &Co. [relatives of Mr. Adam P. Pentz], with the intention of blowing up the buildings. The keys were refused, on the ground that the buildings, being virtually fiie-proof, with thick walls and slate-covered roofs, and towering above the adjoining structures many feet would effectually resist the inroads of the fire. General Swift did not agree with the opinion of the owners, and peremptorily demanded the keys, which were again refused, until the General, after consultation with the Mayor, demanded them in the name of the authorities of the city. They were then yielded: gunpowder was placed in the cellars, fuse was lighted, and in a few moments nothing was left of those great warehouses but a heap of smoking, dusty rubbish. While this was apparently a misfortune to the owners of the warehouses, it proved in reality a benefit. The extent of ihetirc was such that the insurance companies, with but one exception, failed, the insured losing all; not so with the firm named. They sued the city for damages on account of the loss of their immense stock of merchandise, and after years of litigation, consequent upon appeal after appeal by the authorities, finally recovered a sum of over $200,000.
“ In 1839 a disastrous fire took place in Pearl Street, near Coenties Slip, burning with fearful rapidity. It originated in a store nearly opposite the Pearl Street House—a building in the front wall of which is a white marble tablet commemorative of the great fire of 1835, with the following inscription cut upon its face :
IN THE CONFLAGRATION 16-17 DECEMBER 650 BUILDINGS CONTAINING MERCHANDIZE were consumed in one night:
LOSS 20,000,000 of DOLLARS.
on Foundations of large Stone for John R. Peters. LAFEVER, Arch’t. BANTA, Mason. MACVEY, Carpenter
Again destroyed by Fire AUGUST THE 23, 1853. Rebuilt by WILLIAM CHAUNCEY, MARTIN E. THOMON, Architect. CHESTER BEDELL, Builder.
“During the progress of this fire in Pearl Street, the clear and cool judgment of Chief Engineer Cornelius V. Anderson was exemplified. One of his aids said to him.
“ ‘ Chief, this fire is going to burn clean up to Old Slip.’
“ ‘ No,’ replied Anderson, ‘ it will stop at the stores of Tweedy & Mesier ; their building has independent walls, twelve inches thick, with copings three feet higher than its roof ; there’s where we will head it off.’
“His judgment was vindicated, for at that very spot the tlames were checked, and the fire was got under control. But a most serious accident came near occurring. In the square bounded by Greenfield’s stores’ fronting on Pearl Street and running through to Stone Street, the firemen had entered a building adjoining these stores, had dragged their hose up to the top floor, and had there broken through the walls overlooking the burning buildings, so as to throw streams of water upon the flames below. As soon as the openings had been made, dense volumes ol smoke poured through them, fairly suffocating those firemen who happened to be near, and overpowering them to such a degree that they were removed apparently lifeless. Among these was the present President of the Lorillard Insurance Company, Carlisle Norwood, Esq., who was carried to the street by his companions more dead than aiive. But Norwood is too modest a man to talk about the affair.
“ One of the last fires I attended, although only as a spectator, was that which consumed the building of Harper & Brothers, in Franklin Square, at which occurred an incident told me by the late Fletcher Hat per, Esq., a member of the firm, with whom I was well acquainted, as I was also with the other brothers, James, John, and Wesley, of that eminent publishing house. The incident speaks forcibly as to the deep feeling and affectionate nature of Fletcher Harper. He said to me, ‘ I was standing in front of Messrs. Firth & Hall’s music store, watching the flames which were swallowing up thousands of dollars of the firm’s property, the accumulations of years, and I can assure you, Counsellor, the destruction did not affect me nearly as much as did the recent death of my grandchild ; for property we can restore, but life never.”