Croton Water Project
In 1835, the Great Fire destroyed 674 buildings in lower
Manhattan. Not coincidentally, one of the greatest boons to New
York’s firefighters was completed 7 years later, in 1842:
the Croton Water Project. A series of dams and aqueducts
brought water from 50 miles north of the city to a huge
reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. From there, it was
pumped underground through Manhattan. Soon the number of
buildings destroyed by fire in Manhattan sank from hundreds at
a time to a handful.
George Morris (author of "Woodman, Spare that
Tree") wrote a poem in 1842 that became a hit song in New
York: a rare musical celebration of an engineering
Water leaps as if delighted,
While her conquered foes retire!
Pale contagion flies affrighted,
With the baffled demon, Fire!
Water shouts a glad hosanna!
Bubbles up the earth to bless!
Cheers it like a precious manna
In a barren wilderness.
A Brief Visual History of Firefighting in New York
Above: The Great Fire of 1835; the tall
building just right of center is the Merchants Exchange, which
held a sculpture of Hamilton
Above: Steam-driven fire engine, 1840
(from the base of Ericsson)
Above: Fire engine at Union Square in
1869, passing Washington
Above: Fire towers, 1874
Above: Firefighters in 1898
Above: Firefighters in 1911 - just
before the Firemen’s Memorial was dedicated
Above: 1913, the year
the Firemen’s Memorial was dedicated
Piccirilli (1866-1945) was a member of a family of
Tuscan stonecutters whose studio was in the Bronx. The
Piccirillis carved for Daniel Chester French (including the
Continents at the
Customs House and the Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial
in Washington), and for John Quincy Adams Ward (including the
New York Stock Exchange pediment), plus works such as the lions
outside New York Public Library, 1911 (Fifth Avenue at 42nd
Street), parts of the Washington
Arch, ca. 1895-1918, and the Pulitzer Fountain,
1916 (Fifth Avenue at 58th Street).
Of Attilio's own design are the sculptures on the Maine Monument and the Firemen's
Memorial, both 1913, as well as Youth Leading Industry
and Joy of Life at Rockefeller Center, ca. 1936
and 1937 (636 Fifth Avenue and 15 West 48th Street,
respectively), the pediments of the Frick Art Reference
Library (71st Street off Fifth Avenue), and the doors of the
Riverside Church (Riverside Drive at 122nd Street). Brooklyn
has Indian Literature and Indian Law Giver,
ca. 1900 (Brooklyn Museum). The Bronx has Columbus
(East 183rd Street, Crescent Avenue and Adams Street -
worth the trip) and Outcast, 1908 (Woodlawn
- On the devastating fire in 1776, during the British
occupation, see Nathan
- The Great Fire of 1835 is mentioned in Hamilton (Central Park).
- After the demise of Bishop Potter, the committee to
erect a firemen’s memorial was headed by Isidor Straus,
who died a few years later on the Titanic. Audrey Munson is
said to have been the model for the women on either end of the
Firemen’s Memorial, as she later was for the
figure of Memory on the Straus
Memorial. The death of Kruger was reported in the New York Times, 2/15/1908.
- The highest decoration for valor awarded by the Fire
Department of New York is the James Gordon Bennett Medal,
established in 1869 and given annually for the most outstanding
act of heroism. I’ve been unable to find out whether it
was originally sponsored by James Gordon Bennett Sr. or Jr. The
two of them were both active in running the New York Herald
around that time. See the Bennett
- Mentioned in the discussion of what memorials would
be like without figures: Maine
Monument, Father Francis P.
Duffy, and the East Coast Memorial (Battery
Park). For a survey of memorials to soldiers, firemen, and
policemen, see Dianne L. Durante, From
Portraits to Puddles: New York Memorials from the Civil
War to the World Trade Center Memorial (Reflecting
- Outdoor Monuments of
Manhattan has a discussion of why representational art
has such a powerful effect, plus a short quote from The Scarlet Pimpernel: A New
Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L.