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.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Early History of the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department

After a series of fires suffered in the late 1880s by homes in the Prospect Hill section of the Town of Pelham (now part of the Village of Pelham Manor), residents of the area decided something had to be done.  They began to organize a fire fighting organization in early 1890. 

Even though the Village of Pelham Manor had not yet been incorporated, owners of fifty of the fifty-three homes located in the area agreed to pay an "assessment" of $30 per home to fund the purchase of firefighting equipment, among other things. (Owners of two residences failed to reply and the owner of one residence refused to participate.)  Among the first equipment the collective acquired were fourteen dozen hand grenade extinguishers for $84 and fifty-six racks for the hand grenade extinguishers. 

Hand Grenade Extinguisher Similar to the
Type Purchased for Pelham Manor Residents
When the "Village of Pelham Manor Fire
Department was First Organized."  Photograph
by the Author.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge. 

Each homeowner who paid the assessment received a rack and three grenades.  Fire grenades typically were glass globes or bottles filled with a chemical fluid.  When a fire broke out, the grenade was thrown at the base of the fire, breaking the globe and spreading the chemical fluid to extinguish the flames. An image of the widely-available "Harden Star Hand Grenade" appears immediately above.  I have written before about such hand grenade fire extinguishers used in Pelham Manor.  See Thu., Jan. 19, 2006:  Pelham Manor's Earliest Fire Fighting Equipment.

As part of this fire safety initiative, a group of Pelham Manor residents founded what became the "Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department" on January 18, 1890.  The founders included Messrs. Townsend, Hazen, Shinn, Baker, F. Carles Merry, Stapler, Taft, Babcock, Haydock, Gillett, Secor, H. E. Dey, Cocker, Ropin, Doty, Adnance, and Hammett.

Within a month, during a meeting held on February 14, 1890, Pelham Manor was divided into four fire districts and a General Chief (Townsend), and four District Chiefs (Wharm, Babcock, Secor, and Haydock) were elected.  The General Chief and each District Chief received a hand fire extinguisher and three hand grenade fire extinguishers.  The General Chief and each District Chief received a hand fire extinguisher to supplement the hand grenade extinguishers issued to each residence.  A unit named "Chemical Engine No. 1" was formed.  Mr. F. C. Murray was elected foreman of the unit.  Messrs. Cocker and Doty were named Assistant Foremen of the unit.  

On May 24, 1890, the following fire department budget was prepared for the initial year:

Engine House $150
Electric Alarm System Connected to Each Resiidence $450
Installation $25
Poles and Wiring $223
Chemical Engine and Outfit $400
Four Junior Babcock Fire Extinguishers $56
Fourteen Dozen Hand Grenade Extinguishers $84
Fifty-six Racks for Hand Grenade Extinguishers $7

The electric alarm system  was a fire alarm system manufactured by the Western Electric Co.  The main box was connected to a fire alarm in each residence with an alarm box having a five-inch gong at a cost of $5 per residence.  

After incorporation of the Village of Pelham Manor in 1891, efforts to expand the department and improve its equipment gained momentum.  By July 6, 1892, the department paid off the balance owed for its hand-drawn hook and ladder apparatus.  

Example of Hand-Drawn Hook and Ladder Apparatus
Like the One for Which the Balance was Paid in July,
1892 by the Pelham Manor Fire Department.  Note the
Ladders and Hooks Stored on the "Truck" and the Buckets
Hanging Beneath.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

The early records of the department reflect a host of expenditures as the department developed including, but not limited to, the following:

Oct. 20, 1892:  $22 for lumber, locks and keys for a new Engine House
Dec. 1, 1892:  $5 for a horse to pull the Engine
Dec. 12, 1892:  $200 payment toward a second Chemical Engine
Dec. 22, 1892:  $11.04 for fire alarm supplies
Dec. 28, 1892:  $351.67 payment of rental for 5 fire hydrants (with payment offset by taxes)
Feb. 13, 1893:  $21 to purchase a coal-burning stove for the Engine House
Mar. 2, 1893:  $26 to purchase coal for the Engine House stove
Apr. 15, 1893:  $75 for building a bell tower
Jul. 27, 1893:  $10 for painting the bell tower
Aug. 31, 1893:  Payment of $575 to purchase fire hoses
Oct. 6, 1893:  $20 to purchase a Babcock Extinguisher to be carried on the Hook and Ladder Truck
Dec. 11, 1893:  $25 to pay for hanging bell in the new bell tower
Mar. 20, 1894:  Fire Department receives $1,404.07 from Village tax revenues

More information about the early years of the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department is available from a typewritten manuscript from the department's files.  That manuscript reads as follows:

"Back in the early 1900's the Fire Department of Pelham Manor was really equipped.  It had a small hook and ladder truck drawn by one horse.  The main fire house was on Black St. about where Mr. Mulvey's house stands today; just a barn to store the truck.  There was a hand drawn hose reel in a building about the size of a one car garage on Ely Avenue in the Charles Pond property; another on Fowler Avenue, just north of Witherbee Ave.  Later there was a house built there and our Village Treasurer, Mr. Mackay, lived there.  Still another hose reel in a small building right where our present fire house stands.  These hose reels carried about 250 feet of hose each and two nozzles -- a bell rigged up so that as the wheels turned a bar hit the bell to ring it.  They were hand drawn except when the men were lucky enough to catch soe grocery or butcher wagon to hitch onto.

At each of these fire stations there was a large locomotive wheel rim mounted on a rack with a large hammer to strike the rim and sound the fire alarm.  The Village had two horses used for the Street Department which were also used for fire horses if available.  They were cared for and driven by Mr. Thomas Dooley.  Mr. Dooley was street superintendent and fire chief.  He had only one other man, Thomas Murray, working with him.  They did a swell job of taking care of the streets and all village property and snow plowing.

In about 1914 this Village motorized the fire department with a cylinder Brockway hose wagon with a 25 foot extension ladder on the side.  This did away with some of the hand drawn hose reels.  In 1917 Mr. D. M. Bell, a very fine citizen, interested in the fire deparment, puchased and donated a four cylinder American LaFrance pumper to the Village.  Later he was made Chief of the department.  During World War I this pumper was kept in the Roy Kaye garage on Pelhamdale Ave., later known as the [Page 1 / Page 2] Hopkins garage.  Now it is a Village Park.  The apparatus was kept there because of the man power shortage during the war.  After the War, in 1924, the Village purchased two really fine pieces of equipment; one City Service Ladder truck and a 1000 gallon pumper.  During the early years the chief was elected by the members of the deparment, usually for two years, and about the time he was really broken in to the job his term expired and a new Chief elected.  The old chief then went back as a fireman.  The drivers were part paid call men working in the Village.  One had his own garage and service station.  The other worked out of town and acted as night driver.

In 1928 the Village Board decided to improve things and brought in a paid Chief.  This caused a little trouble among the volunteers and the Fire Department was disbanded and reorganized.  In 1929 the department consisted of a paid chief and two paid drivers.  Later two more men were added.  

In 1937 this Village purchased an additional pumper, an American LaFrance, 600 gallon per minute job that cost about $7500.  We then had the same old City service ladder truck and two pumpers.  In 1950 the Village Board bought a new late model Mack Ladder truck which was designed by Chief Fawcett.  This truck is one of the very latest models.  It has a 750 gallon per minute pump, carries 600 feet of 2 1/2 in. hose, 600 feet of 1 1/2" and 300 ft. of booster line.  It has a tank capacity of 300 gallons across the pump proportioner and can deliver clear water, liquid foam or wet water chemical, whichever is necessary for any particular kind of fire.  Wheen we answer a fire call today we have 1600 feet of 2 1/2" hose, 1000 feet of 1 1/2" hose on our apparatus.

There is one member of the fire department present tongith who furnished some of this information:  -- Henry Telford, now employed [Page 2 / Page 3] as head of the Sanitation Department and still a volunteer fireman.  He recalls some of the serious fires with heavy loss years ago.  In 1914 the Hatch house on Edgewood Ave., where Mrs. Harther's tennis court is at present, 1917, the Chester House on Esplanade burned down.  In 1922 the Churchill house on Witherbee Ave. at Pelham Manor Road.  At this fire the department had no longer ladder than a thirty foot carried on top of the engine.  Fireman Arthur Telford made a very spectacular rescue with a painter's ladder by bringing a maid from the third floor at this fire.  Also in 1922 the old Pell mansion on Carol Place was very badly damaged by an early morning fire.  In 1920 Dr. Merchants house on Hillcrest Drive and Pelhamdale Avenue was destroyed by fire.  Telford also recalls that they had to drag the hose from the Longley house on Manor Circle back to the fire house to thaw it out on a cold day.  

The present house was built in 1907 -- the first fire horn was donated by Mr. D. M. Bell and was only replaced a few years ago.  The addition where we are housed at present was built in 1922 and a small addition built on in 1937."

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

Fri., Dec. 11, 2015:  Evidence of An Early Independent Firefighting Unit in Pelham Named "Indians."

Thu., Dec. 10, 2015:  Grand Fire-Fighting Competition and Parade Held in the Town of Pelham in 1891.

Wed., Dec. 09, 2015:  Pelham's Minneford Engine Company Built a New Fire House on City Island in 1894.

Mon., Dec. 07, 2015:  The Code Used on the City Island Fire Bell in the Late 19th Century Used for Fire Alarms.

Mon., Nov. 30, 2015:  Another Detailed Account of the 1901 Fire that Detroyed the Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island.

Fri., Nov. 20, 2015:  Account of 1894 Fire in One of Pelham's Earliest Newspapers.
Wed., Sep. 30, 2015:  Was it Arson that Destroyed the Prospect Hill School at Jackson and Plymouth Avenues in 1917?

Thu., Sep. 17, 2015:  An Account of the February 28, 1925 Fire at Pelhamdale, A Home on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fri., Jun. 12, 2015:  The Tumultuous Reign of Pelham Manor Fire Chief J. Louis Cunningham in the Early 1900s.

Tue., Jun. 09, 2015:  Reminiscenses of Firemen Who Served From 1893 Until 1923 in North Pelham.

Wed., Jun. 03, 2015:  The Bell in Firemen's Memorial Park at First Street and Wolfs Lane.

Tue., Jun. 02, 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."

Thu., Mar. 26, 2015:  Fire Destroyed the Old Pelham Manor Post Office in 1945.

Fri., Mar. 20, 2015:  Fire in 1932 Devastated the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.
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., Dec. 11, 2014:  Pelhamville's First Attempt to Create a Fire Department in 1893 Failed Due to a Legal Technicality.

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.

Thu., Jan. 30, 2014:  The Night Pelham's Town Hall Burned.

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

Thu., Jan. 23, 2014:  Another Account of the Devastating Fire that Destroyed the Travers Island Clubhouse of New York Athletic Club in 1901.

Wed., May 12, 2010:  Fire Partly Destroyed Pelham Town Hall in 1908.

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.

Fri., Sep. 04, 2009:  1901 Newspaper Article About Fire that Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island.

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., Feb. 19, 2009:  The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.

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

Wed., Jan. 18, 2006:  Newspaper Report of the Infamous Vaughan's Livery Stable Fire in North Pelham in 1907.

Mon., Oct. 17, 2005:  The Firemen's Memorial of the Pelham Fire Department.
Mon., Aug. 01, 2005: An 1896 Inspection and Drill of the Fire Department in Pelham.

Tue., May 31, 2005:  The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part I of II).

Wed., Jun. 01, 2005:  The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part II of II).

Fri., May 06, 2005:  The Great Furniture Battle at Pelhamville's Relief Hook and Ladder Company in 1896.

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