By Alice Askins, Site Manager of Rose Hill Mansion
While looking for information on the naming of
Linden Avenue (said to have been named
for singer Jenny Lind) I read the
village meeting minutes from the early 1850s and there is a lot there that is
interesting. One topic that takes up a
lot of space in the minutes is fire – not surprising in a world of fireplaces
and wooden buildings. Geneva
|The American Fireman by Currier and Ives ca 1858|
Firefighting has a long history, dating back at least to the third century BC in
. There is evidence of firefighting machinery
from that era, including a water pump invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria. Here in the New World, as early as 1631, Egypt governor John
Winthrop outlawed wooden chimneys and thatched roofs. In 1648, Peter Stuyvesant of Boston New Amsterdam appointed fire wardens (men who inspected
all chimneys and could fine people who violated the rules). Later there were fire watchmen who patrolled
the streets at night, alerted the citizens to fires, and organized bucket
brigades. In 1678 the first fire engine
company went into service.
did not have government-run fire departments until around 1860. Before that, private fire brigades competed
with each other to be the first to respond to a fire, because insurance
companies paid brigades to save buildings.
There were even some incidents in United States where buildings burned down while rival
companies engaged in fist fights to determine who got to put out the fire. In
1853, the New
York City Cincinnati, Ohio
fire department became the first full-time paid professional fire department in
and the first in the world to use steam fire engines. In United States ,
the fire companies appear to have worked closely with the village government. Geneva
Based on the minutes the exact organization of the fire fighters is unclear. There seem to have been four companies in 1851, and a fifth company added the next year. There are some variations in names, though – is Hook and Ladder Company #3 the same as Fire Company #3? We do, however, find some clues about how the fire fighters worked with the village. The companies presented lists of new members and officers to the village board for formal approval. The companies apparently handled their own discipline. For example, on June 2 1851 “Patrick Bradley was Expelled for disorderly Conduct” from Company #4 and the board was informed.
The companies often requested money from the village for new equipment, although it seems they also spent their own money for the newest in hoses and engines. In 1851, one of the companies proposed to buy a new engine for $500. They did not want the village to help pay for it, but asked approval to go ahead with the purchase. In other cases that year, the village board voted $300 for a new “aparatus” for Hook and Ladder Company #3, and $800 for a new engine for Fire Company #2. In July, the board gave permission for Engine Company No 1 to “Erect an aparatus for Drying their Hose not to exceed $8.00 at the Expence [sic] of the Corporation.” To give these figures some context, the farm workers at Rose Hill were earning $10 per month.
A variety of fire-related issues came before the village board. In May of 1852, the board resolved that “Franklin Ally [sic] be repaired and kept clear of obstructions, so that the Engines can have ready access to the
Lake. Also Res[olved]
that the entrance to the park reservoir be widened so that the engines can have
ready access to the same.” The
village approved accessory expenses for the fire companies – “Resolved that the trustees, Fire Wardens and
Police Constables be furnished with appropriate badges to be worn at fires.” “A
bill for 4 Brass torches or Lamps for fire companys [sic] was presented by W Hayward $3.75 each $15.00 ordered paid.” The Chief Engineer of the Fire Department was
authorized to purchase a German Silver Horn or trumpet for the use of the Fire
Department, not to exceed $25. The board
also authorized payment to the chief engineer of $2.50 for repairs to his hat.
The minutes, however, do not tell us what happened to it.
|Fireman with trumpet, Litchfield Connecticut, ca. 1850s|
The village board had some control over the use of the fire equipment. In 1853, the trustees authorized their president “to forbid the Fire companies from using their Machines for any other purpose than for Fires and ordinary exercises unless by consent of the Trustees.” They granted their consent when “Ocean Engine Company No. 1 asked permission to take their Engine to
in September next at the time of the State fair.” Perhaps in partial return for such
consideration, in October 1853, the Chief Engineer of the
Fire Department invited the board to the Fireman’s Tournament in the public
park on the 19th. Rochester