THE FIRST FIRE
COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK
By Captain Franklin Ellis118
The first fire in Hudson occurred in the year 1793, the property destroyed being a book-store and the office of the Hudson Gazette, both owned by Ashbel Stoddard. There were then no engines, nor any organization of firemen in the city, and, still worse, no available supply of water. Under these circumstances the fire was left to rage without check, and almost without an attempt to subdue it. Fortunately, however, the night was calm and still, and the flames did not spread beyond the premises on which they originated.
This fire was a sharp warning to the inhabitants of Hudson, and was the immediate cause of the first organization of a fire department. A petition was at once prepared, and was presented to the Legislature at its next session, asking that the power to organize fire companies and appoint firemen be conferred on the mayor, recorder, and commonalty of Hudson, and an act conferring such powers was passed March 19, 1794. Meanwhile, in November, 1793, a number of citizens anxious to guard against a recurrence of disaster by fire, and believing that longer delay would be foolhardiness, headed and circulated a subscription paper for the purpose of purchasing a fire-engine. The necessary amount being obtained, and the matter laid before the council, that body appointed Laban Paddock, Robert Jenkins, and Erastus Pratt a committee to purchase the machine. These proceeded to the duty assigned them, and contracted with Benjamin Cady, for the sum of one hundred pounds, to furnish within the period of three months a four-pump suction engine of one hundred and eighty gallons' capacity, and capable of throwing water a distance of three hundred feet.
Public interest having now become aroused, and probably something of a feeling of emulation awakened, funds were soon raised in a similar manner for the purchase of another engine, and both these machines, though privately owned, were placed under the direction and control of the council, by which body the first fire companies of Hudson were constituted, as follows:
"Firemen appointed. [April 17, 1794] to superintend the Fire-Engine Number one.--John Kemper, Jonathan Purington, Seth Jones, Walter Johnson, Nathan Sears, Phineas Hoyt, Isaac Dayton, Christopher Hoxie, James Morgan, Silas Rand, Elisha Foot, Cornelius Toby, Thomas Manchester, Robert Taylor, Abner Hammond, Alpheus Smith, Shubael Hoskins, Peter Truman, Joshua Tobey.
"Firemen appointed [Nov. 10, 1794] to superintend Fire-Engine Number Two.--Peleg Thurston, Cotton Gelston, John H. Dayton, Laban Paddock, Zachariah Seymour, Robert Jenkins, Erastus Pratt, James Mooklar, John Walgrove, Amiel Jenkins, Arthur McArthur, Samuel Mansfield, Wm. Jenkins, James Hyatt, William Ashley, Joseph Burrel, Samuel Lawrence, Benjamin Allen."
By some unexplained delay on the part of the manufacturer, the Cady engine, although first contracted for, was not completed until some months after the time agreed on, and in consequence received the Number two; while in the mean time the other company, moving with more celerity, had their engine first accepted, and received the superior number.
It ws by the council
"Resolved, That two Houses be erected over the two Wells--on that in Second street and in the Main street--for the Reception of fire-Engines, and that the said Wells be made convenient for the supply of Water."
A short time afterwards the house which had been built of commenced over the Main street well was ordered removed "to the corner lot of the late Justus Van Hoesen, and that the committee cause a sufficient covering to be made for the other Engine on some part of the Market Square." Three years later a new engine-house was ordered to be built on the Market square, under superintendence of Paul Dakin and John Kemper.
July 22, 1794, it was by the council ordained,
"That so many firemen shall, from time to time, be appointed as the Common Council shall deem proper, and shall be called fire-wardens, whose duty it shall be, immediately on notice of fire, to repair to the place where it shall be, and to direct the inhabitants in forming themselves into ranks for handing the buckets to supply the fire-engines with water,--under the direction, however of the Mayor, Recorder, or any Alderman or Assistant of the said City, if present; and the Citizens are hereby enjoined to comply with the directions of the fire-wardens upon such occasions; and it is expected that all other person will hereafter refrain from giving any orders or directions upon those occasions, and cheerfully obey such as shall be given by the person authorized for the purpose. And in order that the Magistrates and fire Wardens may be more readily distinguished at fires, the Mayor, Recorder, Alderman, and Assistants shall each have, upon those occasions, a white Wand of at least five feet in length, with a gilded flame at the Top; and each of the fire Wardens shall, upon all those occasions, carry in his hand a Speaking-Trumpet painted white, to be used as occasion may require; and each of the firemen shall, within three months from the publication of this ordinance, provide himself with, and upon all occasions shall wear, a Leather Cap with the crown painted white, or shall forfeit and pay the sum of six shillings for every month he shall neglect to provide the same. . . . And the Chief Engineer or overseer of the engines shall, as soon as may be after any fire is extinguished, cause all the buckets to be collected and carried to the Market-House in the said City, that the Citizens may know where to find them. . . . And in case of fire in the night-time, it is hereby enjoined on the Citizens to place lighted Candles in the front windows of their Houses, in order that the inhabitants may pass through the Streets with greater Safety."
Silas Rand, Cornelius Tobey, Joseph Burrel, and Benjamin Allen were appointed fire-wardens.
At a common council held Nov. 10, 1794, it was ordered,
"That Peter Rand procure one Ladder of thirty feet long, and one of twenty feet long, and provide means to get the water with dispatch from the Reservoys in the Main Street,--to wit, the one at the Market, and the other near Shubael Worth's."
A few months later a "bell-man" (James Frazer) was appointed, whose duty it was to ring an alarm on the bell of the Presbyterian church immediately on the discovery of fire.
On the 7th of December, 1799, the council ordered the procuring of "four small fire-hooks with chains, poles, and ropes, and also six fire-ladders, from twelve to sixteen feet in length, with hooks and brads."
The third fire company was organized in 1802. On the 9th of October in that year the council
Resolved, "That if Jacob Davis, Cornelius Tobey, and others shall procure a good warranted Engine to be placed in the third Square of this City, they the said Davis, Tobey, and others shall be appointed firemen to said Engine, to be numbered Three, agreeably to Law."
The engine was procured, and the members of its company (No.3) were appointed December 11, as follows: Jacob Davis, Enoch Barnard, William McKinstry, Robert Fidler, Benjamin F. Folger, Thomas Slocum, Benjamin Throop, Rufus Backus, Stephen Booth, Cornelius Tobey, John Bennett, Solomon Fuller, James Nixon, Jr., Seth Austin, Jr., Paul Gants, Isaac Sampson, Ezra Sampson, John Strader, Joseph Wharton, Lemuel Van Hoesen. A house for this machine was erected on the east side of the City Hall square. Its cost was £19 15s. 7d. ==$49.45.
In 1804, March 10, the council
Resolved, "That Robert Folger and others be appointed baggmen, to preserve and secure Property and effects at Fires, and that they provide themselves with Baggs and other implements for that purpose."
As an extra precaution against fire an ordinance was passed, July 5, 1806, forbidding "the smoking of pipes or Segars in the streets of Hudson after sunset in the evening."
Engine No. 4 was purchased (in the same manner as the three previous ones) in 1808, and its first company was appointed, December 17, as follows: Robert A. Barnard, James Van Deusen, Aaron Charlott, Asahel Woodworth, Jr., Zebina Henderson, James Strong, John S. Hopkins, William S. Miller, George Chittenden, Alpheus M. Hunt, John T. Everts, Miron Ackley, Evert Marsh, Jacob Hawes, William Champlain, John Bennett. Soon afterwards Christopher Steel, Daniel Coffin, John Wier, John Gaul, and Patrick Fanning were added to the roll.
In the fire of Nov. 16, 1825, the first extensive conflagration which visited Hudson, the department did excellent service. The fire commenced in Cherry alley, and, accelerated by a brisk southerly wind, crossed Warren street, and was not checked until it had reached Diamond. Upon the ground burned over, First street was laid out immediately afterwards. Great as was the loss caused by this fire, it must have been far greater but for the firemen's persistent efforts, which were fully appreciated and warmly commended by the citizens and the journals of the day.
At the time of this fire there were five engines in use in Hudson. The four which have already been mentioned were very small, numbers 1, 2, and 3 having only three-inch cylinders. Nos. 1 and 3 had no suction. Nos. 2 and 4 had suctions, and the last named was worked both by brakes and by "treadles on deck." Number 5 was a nondescript, built in Hudson by John Clark. The two wheels on which the main weight of this engine rested were nearly eight feet in diameter, and when working these were lifted clear of the ground and acted as fly-wheels, as it was supposed by its builder that in that way power could be accumulated. The machine weighed four thousand pounds, and was operated by cranks instead of brakes. There are many who yet remember this old engine, and who speak of it as an exceedingly clumsy affair.
In February, 1837, occurred the fire which destroyed Bryan's Hotel, where the Worth House now stands. There were great fears that the fire would escape control, and help was asked and promptly received from the fire department of Catskill. This service was gratefully remembered, and on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 1837, the fire department and several of the city officers of Hudson embarked on the steamboat "General Jackson," proceed to Catskill, and with fitting ceremonies presented a beautiful banner to the firemen of that village in appreciation of the timely aid they had rendered. The order of procession as it march through the streets of Hudson to the steamer, under direction of Chief-Marshal Charles Darling, was as follows:
The Chief Engineer.
The Assistant Engineers.
The Wardens, with their staves and scarfs.
Engine Company No. 1, with the machine drawn by two horses.
Hose Company No. l.
Hook-and-Ladder Company No. 1.
Engine Company No. 2, with its machine drawn by two horses.
Engine Company No. 3.
The Mayor and Recorder.
Band of music.
Catskill Banner, borne by three exempt firemen.
Hudson Banner, borne by three oldest firemen.
Engine Company No. 4.
Hook-and-Ladder Company No.2, with its machine drawn by two horses.
Engine Company No. 5.
Hook-and-Ladder Company No. 3.
Engine Company No. 6.
Hose Company No. 2, with its carriage drawn by two horses.
Engine Company No. 7, with its machine drawn by two horses.
The committee of arrangements was composed of the following gentlemen, viz.: John W. Edmonds, chief engineer; C. Dewey, board of wardens; R. T. Bunker, Engine No. 1; B. F. Deull, Hose Company No. 1; J. Waterman, Hook-and-Ladder No. 1; C. Paul, Engine No. 2; J. Williams, Engine No. 3; H. Hubbell, Engine No. 4; P. Burger, Hook-and-Ladder No. 2; S. Currie, Engine No. 5; C. Mitchell, Hook-and-Ladder, No. 3; C. A. Darling, Engine No. 6; G. McDougal, Hose Company No. 2; P. D. Carique, Engine No. 7.
Chief-Engineer John W. Edmonds (afterwards Judge Edmonds) resigned his position at the head of the fire department Oct. 18, 1837, and was succeeded by Joshua Waterman.