Tag Archives: Fires

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.