Cleveland Irish: En Fuego
by Francis McGarry
Cleveland history denotes that the first fire engine was purchased in 1833, the Live Oak #1. A fire company was then formed under the foremanship of Captain McCurdy. That was eighteen years after the village of Cleveland was incorporated; the Land was a village for twenty-two years in all.
City leaders began to take precautions against the occurrence of conflagrations and a new volunteer fire company, Eagle #1, soon took over, and retained Captain McCurdy. The first chief of the volunteer department was Samuel Cook, who held that position until H.L. Noble took over in 1837. Thomas Lemmon was named chief in 1838.
There is a complete list of all those guys. There is also an advertisement for Hannan & McGlade’s Café on the same pages. “Ladies and Gents’ Dining Parlors” at 368 Superior Street.
Aunt Irene said never type on an empty stomach, “How you ‘posed to think about this if you are thinking about that?” It is unclear if I have ever masticated at a dining parlor.
The list of fire chiefs is chock full of Irish fellows with names like Lyon, Delany and Floyd. In 1853, the City Council declined to elect a chief and for a while the people elected the Fire Chief. That is how William Cowen was made chief.
Either by election or appointment, the presence of Irish surnames indicates a patulous existence that stands in contradiction to many generalized Irish immigration storylines. The Irish had positions of power in the early fire companies and had a voice in the composition of those companies.
The early city benefitted from companies and volunteers. In 1861, two-thirds of the volunteer firemen joined the army. In 1863 city firemen became paid employees of Cleveland and by the end of the year, they operated three newly purchased steamers. The steamers, horse carts and hook and ladder truck took part in the first Fire Department parade on the Fourth of July, 1863.
Engine Company #1 was the charge of Captain W.E. Scharf; his Lieutenants were William MacFeeyers and Edward Gilman. The company had two engineers: Thomas Waters and Edward Grady. The company’s firemen were: Patrick Reddy, William Snell, John Dienst, Patrick Jordan, Patrick O’Brien, John Carroll, Matthew Gallagher, Frank Stansbury, Stephen Hughes, Frank Lynch, William Koze, Hugh Manar, Lewis Earl, and J.J. Mahoney. They were stationed on Frankfort Street, between Bank Street (W. 6th) and Water Street (W. 9th).
Extensive erudition at that time determined that water was the main fire fighting necessity. The city responded and distributed water mains that began to appear in all areas of the city. The city also added the Fire Alarm Telegraph in 1864, which proved extremely successful in the communication and the operations of the department.
Neither the telegraph nor later 19th century technologies displaced Anthony’s Fire and Accident Notification Agency. P.J. Anthony would relay fire information via horse and carriage to merchants including loss and damage estimates. His advertisement is adjacent to J.P. Madigan’s wholesale liquor business on Sheriff Street and H.F. Cavanaugh’s Buffet at 257 Superior. Cavanagh was also a retail dealer in liquor and wines. Aunt Irene said never type on an empty liver.
The year 1873 marked the 10th anniversary of the formation of the City Fire Department. Cleveland’s population had grown by some 100,000 and had 23,000 houses. The city was home to manufactories, mills, forges, factories, workshops and stores. All needed the protection of the Fire Department and that water stuff. They did have 485 fire hydrants.
At 7pm on January 30th, 1874, it took the entire department and all its resources to fight a fire at Koch, Goldsmith & Company’s four-story brick block, a wholesale tailoring business. The fire soon spread to the adjoining Worthington’s Block.
The cold in Cleveland resulted in frozen hands and feet on the firemen. “Heat, smoke and cold, the two former at times unbearable to an excessive degree; the cold, piercing to their very marrow those who were drenched to the skin. Add this to the mental as well as bodily exertions; one exciting, the other exhausting; both combined testing human endurance to its fullest extent, and you have a faint idea of the firemen’s work during the whole night.” Damages were valued at $380,750.69 in 1874.
In 1877, swinging harnesses were introduced to the Cleveland Fire Department. These were patented by E. O. Sullivan, Patent #171,190 if you are keeping score at home. The first swinging harness was used as early as 1843 in Loudonville, OH; in 1871 by the fire departments of Allegheny City, PA, and the St. Joseph, MO, and by the Hughes Brewery, Cleveland, OH, as well as in Louisville by Major Edward Hughes and Chief Thomas Pendergast.
Mr. Edward Sullivan invented his swinging harness in 1875 and it was manufactured by the Worswick Manufacturing Company and by Isaac Kidd of Cleveland. William Kidd was the captain of Steamer #1 in 1863.
The first wooden sliding poles were installed at Fire House #6 in 1881. The wooden poles were imperfect due to the heat generated by the friction of sliding down quickly. Iron was soon substituted and I do not have a date for brass.
Worswick Manufacturing also provided pipe, values and fittings to the Cleveland Asylum for the Insane. Edward Sullivan lived at 1152 Euclid Avenue and was a driver for the East Cleveland Railroad. Edward Sullivan lived at 52 ½ Tracy and was a grader. The City Directory has only those two Eddie Sullivans. At this point it is a 50/50 shot. Edward the grader lived at 52 ½ Tracy with James Sullivan and Thomas Sullivan, both graders.
John Sullivan, a baggage man, lived there as well, with Patrick Sullivan, who was a contractor. They lived next door to Richard and William Lewis, a puddler and a rougher, respectfully, by trade and just down the street from Hugh Owens the huckster. Tracy is known today as West 20th Street, within walking distance to Hooples or the West Side Market. In 1877 it was full of Irish of various occupations and living situations.
It is clear that there are indicators of family chain immigration and economic diversity, as indicated by occupation, present as well on Tracey. Review of the Cleveland fire history also indicates generational participation at all occupational levels. That appears to be true from the inception of the volunteer fire companies through the 19th Century. Things may have changed on Tracy. The Cleveland area still benefits from a strong Irish American tradition of fighting fires.
*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago. He is an assistant principal and history teacher. Francis is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side. He is the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.