Naked of Stars
Alarming news today of an emergency at a building [55 West 8th Street] across from Jefferson Market - - residents evacuated because mercury was leaking from a ceiling - - can put New Yorkers in mind of perils in the past.
Naturally, January 1871 springs to mind, a date when the Fire-Alarm Telegraph brought changes to Jefferson Market.
• • • •From the Central Office of the Fire-Alarm Telegraph• • • •
• • The telegraph in connection with the fire service has become an indispensable adjunct, and in as much a necessity in communicating the existence and locality of a fire as the steam and other improved apparatus for extinguishing. Indeed, successful management of fires depends so much upon early and instantaneous information that the telegraphic system is now considered as important as any branch of the department.
• • The old-time method of detecting fires by the aid of look-outs upon high towers situated in different parts of the city, and communicating their existence to the public, and approximating to the locality by striking the tower bells, was kept up until the Fire Alarm Telegraph System was put in operation.
• • At this time a system of telegraph was in use connecting the various bell towers with each other, which was continued, and the look-outs were maintained at Union Market, Essex Market, Marion Street, Spring Street, Jefferson Market, Twenty-sixth Street, Thirty-third Street, Yorkville, and Mount Morris for sometime, but they have gradually been abandoned, and the old towers removed, with the exception of the one at Mount Morris, and at Morrisania.
• • • January 1871 • • •
• • The Fire Alarm telegraph was constructed under the old Gamewell patent, and was put in operation in January 1871 by the contractors, Messrs. Charles T. and J. N. Chester, and Mr. Charles T. Chapin was appointed Superintendent. The Central Office was located on the second floor of Firemen's Hall, in the room lately occupied by the President of the Board. This system embraced the territory of Manhattan island, including that of the East River islands, and consisted on its equipment of 2780 poles, 612 miles of wire, divided into 56 circuits, viz, 41 box signal circuits, 3 key and bell circuits, 2 tower circuits, 2 dial circuits, and I police circuit, 548 alarm boxes, with 54 alarm gongs and 42 key and bell magnets in the houses of the fire companies, and 16 dial instruments in the quarters of the district engineers or battalion commanders, and the necessary receiving and transmitting apparatus in the Central office, the alarms from the street boxes and bell towers on receipt at the Central office being repeated and transmitted to the several companies over the gong circuits, which was the only one source upon which companies depended for receiving alarms. Each company was provided with a key and bell instrument, connected with a talking circuit, for the purpose of informing the Central Office by signal when about to leave quarters, and on their return to quarters after an absence. . . .
• • Mr. Chapin was succeeded as Superintendent in March, 1871, by Mr. C. K. Smith.
• • • January 1874 • • •
• • The annexation of the Westchester District to the city on January 1st, 1874, made necessary the extension of the lines beyond the Harlem river, and in the early part of that year this was accomplished by cabling the river at Third Avenue and at Macomb's Dam. . . .
Source: Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments Chapter 51, Part I
• • Artwork by Sonia Brewin
New York Public Library