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.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Reminiscenses of Firemen Who Served From 1893 Until 1923 in North Pelham

Old newspapers continue to be a rich source of information regarding the early history of firefighting in the Town of Pelham.  For example, in 1923, the First Fire District of the Town of Pelham honored two local firefighters who had served for thirty years since the founding of the local fire department:  Philip Godfrey and William Edinger.  The local newspaper interviewed both men, asking them about their recollections of the early days of firefighting in Pelham.  The men discussed the initial organization of the department and its companies, the first officers of the units, the earliest firefighting apparatus purchased by the department, how alarms were sounded, recollections of the worst fires they had fought, and much more.

The Pelham Sun article provides a fascinating overview of the evolution of a local fire department as it moved from hand-pulled equipment to horse-drawn equipment and, finally, to motorized equipment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The article is transcribed below in its entirety, followed by a citation and link to its source.

"Looking Backward Over Thirty Years of Fire Department Experience
William Edinger and Philip Godfrey Tell of Some Happenings of Long Period of Service

Thirty years a fireman!

The Sun man scented an interesting story when news came that William Edinger and Philip Godfrey of Relief Hook and Ladder Co. were to be presented with gold badges for thirty years' meritorious service in the fire company.  So we sought out the jovial 'Bill' Edinger at his Fifth avenue residence and sat down for a talk. 

First we were permitted to look at the solid gold badge which is inscribed:  'Presented to William Edinger by Relief Hook and Ladder Co., Pelham Fire Department, 1893-1923,' a duplicate of which was presented to Philip Godfrey.

'How did Pelham fire department come to be organized?'

'Along about 1892 we had two very bad fires,' replied Edinger.  'One was at the Delcambre residence, which was located at Fourth Avenue and Third Street, and the other was the Case residence, which was situated about where they are now building the new hardware store for Subitsky on Fifth Avenue.  Both burned down as we had no means of fighting the flames.  The Case fire was so fierce that burning embers were carried over into West New Rochelle.  There were not many houses in North Pelham then, but we realized that something had to be done, so in the spring of 1893 we organized the Pelham fire department at a meeting held in the Town Hall.  Both companies, Relief Hook and Ladder and Liberty Engine and Hose Company, were organized at the same time.  The members lined up, and numbers were drawn from a hat.  The odd numbers went to Liberty Hose Company and the even numbers to Relief Hook and Ladder.'

'Who were the first officers?'

'So far as I remember, they were:  Vincent Barker, chief; Michael J. Lynch, assistant chief; Charles A. Barker, foreman; Gustave I. Karback, assistant foreman; Walter G. Barker, secretary; and John Henderson, treasurer.'

'What was your first equipment?'

'Soon after our organization, a hand-drawn hook and ladder was purchased and the next step was the erection of the firehouse.  The old hook and ladder is the one now standing outside the firehouse on the vacant lot there.  Phil Godfrey built the first firehouse, which was subsequently moved to the rear and now form the engine room and drivers' room of the present building.  The hand-drawn apparatus was replaced with horse-drawn equipment, and the old Nott steamer which is now unused and stands in the rear of the fire hall, and is affectionately termed 'Reilly's old boiler,' was then the pride of the town.  That was about fifteen years ago.  The horse-drawn apparatus was subsequently motorized and in 1921 was replaced by the present thoroughly-up-to-date equipment.'

'What was the method of sounding an alarm in the old days?'

'When we first started we had an old railroad engine wheel tire.  This was suspended in a frame and hit with a trip hammer worked with a chain.  The old alarm is still working up at Union Corners.' 

'Those were the days when you had to run all the way to a fire, eh?'

'Yes, sir.  We had some runners, then, too.  I weighed 125 pounds those days --'

We smiled, for 'Bill' today is a person to speak of in terms of circumference. 

'We had no lights on the streets, no sewers, no gas, and we were just having the pipes laid for the water supply.  We obtained our water pressure direct from the hydrant -- often as good as 100 pounds being obtained.  We wore blue shirts and belts as uniforms and often going to a fire and returning we would get wet through and covered with mud -- but,' Bill smiled reminiscently, 'oh how we enjoyed it.'

'What were the worst fires you remember?'

'There was the building which stood where Johnson's drug store now stands -- that was the post office and Seth Lyman's drug store.  It burned down one morning about 25 years ago and a young lad of 13, Rudolph Youchim, was burned to death.  Another fire where two persons lost their lives took place fifteen years ago, when Vaughan's livery stable, which occupied the site of Cammerano's Garage on Wolf's Lane, burned, and Mrs. Vaughan and her baby were burned to death.'

Just then the Pelham Manor siren sounded 134 and Edinger sidled over to the telephone in the fire house where Driver Ehrman was querying the location of the alarm. 

'Only a brush fire,' said Jack.  'Guess we can go back,' said 'Bill.'  So we left to hunt up Philip Godfrey, the other recipient of the thirty-year badge.

Godfrey came to Pelham almost sixty years ago, and at that time he says there was not a tree in Pelhamwood higher than a huckleberry bush.  This beautifully timbered section with its stately trees is one of the finest residential sections of the Pelhams.

'I've had a lot of fun during my thirty years service,' said Godfrey, 'but one incident will always remain in my memory outstanding among the others.  About eighteen years ago there was a fire at the residence of Ben Fairchild at Boulevard and Monterey Avenue.  Mr. Fairchild sent his man on horseback to the fire house.  There was only two of us there, but we started off.  The man on the horse took the fifty feet of rope where the runners used to pull the apparatus placed the rope over the horse's head and across his chest, mounted and held the rope across his feet as he sat astride.  Myself and the other man -- I won't tell you his name -- got a hand hold on the pole of the apparatus and away started the horse on a dead gallop for the Fairchild home.  My, how we did go!  Our feet hit the ground about every fifty yards, but we stuck until the fire was reached.  It was the most exciting trip I ever had in my life.  But we helped put the fire out and I'll say that we didn't come back as fast as we went.'

Harking back, Mr. Godfrey stated that he was born in New Rochelle and came to Pelham at an early age.  In his youth he tended cows which pastured along what is now Fifth Avenue.  It was the general occupation of the boys of that day, and Godfrey recalled a pleasant meeting thirty-seven years afterward when five men who as boys tended cows together in Pelham pastures, met and discussed old times.  Mr. Godfrey was fire commissioner for eight years.

William Edinger was the first village tax collector of Pelhamville, now North Pelham.  He has also served as town tax receiver for seven years and as village president of North Pelham for five year.

Both men are highly regarded by all members of the Fire Department and the presentation of the gold badges came as a spontaneous desire on the part of the firemen to honor those who had served so faithfully and well."

Source:  Looking Backward Over Thirty Years of Fire Department Experience -- William Edinger and Philip Godfrey Tell of Some Happenings of Long Period of Service, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 6, 1923, p. 7, col. 2. 

"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.

*           *          *          *          *

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.

Wed., Jun. 3, 2015:  The Bell in Firemen's Memorial Park at First Street and Wolfs Lane.

Tue., Jun. 2, 2015:  Important Early Images of the Pelham Fire Department.

Fri., May 22, 2015:  History of Pelham's Beloved "Nott Steamer" Known as "Jim Reilly's Boiler."

Tue., Feb. 17, 2015:  More on the Early History of Organized Firefighting in the Settlement of Pelhamville.

Mon., Feb. 16, 2015: The Great Furniture Fight of 1896: Company of Pelhamville Firemen Resigned En Masse.

Thu., Feb. 12, 2015: Rare 19th Century Image of Pelhamville Firemen Who Served in Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.

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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