Friday, April 24, 2009

The Fire House At 20 Eldridge Street

Here's something I learned on the walking tour that I went on. This building was the site of an old fire house going back to the 1800's. Evidently some the grill work is original in some form.
I'm not sure whether it once housed Engine Company 9 or a different Engine Company or just a Ladder Company
from the Engine Company 9 site
Engine Company 9 is the oldest Company in the New York City Fire Department. Engine 9's roots can be traced all the way back to the Colonial days of 1731. At that time two hand pumpers were imported to New York from London, England. Before these pumpers arrived, the people had only leather buckets to transport water onto a fire.
These new pumpers were side stroke, 2 cylinder machines. They were mounted on solid block wheels and were dragged to the fire by the volunteer firemen. The new pumpers were housed in sheds built for them at Wall and Nassau Streets, then the site of City Hall. Engine 1 was named "Hudson Engine", and would stay in existence after the paid Department came into being, as Metropolitan Engine 2. They were disbanded in the 1970's. (Their original Engine is still in existence at the New York State Volunteer Fireman's Home Museum in Hudson N.Y.). Engine 2, named "Chatham Engine", would eventually become the present Engine Company 9. Chatham Engine was moved to the Boston Post Road (now called The Bowery) in 1784, and then to Eldridge and Division Streets in 1832. There was always a great rivalry between the old "Vollies"; Each Company wanted to be the first to get water on the fire. Any trick would be used to slow down the other companies including FIST FIGHTS ON THE WAY TO THE FIRE! Chatham Engine was a bitter rival with Engine 26 and in 1845 both companies were disbanded for fighting. Chatham Engine was reorganized as "Excelsior Engine 2". They moved into a house on Henry Street near Catherine Street in 1846. They remained there until early in 1865 when they moved into a new house built at 55 East Broadway. By this time the City of New York had grown to more than a million people and it was decided that a paid Fire Department was needed to replace the volunteers. On September 29, 1865 Excelsior Engine 2 became Metropolitan Engine Company 9. Engine 9 remained at their East Broadway quarters for over 100 years. In 1969 they moved into their present quarters at 77 Canal Street. Engine 9 shares their quarters with Ladder Company 6 and Satellite-1, a special apparatus that carries large diameter hose and foam equipment.
Ladder Company 6
-In the days before the paid Department in New York City, Ladder 6 was known as "Phoenix Hose Company."
- Ladder 6 was formed in the Metropolitan Fire Department (which became the FDNY under the Tweed Charter) on September 27th, 1865.
- Ladder 6's quarters at 77 Canal St. was previously an American Civil War Hospital and an armory.
- In 1965 the City of New York purchased the adjoining building and began
combining the two.
- In May of 1969, with the new facilities finished, Engine 9 and with Ladder 6 were quartered together.
The Tragic Aerial Ladder Test of 1875
Before Aerial Ladders were introduced to the FDNY, the Firefighters had to make due with the limited reach of portable ladders or attempt dangerous entry and exit through the interior of buildings consumed by fire in order to rescue trapped victims. Seeing many tactical advantages to the increased reach of an Aerial type ladder the FDNY Chiefs and Commissioners purchased several of them and began a series of field tests. Ladder 6 was selected to receive the first of these new Aerials and so Members of Ladder 6, Engine 9, and Battalion 4 all participated in these field tests.
Unfortunately the final test ended in tragedy on September 14, 1875. This was the day when the first Aerial Ladders were to go "in service" and a great public display of these new Ladders was planned at Tweed Plaza, a triangle formed by the intersection of East Broadway and Canal Street. Keep in mind that during this phase of American History, the public would turn out in droves for such a spectacle (an attitude that continued well into the first half of the 20th century.) And so many hundreds of people lined the Plaza that day to see the christening of Ladder Company 6's new Aerial.
September 14, 1875
At The Tweed Plaza, Canal St. and East Broadway
An Aerial Ladder was to be tested. Several public trials of the Invention had been given and the dangerous character of the Invention had been commented on. On one occasion when one of the Ladders appeared to be ready to topple over, Chief Bates prevented it by slashing a line, which carried to the top of the Ladder. (editor's note: Chief Eli Bates was Chief of Department in 1875.)
The final experiment was made on the Plaza, in the presence of a vast crowd and many Firemen and others interested in such matters. The Ladder was raised in eight sections to a height of 97 feet and Chief William H. Nash of the 4th Battalion ascended followed by Firefighter Philip J. Maus of Hook and Ladder 6, Firefighter William Hughes of Engine 9, four other Firemen and a Lieutenant.
Chief Nash had reached the summit of the Ladder when it snapped far below him and dashed Nash, Maus and Hughes, who were above the fracture, to the cobble stones of the square. Nash and Maus were instantly killed and Hughes died within an hour. No one else was injured.
The accident revived gossip which charged there was a corrupt understanding with the inventor and the payment from the City of $25,000 (editor's note: that's a huge sum of money in 1875!) for his Patented Rights. Public indignation ran to an intense pitch. The Fire Commissioners promptly shut down the Aerial Business.
September 15th Commissioner King offered a Resolution which was adopted prohibiting the further use of Aerial Ladders as it had been demonstrated they were useless and there was good reason to believe that the Invention was foisted on the Department at an enormous expense and by corrupt means.
Chief Nash was buried form 149 Clinton Street and his Funeral was attended by six Companies formed of details from the various Battalions. Maus was buried from 159-1/2 Essex Street and Hughes from No.10 Monroe Street.

1 comment:

Phil said...

20 Eldridge was built in 1840 and was home to E4 until, if I remember right, 1860.