The Fireman’s Hall on Henry Street between Cranberry and Orange was completed in 1852 as a meeting house for firemen and home of the Franklin Engine Company No. 3, the Atlantic Hose & Relief Company No. 1, and the Lafayette Hook & Ladder Company No. 1. It was another outgrowth of the Great Fire of 1848 that burned much of downtown Brooklyn from Washington to Pineapple to Henry to Sands Street.
Whitman’s ardor for the men of the fire brigades is well known. What might be less well known is that his opportunities for encountering them were advanced most precipitously by the establishment of this particular building, just around the corner as it was from the print shop where Whitman was known to spend his days just a few years after this image was made (the Rome Brothers shop was on Cranberry between Henry and Fulton).
Whether it be a whim, or from some more tangible cause, we do have a fondness for the New York firemen. They are mostly fine, stalwart, handsome young men; and in their close fitting dresses and red shirts, we never behold them, but the Roman gladiators and the Olympian games are brought to our mind. We question whether any city in the world can turn out a more manly set of young fellows.
New York Aurora, (March 30, 1842)
The building was designed by King & Kellum Architects and built of brick with a stone front supplied by special City Council appropriation of $1,250. The total cost of the new building was $6,523.40 and was opened to the public on October 11, 1852 with a fireman’s parade. A Metropolitan District was created by the Act of 1865 which united the fire departments of Brooklyn and Manhattan, and inaugurated the first paid firemen.
The Hall was considered suitable for its purposes in the 1850s, but the growth of the city quickly outpaced its usefulness and by the 1870s it was already considered “unworthy of a great city like Brooklyn” (Stiles) and was deemed surplus. The building survived as stores until its demolition around 1960.
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sundown, after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and the under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes—the bent head, the curv’d neck, and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, and count.
from “I Sing the Body Electric” (1855)
This view in 1924
This view in 2006:
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