Old Firemen – 1838

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, September 10, 1911 [p. 16]

The year 1838 was an eventful one and much interest was shown by the citizens in the five companies. In some sections of the city the youth organized and procured engines and simple hose reels with which to aid the older companies. To one of the companies was given the use of a small engine which had been used by the Treasury Department, and other junior companies had engines with copper works.

The Columbia company at its annual meeting in January, 1838, elected the following officers; James Adams, long connected with the Bank of Washington, president; Benjamin E. Gittings, vice president; W.W. Stewart, secretary Simeon Bassett, treasurer; William R. Tait Samuel Briggs and Simeon Maddock, captains of engineers, hose men and property men, respectively. James A. Tait, Francis Hanna, Richard A. Stewart, John C. Fitzpatrick and George Phillips were elected delegates to the firemen’s convention.

Union Company Election
At the meeting of the Union fire Company Rev. French S. Evans was chosen president, E. Hanley vice president, Charles Calvert secretary, J.O.P. Degges assistant secretary, Samuel Scott treasurer, Samuel Drury captain of engineers and Dr. F. Howard captain of hose. At this meeting a flagstaff was ordered to be fixed to the belfry, the national flag to be displayed on it on all public occasions. The ladies of the first ward on the 6th of January presented the men a handsome banner. The company on this occasion made a short parade and in front of the Seven Buildings received the flag at the hands of Mrs. Goldborough, Mr. Evans, the president, making an appropriate address. This banner was of yellow silk and on the front of it were clasped hands and the motto: “In Union There Is Strength.”

The Franklin Fire Company soon after received a handsome gallery engineer and suction, made by the Messrs. Rogers in Baltimore. Before it was delivered a trial was made to that city by Baltimore firemen in the presence, of a representative of this city, when it was proved to be equal if not superior in beuty, strength and power to any apparatus here.

Firemens’ Association Formed
A convention of delegates was held at the Franklin engine house January 8, and a firemen’s association was formed. John C. Barclay of the Union presided, and J.H. Smoot of the Franklin was secretary. The delegates of the said convention were Messrs. Hanley, Barclay, Magruder, C.N. Hagner ad Howard of the Union; J.A.M. Duncanson, Wallace Kirkwood, J.H. Smoot, McC. Young and William Durr of the Franklin; C.W. Boteler, James Laskey, John Purdy, J.C. Harkness and James A. Golden of the Perseverance; James Tait, Francis Hanna, R.H. Stewart, J.C. Fitzpatrick and George Phillips of the Columbia; William M. Ellis, Richard Barry, Thomas Thornley, P.L. Henshaw and Robert Clark of the Anacostia or Navy Yard; John Meyers, John Dickson, Thomas Hillen, Levi Davis and E. Collins of the Vigilant, Georgetown; Geo. Shoemaker, J. Thomas, S. Cropley, H. Thecker, and R. Davis of the Western Star of Georgetown.

In the latter part of January there was a fire at Mrs. Elzey’s house, near the corner of 20th and G streets, at which the Union company did good service. The new apparatus of the Franklin company was tested January 29 at the east front of the Capitol, but an accident occurred which postponed a full trial till the evening of that day, when it gave better satisfaction than was expected. The same evening a complimentary dinner was given to John Rogers, the builder. February 13, at the meeting of the Union company, Mr. Evans resigned as president, on account of moving to the third ward, and a resolution was adopted that his name be placed on the honorary roll with all the privileges of an active member.

Three Fires in One Day
On the 24th of February there were three alarms of fire. There was a blaze at the residence of Col. Kearney, at the southwest corner of 14th and F streets. This took place at 8 o’clock and was subdued by a few members of the Franklin company. The second alarm was about noon, caused by a foul chimney in the Patriotic Bank building, on Pennsylvania avenue, near 9th street, and the third alarm was at night in the back part of the house of Mrs. Holmead, on Pennsylvania avenue east of 7th street. This fire was extinguished by the Perseverance company On March 10 a fire took place at the house of J.H. Bradley on Louisiana avenue near 4-1/2 street, the roof being slightly burned. April 1, a stable belonging to G.C. Cooper, in the square north of the Treasury, was burned. The horses in the stable were safely removed.

The citizens of the first ward held a meeting at the Western Market to urge the construction of a reservoir on Slash run north of K street. The meetings of the Perseverance Fire Company were held at the Firemen’s Insurance Company on C street, near 7th street.

April 9 the councils passed an act to procure additional apparatus for the Third Ward company and April 27, W.T. Griffith, Dr. Burrows, Daniel Campbell, Charles Boteler, George W. Phillips, Thomas Parker, Caleb Buckingham and Silas H. Hill were appointed a committee of the Perseverance company to solicit funds for additional apparatus. In this month the Franklin, Perseverance and other companies went to a fire in Alexandria, drawing the apparatus through the mud.

Vote to Transfer Engine
The Union Fie Company in May adopted a resolution agreeing to the transfer of its old engine to the Perseverance company. During May there were several false alarms of fire. On the night of 1, between 8 an 9 o’clock, the stable of Brooke Mackall on the heights of Georgetown was burned, and the Union and Franklin companies of this city went to the assistance of the two Georgetown companies. Immediately afterward, during a heavy rainstorm , the alarm bells of Capitol Hill and those of the First Baptist Church on 10th street were rung for a fire in a frame building near the Foundry Methodist Church on G and 14th streets. Fortunately there was little wind to fan the flames. Had there been the fire would without doubt have spread because of the scarcity of water. July 18 the councils granted permission to the Perseverance Fire Company to build an engine house on Center Market space on 8th street, and also made an appropriation to purchase the first ward engine for the third ward.

September 6, between 9 and 10 o’clock at night, a fire broke out in a stable between 9th, 10th, D and E streets and communicated to the carpenter shops of John Wilson and the stable of Thomas Murray, which were destroyed with their contents before sufficient aid could be given. This fire brought out the fire companies Perseverance and Franklin of the city, the Vigilant of Georgetown and the Star and Sun of Alexandria. The Alexandria companies arrived in about an hour. The Alexandrians were invited by the mayor, M. Gales, to partake of refreshments at the Franklin engine house.

Destructive Blaze
Sunday morning, September 9, fire was discovered in a frame building on the east side of 8th street south of E street, occupied by Mr. Golden, which communicated to a carpenter shop, thence to a frame house belonging to Lambert Fall, to the north of it, and to the brick tavern and dwelling on the south owned by McGlue, at the southwest corner of the square; then extending to two tenements on D street belonging to Mr. Hayman and to Mr. Hammel’s house. The latter was not destroyed, but was much damaged. At that time the extensive buildings of the National Intelligencer at 7th an D streets were separated from M. Hammel’s house by a small alley it being Sunday morning, the population of the neighborhood thought the bells were ringing for church service, and it was half an hour before water could be brought to bear on the burning buildings. But by 11 o’clock the fire was mastered, not, however, before two companies from Alexandria arrived on the ground. About 1 o’clock a stable in the rear of Mr. Coltson’s, on 6th street, caught fire and was almost totally destroyed. September 10 the tavern of Mrs. Smith on 7th street was set on fire, but the blaze was discovered in time to prevent much damage.

September 11 the Union Fire Company appointed a committee to make arrangements for the company joining in a fireman’s procession in Baltimore November 19 following. October 6 a fire was discovered in Andrew Hoover’s stable opposite the Seven buildings. October 22 , Mr. Noel’s Venetian blind factory, Pennsylvania avenue near 10th street, was discovered on fire, but the building was saved.

Union in Baltimore Parade
The Union Fire Company left Monday, November 19, for Baltimore, were the special guests there of the Mechanical Fire Company and returned Tuesday evening The company carried a piece of apparatus and was headed by the Light Infantry Band. The members were uniformed in black pants, red shirt, drab coat, red cape and fire hat. This was the first full uniform worn by a District company.

Fire was discovered the night of November 22 in the house of Mr. Shepherd, Pennsylvania avenue near 14th street, but was soon extinguished.