Rekindles: December 1999

Dec. 2, 1899: NEW HARTFORD, NY

Dec. 4, 1899: STATEN ISLAND, NY - A historic one-story frame building said to be over 140 years old burned late in the afternoon in Huguenot. The structure was part of a duck farm and was considered to be a landmark in the area. Before help could be summoned, the building was in ashes. The fire apparently started from an overheated stove.

Dec. 4, 1899: CHICAGO - A large molding factory building at the corner of Twenty-first Place and Loomis Street caught fire and threatened to spread to a similar building next door. Arriving firemen were met with a large volume of fire and went into defensive operations. During the battle, an exterior wall fell, killing Fireman John Bohannon and seriously injuring Fireman James Donnelly. Twelve horses were also lost before the fire could be brought under control.

Dec. 7, 1899: READING, PA - One woman was killed and 57 other people were injured as flames raced through a four-story factory just before noon. Six hundred people were at work in the large hosiery mill when the fire broke out; many were driven to windows and forced to jump. Escape from many windows was obstructed by screens, except for those who exited onto fire escapes. The fire escapes, however, quickly became over crowded, leaving many women with no alternative except to jump from the blazing building.

Dec. 7, 1899- OYSTER BAY, NY - The Atlantic Engine and Hook and Ladder Company was credited with saving many valuables, including expensive furniture, during a fire at the Cowles Estate. The large colonial structure sat on a knoll midway between Oyster Bay Village and Theodore Roosevelt's home at Sagamore Hill (he was then governor of New York). Even with little water available, the firemen still managed to save many costly objects.

Dec. 10, 1899: GLOUCESTER, NJ - An early-morning fire spread from hotel to hotel, taking the lives of two people. The flames also spread to another large building and a stable before they could be stopped. Firemen made a valiant stand to protect the remaining wooden structures in the block.

Dec. 10, 1899: AUGUSTA, GA - A fire broke out in the J.B. White dry goods store and began to spread from the department store to nearby buildings. Wires were sent to Savannah and Macon for mutual aid. Before help could arrive, the fire had spread to a Masonic Lodge and the Arlington Hotel. Flying embers started a fire on the roof of the Schnelder Building across Eighth Street. By the time mutual aid companies arrived, the fire had already been brought under control by the Augusta Fire Department.

Dec. 16, 1899: SAVANNAH, GA - An arson fire ripped through the Chatham Academy, the largest school building in the city. Arriving firemen could smell kerosene in the air as they went to work. This was one of several fires that were set in school buildings during the night; the other two did little or no damage. Two young boys were picked up for questioning.

Time Capsule


Engine 1 pulled out of its quarters on Twenty-ninth Street and headed toward a reported fire at 240 West 19th St. As the pumper entered the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Twenty-third Street, it collided with an electric trolley car that was heading east. The driver of the pumper attempted to avoid the collision by going in between two trolley cars as one of them stopped directly in his path. The steamer crashed into the trolley car, shattering several windows and sending its riders scurrying to safety. None of the passengers or firemen were injured, but one fire horse was so badly injured he had to be shot. The driver of the trolley car that had cut off the fire engine was arrested, but later released.

Later that day, Chief of Department Edward Croker rolled out of the Great Jones Street quarters of Engine 33 in his new Locomobile gasoline-powered automobile and responded to a box alarm at Church and Murray streets. The fire was only a small one, but the chief's response down Broadway to Murray Street in eight minutes was the beginning of the modernization of the FDNY. The chief experimented with new vehicles and donated the first motorized FDNY apparatus in 1901.

The city's streets were crowded with vehicles being pulled by horses, powered by electricity, and propelled by gasoline. Fire engines squeezed through the congested streets on their mission to fight fires, streets filled with the fruits of an age of inventions.

Compiled by Paul Hashagen