Historic Pelham

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Grand Fire-Fighting Competition and Parade Held in the Town of Pelham in 1891

During the early 1890s, firefighting units throughout our region were still in their infancy.  Several, including units in the Town of Pelham on City Island, in Mount Vernon, and in New Rochelle, had purchased steam boiler pumping engines to throw streams of water on fires.  These were some of the earliest fire engines in the region.

Settlements such as City Island in the Town of Pelham were growing.  To house their populations, there was a mini-building boom to erect mostly wooden structures (at least on City Island).  Thus, it was in the interest of the local citizenry to encourage the establishment and progress of local volunteer firefighting units such as the Minneford Engine Company of City Island.  One such effort was undertaken by William Belden of City Island during the summer of 1891.

At the time, Belden was the proprietor of Belden Point on the southern tip of City Island.  Belden Point was a summer resort marketed in the local Mount Vernon newspaper as "The Coolest and Most Delightful of Summer Resorts" that was only "Six miles from Mount Vernon" with "Ample provision for horses and carriages."  Music was provided from 11:00 a.m. until late into the evening each day by "Liebold's famous Military Band and Orchestra."  There was a giant organ played by Frank Taft, a carousel, amusements, and six bowling alleys.  Each day a "Genuine Rhode Island Clam Bake" was offered.  In addition there was a French restaurant as well as boating, swimming, and fishing facilities.  Admission to the grounds of the amusement resort was ten cents.  See, e.g., BELDEN POINT! [Advertisement], The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 24, 1891, Vol. XXII, No. 1,422, p. 4, col. 6.  

William Belden decided in 1891 to encourage a little competition among local fire engine companies by offering a prize to the engine company whose steam pump engine could throw a stream of water the greatest distance using a hose one thousand feet long.  The prize he offered was a pair of silver trumpets and a cup.  The competition was a master stroke by Belden.  Not only did it encourage the local engine companies that might have to collaborate to fight major fires in the region (including any at Belden Point) to optimize their steam engine technologies for fighting such fires, but it also offered a grand spectacle to attract even more visitors -- at ten cents a head -- to his amusement resort at Belden Point.

Belden originally scheduled the competition to take place on the dock of his resort on Monday, August 3, 1891.  For an as yet unknown reason, the competition subsequently was advanced to Thursday, July 30, 1891 at 3:00 p.m.  Belden invited Mount Vernon Steamer No. 1, the Minneford Engine Company of City Island, and the Relief Steamer of New Rochelle to compete.  

At noon on the day of the competition, Mount Vernon Steamer No. 1 was hitched to four grand horses and departed for Belden Point.  The volunteers of the company boarded stagecoaches and departed at 12:30 p.m.

In contrast, the Relief Steamer Company of New Rochelle was forced to withdraw from the competition.  Its engine broke down.  This meant that the competition would be a head-to-head competition between the Mount Vernon and City Island engine companies.

Upon the arrival of the Mount Vernon engine and the stagecoaches carrying the volunteers of the company, a grand parade began through the streets of City Island.  In addition to the City Islanders who turned out for the festivities, about 500 residents of Mount Vernon were present as well.  At the completion of the festive parade, the members of the Minneford Engine Company hosted a luncheon for their Mount Vernon counterparts.  

The competition was simple.  Each engine would be pulled onto the dock of the amusement resort, one at a time.  One thousand feet of hose would be attached to the engine and the steam boiler would be fired up to raise the pumping pressure.  Once ready, the firemen would have fifteen minutes to throw their stream of water from the one thousand foot hose.  Officials would measure the greatest distance that a "steady" stream of water was thrown from the hose with the company throwing a steady stream the greatest distance declared the winner.  

Detail from 1893 Map of City Island Showing Belden Point Where
Steam Fire Engine Competition Was Held on July 30, 1891.  
Source: Bien, Joseph Rudolph, "Towns of Westchester and
Village of Pelhamville" in Atlas of Westchester County,
New York, Prepared Under the Direction of Joseph R. Bien,
E.M., Civil and Topographical Engineer from Original Surveys and
Official Records, p. 3 (NY, NY: Julius Bien & Co., 1893).
NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

The contest did not begin until nearly 4:30 p.m.  Mount Vernon Steamer No. 1 began.  As the stream began, it only stretched ten feet from the nozzle of the hose, causing "jubilation" among the City Islanders.  As the boiler engineer worked with the engine, however, the stream grew steadily longer.  Once it reached about one hundred feet, the stream stopped abruptly -- a coupling had burst, stopping the stream.  

The Mount Vernon firemen scrambled to correct the problem and got the stream started again.  Once again the stream grew steadily longer until the fifteen minutes expired.  The judges determined that the engine had achieved a steady stream of 134.6 feet.

It was next the turn of the Minneford Engine Company.  The Mount Vernon engine was backed off the dock and was replaced with the Minneford.  The engineer was able to get the steam pressure of the engine up to 125 pounds and the firemen threw a magnificent steady stream of water into the air.  When time expired, however, measurements established that the steady stream had achieved only a distance of 114.2 feet, some 20.4 feet shorter than the steady stream achieved by the Mount Vernon Steamer No. 1.  The Mount Vernon spectators cheered in jubilation as the news was announced.

Once the results were announced, the two fire companies assembled behind a band -- likely "Liebold's famous Military Band and Orchestra" that played daily at the amusement resort -- and marched around Belden Point.  The firemen then were treated to a "shore dinner" by William Belden.  After dinner, the firemen formed in line and each company marched to its own machine to leave for home.  

The Mount Vernon firemen, however, were not finished with the celebration of their victory.  Their steam engine was sent ahead of them to the Village of Mount Vernon and awaited their arrival on Third Street.  When they arrived "a grand reception awaited them."  Fourth avenue "was all ablaze with colored lights and numerous fireworks were set off" as the firemen and their engine paraded down Fourth avenue at the end of a grand day on City Island in the Town of Pelham.

Members of the Minneford Engine Company with Their
Steamer Nicknamed "Minneford." Photograph Taken in
About 1900 After City Island Was Annexed by New York
City and Not Long Before the Volunteer Fire Fighting Unit
Was Disbanded. Photograph Courtesy of the Digital
Collections of the Office of The Historian of The Town
of Pelham. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

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COMPETITION. -- Steamer Company, No. 1, of this village, has been invited to participate in a contest for two silver trumpets and a cup.  The contest takes place on Monday, August 3rd.  Mr. William Belden is the donor of the prizes.

LATER. -- The Steamer Company have received full particulars in regard to the contest.  A meeting will be held on Monday evening next, when the invitation to compete with the Relief Fire Engine Company of New Rochelle, and the Minneford Engine Company of City Island, will no doubt be accepted."

Source:  LOCAL MATTERS OF INTEREST -- WHAT IS GOING ON IN OUR VILLAGE, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 24, 1891, Vol. XXII, No. 1,422, p. 3, col. 1.  


The great contest has taken place, and the trophies of victory have been brought to Mount Vernon.  

Yesterday at noon the Mount Vernon Steamer, drawn by four horses, was taken to City Island to participate in a contest for two silver trumpets and a cup, the donor beeing Mr. William Belden, the proprietor of Belden Point.  The members of the company left at 12:30 in stages.

The names of the competing companies were:  Mount Vernon Steamer, No. 1; Minneford Steamer, of City Island; and the Relief Steamer of New Rochelle.  The latter company, however, was unable to participate owing to the fact that their engine had broken down.

The companies all arrived in City Island in good time, and took part in a grand parade through the island.  Fully 500 Mount Vernonites were present, and after the victory rent the air with their shouts of triumph.  After the parade the companies sat down to a handsome dinner provided by the Minnefords.

Although three o'clock was the time set for the contest, it was nearly half-past four before the Mount Vernon Steamer sent the water.  The engine was stationed on the dock, and the thousand feet of hose were carried out along the shore round the bend.  The throw was fifteen minutes.

Messrs. W. J. Collins and Peter Magee were at the nozzle and put in their best work.  At the first throw, the stream only went a distance of fifteen feet.  The Minnefords at once began to feel jubilant, but it did not last long.  Further and farther the stream went until a hundred feet was reached.  Then the Vernon boys had their turn.  Shout after shout rent the air, when all at once there was a total stop.  One of the couplings had burst.  This was soon righted, and a good stream was shot.  The time was drawing to a close, and the Minneford boys were still exulting when the judges called a halt.  The distance was then measured, and it was learned that a steady stream, 134.6 feet in length, had been thrown.

It was now the Minneford's turn.  The Mount Vernon Steamer backed from the dock, and the Minneford took her place.  Steam was soon got up, and with 120 pounds she started the pump.  In ten seconds, she ran down ten pounds, but gradually picked up till 125 pounds were reached.  Then the engineer began to grow cautious, and blew off the steam.

But she wasn't in it.  She did her best, though, but did not come within twenty feet of the Mount Vernon steamer.

On time being called, the measure was taken, which showed a steady stream to have been thrown 114.2 feet, or 20.4 feet less than the opponent.

Cheers again rent the air, and headed by the band, the firemen marched round the Point.  

The firemen were then treated to a shore dinner by Mr. Belden, and forming in line, each company marched to its own machine and left for home.  The Mount Vernon steamer had gone on before, but it was waiting for the boys on Third street.  A grand reception awaited them as they paraded down Fourth avenue.  The avenue was all ablaze with colored lights and numerous fireworks were set off.

Our fire laddies will be justly proud of their victory.  They went in to win and did so.  Their trophies will probably be exhibited in the engine house."


"To Contest for Silver Trumpets.

The proprietor of Belden's Point, City Island, has offered as prizes two silver trumpets and a silver cup, to any local steam fire engine company throwing a stream the greater distance through 1,000 feet of hose.  The contest will take place next Monday afternoon, at 3 o'clock at this resort.  The following companies have decided to compete:  Minneford, City Island; Relief, New Rochelle; Steamer Company, No. 1, Mt. Vernon."

Source:  To Contest for Silver Trumpets, The New Rochelle Pioneer, Aug. 1, 1891, Vol. XXXII, No. 17, p. 2, col. 3 (this is an untimely report published two days after the event, which was moved up, actually occurred; the event originally was scheduled to take place on August 3, 1891, but was advanced to July 30, 1891).  

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