Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rare 19th Century Image of Pelhamville Firemen Who Served in Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1

I long have tried to document the origins of organized fire fighting in the Town of Pelham.  (See links at the end of today's posting.)  In the settlement of Pelhamville, the area that became the Village of North Pelham in 1896, I have located very little information about organized fire fighting before February 7, 1893.  

As early as 1885, however, residents of Pelhamville commenced efforts to organize a volunteer "fire bucket company" to assist with fighting fires.  A very brief reference to this initiative published in a local newspaper at the time stated:


A movement has been inaugurated in Pelhamville looking to the organization of a fire bucket company, as a precaution in case of fire.  Very timely, indeed."

Source:  PELHAMVILLE, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 16, 1885, Vol. XVI, No. 800, p. 3, col. 2.  

Of course, a leather "fire bucket company" was not up to the task of fighting fires in Pelhamville.  On February 7, 1893, a group of Pelhamville citizens gathered and organized two volunteer fire companies.  Those companies became known as Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 and Liberty Engine and Hose Company No. 1.

Recently there has surfaced an important image that seems to show the members of Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 in the original uniforms worn by members of the Company shortly after it was organized.  An enhanced detail from the image appears immediately below.  The story behind identification of this image is fascinating and is recounted below.

Members of Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 of
Pelhamville in an Undated Photograph, Ca. 1895.  Original
Image from an eBay Auction Listing Identifying the Photograph
Only as "Pelham, NY" and "1895."  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Recently an eBay auction listing appeared in which a faded and torn photograph of firemen was offered for sale.  The listing referenced the image as follows:  "Rare 1895 Mounted 7.5x9.5 Pelham NY New York Firemen photo photograph."  The men in the image are wearing dark uniforms with belts, caps, white gloves, white bow ties, and an emblem stitched on their chests that seems to be a combination of the the letter "R" with the number "1" presumably references to Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.   

I am familiar with the fire department uniforms worn by firefighters in Pelham Manor and in North Pelham in the late nineteenth century and did not recognize the uniform depicted in this image.  Additionally, the men are seated on, and stand around, what appear to be the steps leading to the entrance of a private residence rather than a firehouse.  Wondering whether the attribution of the image to "Pelham NY" was an error or not, I thought it might be possible that the photograph pre-dated the annexation of City Island by New York City and, thus, might depict City Island fire fighters.

I submitted the image to members of the East Bronx History Forum knowing that members of that organization are expert in a host of issues including, among many others, the history of City Island.  I promptly received a number of communications from members of the group indicating that the image does not depict nineteenth century City Island firefighters.  Jorge Santiago of the organization, however, recognized something about the uniforms that he had seen before.  Ironically, he had seen it before on the Historic Pelham Blog.  He directed my attention to the following posting:  Fri., Jan. 24, 2014:  Early Days of Organized Fire Fighting in Today's Village of Pelham.  That posting included the image immediately below depicting Philip Godfrey of the Pelhamville Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 in what is described as the "first uniform of Relief Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1."  The uniform appears to match those of the firefighters in the photograph above perfectly.  

"PHILIP GODFREY in the first uniform of Relief Hook
& Ladder Co. No. 1"  Source:  Allyn Van Winkle, G, Volunteer Fire
Companies In First Fire District Were Organized In 1893,
The Pelham Sun, Apr. 12, 1935, pg. 11, col. 1 (Pelham, NY). 
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

In short, the image from eBay appears to depict members of the Pelhamville Relief Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 between about 1893 and 1895.  The group appears to be gathered at an unidentified local residence.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is a list of prior Historic Pelham Blog postings that touch on firefighting and the history of fire fighting units within the Town of Pelham.

Fri., Dec. 12, 2014:  Parade and Housewarming Hosted by Pelhamville Fire Department in 1894.

Thu., Jul. 24, 2014:  Dedication of the New Fire Headquarters in the Village of Pelham on December 29, 1927.

Wed., Jul. 02, 2014:  Election Shenanigans Involving Fire Commissioner Election in 1898.

Thu., Apr. 24, 2014:  Information About the History of Fire Departments in the Town of Pelham Published in 1927.

Fri., Jan. 24, 2014:  Early Days of Organized Fire Fighting in Today's Village of Pelham.

Fri., Jan. 15, 2010:  Photograph of Augustine C. McGuire, President of the Board of Fire Commissioners of the First District Fire Department in 1913.

Thu., Jan. 14, 2010:  1913 Report of the Firemen's Benevolent Association in Pelham.

Thu., Dec. 10, 2009:  More 19th Century Baseball and Firefighting References.

Tue., Dec. 08, 2009:  The Darling Triplets: Three Brothers Among Pelham's Earliest Firefighters.

Thu., Oct. 08, 2009:  Firefighting Units on City Island in Pelham During the Early 1890's.

Mon., Aug. 31, 2009:  Contest in 1891 To Determine Which Steam Fire Engine Company Could Throw a Stream the Greater Distance.

Fri., Aug. 28, 2009:  Reorganization of the Minneford Engine Company on City Island in February, 1891.

Thu., Aug. 06, 2009:  Brief History of the Fire Department in the Village of North Pelham Published in 1913.

Wed., Aug. 05, 2009:  Pelham Manor Fire Chief Pleads for Taxpayers to Authorize Purchase of Village's First Fire Engine.

Wed., July 15, 2009:  Liberty Hose Company Election in 1898.

Thu., Jan. 19, 2006:  Pelham Manor's Earliest Fire Fighting Equipment.

Mon., Aug. 01, 2005:  An 1896 Inspection and Drill of the Fire Department in Pelham.

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