Tag Archives: Fires

Broadcast Marks 100th Anniversary of Triangle Factory Fire

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On March 25th, 1911, a deadly fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. The blaze ripped through the congested loft as petrified workers — mostly young immigrant women — desperately tried to make their way downstairs. One door was blocked by fire and the other had been locked by the factory owners to prevent theft.

Some workers managed to cram onto the elevator while others ran down an inadequate fire escape which soon pulled away from the masonry and sent them to their deaths. Hundreds of horrified onlookers arrived just in time to see young men and women jumping from the windows, framed by flames. By the time the fire burned itself out, 146 people were dead. All but 23 of the dead were women and nearly half were teenagers.

The harrowing story of an event that changed labor laws forever, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Triangle Fire is directed and produced by Jamila Wignot (Walt Whitman, The Rehnquist Revolution) and will premiere on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 9:00 PM (check local listings.)

Adirondack Fire Towers History and Lore

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A few years ago I made a list of the Seven Human Made Wonders of the Adirondacks. Taking a look at Martin Podskoch’s two-volume Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, I feel like I left one wonder off that list. Podskoch’s endeavor to chronicle the history and lore of each of the nearly 60 Adirondack fire towers deserves a spot on the shelf of not just those interested in the history of the Adirondacks (where it’s an essential volume), but also those with an interest in the history of forestry, conservation, wildfires, rural labor and community life in remote places. Podskoch’s extensive interviews with those familiar with the towers serves as an important Adirondack oral history of New York’s leadership in wildfire suppression.

After the great fires of 1903 and 1908, when the fire tower system was young, spotters in their lofty perches reported the majority of Adirondack fires, and Forest Ranger set out to put them out. “Times changed for both fire towers and rangers,” Podskoch writes “With advances in telephone communications and a greater awareness of the dangers of fire, more and more fires were being reported initially either by a passerby or by the person who caused the fire.” A 1987 study confirmed once and for all that the fire towers were no longer necessary compared to cheaper overflights. In the previous four years, observers had reported just four percent of the state’s 2,383 wild fires.

Today we don’t generally think of Adirondack forest fires as a threat (that much), but in the early 1960s, dry conditions fostered thousands of fires – 1,532 in 1962. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller closed the Forest Preserve completely on three occasions during 1963 and 1964. More visitors and second home owners in the late 1960s meant more fires, but at the same time better spotting and reporting using aircraft meant better control.

Still, damaging forest fires seemed so threatening as late as 1971 during the debate over creation of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), that Chair of the Essex County Board of Supervisors James DeZalia could argue against the APA by saying that “these proposals call for the removal of fire spotting towers, exposing the property and homes of the people in the Adirondacks to destruction by fire.” Thirty years later the debate continues over whether to remove long abandoned fire towers (see Almanack pieces by Dave Gibson and Phil Brown).

There had once been 57 fire towers in the Adirondacks (public and private). In the 1970s and 1980s the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) closed more than 40. In 1990, when the DEC closed the last of the Adirondack fire towers – Bald (Rondaxe), Blue, Hadley, and St. Regis mountains – just 26 remained standing. During the 1990s historic preservationists, local community boosters, and other began organizing to save their local fire towers. Although the Whiteface mountain tower was moved to the Adirondack Museum in 1974, the Blue Mountain tower was the first of the abandoned towers to be restored in 1994.

The two volumes of Adirondack Fire Towers, covering the southern and northern districts, are filled with pictures, memories, and stories, but also hard facts about the origins, locations, and life of the observers who lived and worked them.

Podskoch is now working hard on a new book about Civilian Conservation Corps camps in the Adirondacks.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

ADK Backs Plan to Remove 2 Fire Towers, Preserve Others

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The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) supports the preservation of the vast majority of Adirondack fire towers, but concurs with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s conclusion that the towers on St. Regis and Hurricane mountains are non-conforming uses and should be removed, according to a recently issued press release.

“Fire towers are an important part of the Adirondacks’ history and culture and provide important educational and recreational benefits,” said Neil Woodworth, ADK’s executive director. “For the hiking public, which ADK represents, a fire tower can provide the reward of a panoramic view after a demanding climb. But Hurricane and St. Regis already have spectacular views, so even if these towers were open, they would add nothing to visitors’ experience of these summits.” Here is the rest of the club’s press release:

For nearly two decades, the Adirondack Mountain Club has been a leader in the effort to preserve and restore the Adirondacks’ historic fire towers, which are monuments to the fire observers who protected the region’s forests and communities. In 1993, the club invited interested parties to the Indian Lake Town Hall to discuss ways to restore the Blue Mountain Fire Tower. That successful restoration effort became a model for other fire tower projects. ADK also publishes “Views from on High,” by John P. Freeman, a guide to fire tower trails in the Adirondacks and Catskills. Furthermore, ADK’s volunteer and professional trails crews have done considerable work in recent years to maintain the trails to fire tower summits, including Mount Arab, Azure Mountain, Pillsbury Mountain, St. Regis Mountain and Hurricane Mountain.

ADK has been an equally strong supporter of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, including its language permitting the maintenance and restoration of fire towers in Wild Forest areas. The Master Plan, which is codified in state Executive Law, clearly states that fire towers located in Wilderness, Primitive and Canoe areas are non-conforming structures. In 2005, ADK’s board of directors passed a resolution opposing any changes to the Master Plan that would allow fire towers to remain in Wilderness, Primitive or Canoe areas. The ADK board also opposed spot zoning that would carve out historic-area footprints on fire-tower summits in Wilderness, Primitive or Canoe areas.

ADK welcomes DEC’s “Fire Tower Study for the Adirondack Park,” an in-depth, thoughtful analysis that will provide much-needed guidance in determining the future of the 20 remaining fire towers in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. It takes a broad, parkwide view that takes into account the characteristics, location and existing or potential public benefits of each tower. It goes a long way in resolving, through objective criteria, the debate over which towers should remain and which should be removed.

Aside from the substantial legal issues, a number of practical considerations make these two towers poor candidates for preservation and restoration in their current locations. Neither is used for communications purposes. Both towers have long been long closed to the public, with their lower stairs removed. Despite the removal of the stairs, some people still attempt to climb these towers, which makes them public hazards.

From a historical perspective, neither of these structures is unique. The St. Regis and Hurricane fire towers are 35-foot Aermotor steel towers, Model LS-40, erected in 1918 and 1919, respectively. There are 11 other fire towers of this same size and model extant in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Neither St. Regis nor Hurricane is the oldest, the newest, the shortest or the tallest among Adirondack fire towers.

Nor does the towers’ listing on national and state historic registers provide them with any special status. These and other Adirondack fire towers were added to the historic registers pursuant to a 1994 agreement between DEC and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that acknowledged from the outset that some of these towers would be saved and others removed.

While ADK supports removal of these two towers from their current locations, the club does not believe they should be discarded or scrapped. Relocation has long been an important tool in preserving structures of historic significance, including the Adirondack fire towers that have been relocated to the Adirondack Museum and the Adirondack History Center in Elizabethtown. The St. Regis and Hurricane towers should be relocated to other mountain summits or to public locations where the public can view and enjoy them.

The Adirondack Mountain Club, founded in 1922, is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the New York State Forest Preserve and other wild lands and waters through conservation and advocacy, environmental education and responsible recreation.

New York City Fire Department History Lecture

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The New York Public Library’s Bloomingdale Library (150 W 100th St, NYC) will play host to a lecture on the history of the New York City Fire Department on Thursday, October 8, 2009 from 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM. Robert Holzmaier, Chief, Eleventh Battalion which covers Manhattan’s Upper West Side will be discussing fire extinguishing in 1609, the first controversial fire tax; hooks & ladders; horses and dogs; the connection to the city’s water supply; the city’s great conflagrations; attempts to destroy the city by fire; fire company feuds; and the the uses of volunteers.

You can learn more about the history of the New York City Fire Department at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/fdny/html/history/fire_service.shtml

William F. Fox, Father of NY Forest Rangers

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Last week the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held a ceremony to honor William F. Fox, the “father” of the state’s modern-day forest rangers, on the 100th anniversary of his death. Fox was born in 1840 in Ballston Spa, Saratoga County, and graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1860. He served in the Civil War as Captain, Major and then Lieutenant Colonel in the 107th New York Volunteers and later wrote a number of books on both the Civil War and forestry. Fox’s 1902 History of the Lumber Industry in the State of New York, written under the auspicious of Gifford Pinchot, is considered the first authoritative work on the logging industry in New York.

Fox became New York’s “Superintendent of Forests” in 1891. He quickly came to the conclusion that the then-current fire patrol system — which used “fire wardens” (firefighters who only worked when there were fire emergencies) and local ad hoc firefighters — couldn’t handle the job of forest protection. He wanted a paid staff – a new “forest guard” service — to cover the Adirondacks and Catskills.

Fox wrote a report to state leaders outlining how he’d organize the patrols: each ranger assigned to a township seven-miles square, residing in a log cabin built near the center of the township — but in the woods, not a village. This forest guard “would keep a sharp watch on any skulker who might be a possible incendiary.” In sum, Fox said he wanted to shift the emphasis from reacting after fires started to patrolling the woods before.

Despite Fox’s advocacy, the state Legislature did not act immediately. Meanwhile, towns became reluctant to enlist local firefighters because of costs. Then came massive fires in 1903 (500,000 acres burned in the Adirondacks) and 1908 (605 fires over 368,000 acres across the state), finally prompting elected officials to take action. In 1909, Gov. Charles E. Hughes signed legislation that brought sweeping changes to the Forest, Fish and Game law that included the creation of a fire patrol service in Adirondacks and Catskills. Fox died shortly thereafter at age 69.

Further legislation followed, replacing the “Forest, Fish and Game Commission” with a “Conservation Commission” and creating the title “forest ranger” in 1912. Though he didn’t live to see his vision fully carried out, Fox is still credited with being the father of the forest rangers. One hundred years later, the DEC, which evolved from the Conservation Commission, today employs a statewide force of 134 uniformed Forest Rangers. Their mission of protecting the state’s natural resources remains consistent with Colonel Fox’s vision.

The ceremony was held at Fox’s graveside at the Village Cemetery in Ballston Spa, Saratoga County.

This story was cross posted at Adirondack Almanack, the leading online journal of Adirondack culture, history, politics, and the environment.

P.T. Barnum’s American Museum On The Web

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The New York City History blog The Bowery Boys has a great post on Barnum’s American Museum that includes a podcast, lots of images and a link to The City University of New York website devoted to Barnum’s, The Lost Museum. Both sites are worth checking out.

Barnum’s American Museum was located at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in New York City from 1841 to it was destroyed by fire in 1865 [pdf of NY Times Article]. P.T. Barnum’s partner was John Scudder the original owner of the museum (then known as Scudder’s American Museum). Scudder recently found new fame as character inspiration for the HBO series Carnivale – a must see for those interested in carnies, the ballies, flying jennys, sugar shacks, the midway, and oh, the Great Depression.

According to wikipedia:

Barnum opened his museum on January 1, 1842 to create a place where families could go for wholesome, affordable entertainment but his success drew from the fact that he knew how to entice an audience. Its attractions made it a combination zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theater and freak show,that was, at the same time, a central site in the development of American popular culture. At its peak, the museum was open fifteen hours a day and had as much as 15,000 visitors a day.

On July 13th, 1865, the American Museum burned to the ground in one of the most spectacular fires New York has ever seen. Animals at the museum were seen jumping from the burning building, only to be shot by police officers. Barnum tried to open another museum soon after that, but that also burned down in a mysterious fire in 1868. It was after this time that Barnum moved onto politics and the circus industry.

While we’re talking Phineas Taylor Barnum, we should point readers to Robin Freeds’ “In Business for Myself: P.T. Barnum and the Management of Spectacle.”

Also, the Disability History Museum has the full text of Barnum’s 1860 catalog online.