Big Fire In Greenpoint: Fifty Families Left Homeless 1899
 

Loss Figured at $192,000
 
 
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Fire swept away the major portion of two mixed residential and factory blocks in Greenpoint early this morning. It necessitated the turning in of four alarms and four special calls, the bulk of the engines in the borough being engaged to prevent its spread. Four factories and a blacksmith shop and some twenty-five dwellings, mostly frame, were destroyed. About fifty families were rendered homeless.

Before being awakened a number of persons had narrow escapes, having delayed their departure in their effort to save furniture and effects, but there were no casualties. Seven horses were burned. Two firemen were slightly injured. One of them was able to attend to duty afterward, but the other, after being attended by an ambulance surgeon and a physician, was able to go home.

The boundaries to which the fire was confined may be described as follows: A line drawn from 110 Eagle street, across to 124 Freeman street, then along Freeman street to 139 and back again, parallel to the first line, to 90 Eagle street. The fire jumped across Freeman street and burned the roof from the premises of the Greenpoint Metallic Furniture Company. Most of the plant of this concern, however, was saved by the work of men from Salvage Corps No. 2 from Stagg street. By a fortunate change in the wind the firemen were able to stop the progress of the fire at this point. Otherwise it might have continued to spread for several blocks. Chief Dale and Deputy Chief McCarty, who were in command, described the blaze as one of the most serious in the course of their experience.

Following is a list of the losses as nearly as could be estimated at noon today. It is a rough estimate, the insurance adjusters not having completed their work at that time:

Kells Bros., Planning mill, 119 to 127 Freeman street, totally destroyed..........................................$50,000

Bierschenck & Co., stairs and interior framings, 109 to 117 Freeman street.....................................40,000

William Penny's blacksmith shop, 133 Freeman street.................................................................5,000

John L. Hopkins' dry drug factory. 114 and 116 Froeman street...................................................20,000

Greenpoint Metallic Bedding Company's premises damaged...........................................................2,000

Two story frame dwelling, 135 Freeman street, owned and occupied by J.H. Ahlborn, cooper, of 122 Kent Street.........................................................................................................................5,000

Two story frame dwelling, 139 Freeman street, owned and occupied by Mrs. Mary Bancroft...................4,000

Three story frame dwelling, 88 Seigel street, owned by Kate Grose................................................ 6,000

Three story frame dwelling, 90 Eagle street, owned by William Waters, 190 Kent Street........................5,000

Three story frame dwelling, 92 Eagle street, owned and occupied by Helen Kuhlwasser.........................5,000

Three story frame dwelling, 94 Eagle street, owned by Nicholas Fehmel........................................... 5,000

Three story frame dwelling, 96 Eagle street, owned by William Meick of 96 Bleecker Street......................5,000

Three story frame dwelling, 98 Eagle street, owned by the Kings County Building and Loan Association.......6,000

Three story frame building, 104-6 Eagle street......................................................................... 5,000

Four story frame dwelling, 108 Eagle street, owned by Charles Gregor............................................ 8,000

Three story frame dwelling, 110 Eagle street, owned and occupied by Charles Merritt...........................6,000

Three story frame dwelling, 112 Eagle street, owned and occupied by Thomas Combo...........................5,000

Three story frame dwelling, 114 Eagle street, owned and occupied by David Griffith.............................5,000
                                                                                                                                                                          _______
                                                                                                                                                            Total: $192,000

One of the first, and probably the first, to discover the fire was George Weed, an employee of the Long island Express Company. Weed and his family live on the ground floor of 102 Eagle street. Weed has been in the habit of going on duty at 4 o'clock in the morning and generally rose earlier. last night he was up about 2 o'clock. A few minutes after that he saw from one of the back windows of his house a tongue of flame shoot up from Kells & Sons' planning mill, immediately in the rear.

The yard was filled with lumber ready for dressing, and, being in the vicinity of so many dwelling houses, has always been considered a dangerous section for a fire to occur in. The fire grew in strength and Mr. Weed aroused his wife and four children. Then he ran to the street and went toward Manhattan avenue in search of a policeman.

At the corner he met John Degnan, a special policeman, in plain clothes.

He told Degnan and they both ran back and into the back yard, where the fire had broken out. Seeing the fire spreading rapidly and noticing the danger from the proximity of several wood yards in the rear they pulled all the doorbells on the south side of Eagle street violently as they ran along. Their prompt action probably saved a number of lives.

Meantime, the fire had been seen from Franklin street by Officer Halleck, on post on that street. Halleck tried the alarm at the corner, but it did not work, and he ran to the house of Truck No. 6, on Greenpoint avenue. In his absence, officers Leonard and Carter had succeeded in turning in alarms from other points. Eagle street was almost deserted at the time.

The fire engines began to arrive about 2:55, some five minutes after the alarm had been turned in, or half an hour after the discovery of the fire. As a result of the efforts of Mr.. Weed and Officers Halleck, Carter and Leonard, all the tenants occupying the frame dwellings on Eagle street vacated, with the exception of a Mrs. Duane, who has kept, a grocery store at 106 Eagle street for the last twenty-five years. Mrs. Duane had to be called several times. She was at last escorted safely to the street.

One of the first engine companies to arrive was No. 15, from India street. It was followed by a truck from Greenpoint avenue. Then came Engine No. 12, from Wythe avenue and North Eighth street, and simultaneously No. 38, from Norman avenue. As the fire at the time of the arrival of the first engines threatened to jump Freeman street by reason of the direction of the wind, the companies named opened the hydrants on that street and laid several lines of hose.

The fire had, however, spread rapidly to the stair building factory of Bierschenck & Sons, further west on Freeman street, and the flames from this factory and that of Kells swept with great fury across the street. After the hose had been laid the flames swept the pavement and several lines were destroyed. The firemen were driven back and some of those who had remained too near the burning buildings narrowly escaped being scorched.

Thomas McGinness, a fireman of Truck No. 6, stuck too long to the hose and had his face and hands scorched. He was overcome, but was removed by his companions and taken to the office of Dr. Mooney, on Kent street. After being attended, he went home. Patrick Sullivan of the same company was also disabled for some time, as a result of the smoke and heat, but after a brief rest, was able to remain on duty.

Finding that the fire could not be successfully combated from that side a number of the hydrants in Greene street were opened and hose lines directed through the yards in the rear of George H. Reeves' place. it was in these yards that the hottest part of the battle with the fire was fought. Yet, notwithstanding the efforts of the firemen the flames touched Reeves' factory, burning some sawdust and slightly damaging a portion of the plant. Good work was done here by the salvage corps with the result that few or none of the hands will be laid off work.

Toward 4 o'clock the fire covered an alarming extent of ground. Deputy Chief McCarty, in addition to the four alarms sent in, deemed it wise to send in the two special calls, bringing tot he scene additional engines. All of the tenants in the Eagle street dwellings vacated, most of them obtaining shelter in the houses of neighbors opposite. Scores of them in their haste threw their furniture from the windows. Having reached the street it was found that the flames threatened the furniture even there, and all articles were removed to the playgrounds of Public School No. 31 on the opposite side of Eagle street. This playground was stocked with furniture this forenoon and was watched by the dispossessed tenants a large crowd of men, women and children.

It was after 6 o'clock this morning when it became definitely known that the fire was under control. Deputy Chief McCarty thus described the work to a reporter for the Eagle:

"We had to retreat from Freeman street at the start because a number of hose lines were burned up. The fire was the worst in the course of all my experience. When the fire started the wind was blowing tremendously northeast. Then it shifted to westward, which accounts for the fact that we finally got control of the fire."

The cases of distressing personal loss incurred by reason of the fire cannot all be enumerated at this time of writing. William Kells of the firm of Thomas Kells & Sons heard of the fire from a milkman, who called at his home at 78 India street shortly after 3 o'clock. When Mr. Kells reached the scene his factory was entirely in flames. The firm has been in the business of making heavy mill work for shipbuilders. All that seemed to remain intact of the factory this morning was the safe, which lay above the ruins of the buildings. Until it was opened Mr. Kells said that he could not exactly tell the firm's loss, but he said it had been covered by insurance.

Bierschenck & Co.'s factory occupied a four story building. it contained an immense stock of hardware and was completely wrecked. Over twenty hands in Messrs. Kells'and something like 250 in Bierschenck's place will be thrown out of employment. Mr. Thomstein of the Greenpoint Metallic Company said that the firm's loss would be principally to machinery and that $1,500 would cover it.

Mr. Allen of the firm of Allen & Shea of 105 Freeman street lost his dwelling house, a stable and seven horses, all owned by himself, on all of which there was no insurance. J.H. Connors of 107 Freeman street lost several carriages and a quantity of harness.

When the fire broke out the body of Mrs.. McGough, who died Thursday last, lay in her home at 110 Eagle street. it was being watched by her son Bernard. Before death Mrs. McCough gave instructions that she should not be buried Sunday, otherwise the funeral would have taken place yesterday. When Bernard McGough saw the fire he also alarmed the people along the street by ringing the door bells and was thus instrumental in saving many lives. Undertaker McElroy of Greenpoint avenue was summoned to remove the body, but at the last moment this was not found necessary.

Twenty-two Brooklyn Companies at This Morning's Fire

Not in many months have so many Brooklyn engine and truck companies been in service as there were at this morning's big fire. Alarms were frequent yesterday and several of the companies had been out before. The first alarm this morning was from box 496. This called engine 15, 38 and 12 and truck 6; the second, from 489 box, a block or two away, called out engines 31, 29 and 13 and truck 4. The third and fourth alarms from 496 brought engines 16, 11, 51, 37 and 30, and trucks 8 and 2. Engine 56 is due on the fourth, according to the card, but as there is no 56 as yet 18 was sent. Then on special calls engines 10, 35, 6, 17 and 58 were sent to the fire. Six is on Pearl street, 17 on DeKalb avenue, near Sumner, and 58 in Long island City.

As the fire boat David A. Boody was also summoned there were twenty-two companies from Brooklyn in service. A Manhattan fire boat was also there. To cover up some of the territory from which companies had been taken No. 7 Engine was sent from pearl street to No. 21's, on South Second street; No. 14, from Herkimer street; No. 13's quarters, on Powers street; No. 22 Engine, from Quincy street, No. 18's house, on Hart street, near Central avenue, Truck No. 3. Concord street, went to Truck No. 4's quarters, on South Third street.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Big Fire In Greenpoint: Fifty Families Left Homeless 1899
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle May 22, 1899
Time & Date Stamp: