New York Report
New York Harbor History…
Blue Links for the Hudson…


Deja Vu All Over Again Part Two

By Richard B. Marrin

It began around 9:30 p.m. on December 16, 1835. It is speculated that its cause was gas escaping from a broken line which had ignited coals in a stove in a five-story warehouse at the corner of Exchange and Pearl Streets. It spread quickly. Within 15 minutes, more than 50 downtown buildings were burning. A fierce northerly wind whipped the flames to adjoining buildings. Soon, the entire area south of Maiden Lane to Coenties Slip and east from Broad Street, all the way to the East River, was on fire. More than 20 square blocks, 13 acres of mostly wooden buildings were ablaze.

The fire could not have come at a worst time. The night was frigid—17 degrees below zero! Water froze in the fire hoses and in all nearby cisterns and wells. The East River was also frozen over and the firemen had to chop through the ice to get even a weak supply of water.

The City’s volunteer fire force, organized by neighborhood, was at low strength. It had not kept pace with population increases. Equipment was outdated. The firefighting force had been depleted by a cholera outbreak and exhaustion from having battled two other fires the night before. Help was at hand, however. The bells of the churches, jails, and City Hall pealed the alarm and a cry for assistance. The glow of the blaze was so great that firemen from as far away as Poughkeepsie, New Haven, and Philadelphia were convinced that their own suburbs were on fire. Realizing their error, they came to New York City instead. Companies from all of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, and New Jersey, even 400 firefighters from Philadelphia, responded, commandeering ferries to carry their equipment and men across the rivers to the burning island.

The Great Fire raged for two days and smoldered for weeks afterward. It was finally put out after desperate firemen blew up buildings to create a fire block. Since the fire began at night and few people lived downtown, there were only two deaths, but the loss to property was enormous: nearly $30 million, enough to build three Erie Canals; 674 building destroyed, many of them warehouses full of imports and exports of every description. The Merchants’ Exchange, Post Office, and the venerable Tontine’s Coffee House, where much of the Revolution was plotted, all were gone. The volume of claims forced 23 of the 26 fire insurance companies in New York City to file bankruptcy. Four thousand clerks and thousands of cart men, porters, and other downtown workers were “thrown out of employment [and] wandered about like the spirits of the dead, around their former haunts of happiness,” according to the next day’s edition of the Herald.

The Herald also predicted, “But, dreadful as it is—desolating as it appears to be, we are persuaded there is an energy and a spirit in New York that will make her Phoenix-like spring from her own ashes.” And the City did, and quickly. A committee of 125 leading citizens of commerce, finance, government, banking, and the law was formed to plan a recovery. The Stock Exchange opened in a different location within four days. Six hundred other businesses relocated outside the fire zone and resumed work. Loans were floated for disaster relief. Applications were made to the federal, state, and city governments for aid to rebuild. The Merchant Exchange was rebuilt, in a Greek Revival style. Brick and granite replaced wood. By the first anniversary of the fire, lots were selling for double their price (including the structures on them) of a year earlier. Downtown became the Financial District. Private residences, manufacturers, shops, warehouses, and the like moved north on the island, expanding the city’s reach.

Those who live or work in New York are tough birds. Look around at your fellow passengers. Few will allow themselves to be pushed around. The cleanup of the WTC has just been completed. A New York Times/CBS poll, published on June 11, 2002, found that the vast majority of New Yorkers were “extraordinarily optimistic” about the health of the City and its prospects for the future. Like our predecessors in 1783 and 1835, we will now rebuild lower Manhattan a third time and we will be the stronger for it.

MWA* September Calendar

September 2, 2002, Monday
East Coast Greenway Alliance Annual Meeting
Come hear progress reports, see exhibits, go on tours, and more at the ECGA Annual Meeting, November 2 and 3 in Philadelphia. More information at

BROWNFIELDS 2002 September 2-4 Cadiz, Spain
An international forum for highlighting the problems facing the international engineering, business, and scientific community in terms of the decrease of available new land for development purposes. For more information, see web site or e-mail:

September 4, 2002, Wednesday
WASTE MANAGEMENT 2002 September 4-6, Cadiz, Spain
Waste Management 2002 will address the need for the exchange of scientific information amongst experts in this rapidly growing area of research and applications. For more information, see web site or e-mail:

September 6, 2002,
Friday 10:00 p.m.
Central Park Moonlight Ride
Come enjoy a fun, relaxing, auto-free ride in the Park. A nature lover’s dream! Bring your bike or skates and meet at Columbus Circle at 10 p.m. Free! For more information, call the Time’s Up! Event Line at 212.802.8222 or visit the web site at

September 08, 2002, Sunday
Feast of the
Madonna di Matiri
The City of Hoboken presents a night of rides, games, food, and music at Sinatra Park. Sept. 5-8, 6-11 p.m. weekdays; noon-midnight Sat. & Sun. Call 201.420.2207.

September 10, 2002, Tuesday
Contact: Dennis Suszkowski at 212.924.8290 for more information or see:

September 13, 2002,
Friday 9:00 a.m.
SEA LE: A Floating Continuing Legal Education Program on Legal Issues Surrounding New York’s Waterfront. Come join us on a Circle Line boat as it cruises by areas related to the program topics. Brunch included. Friday, Sept. 13, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. 3.5 CLE Credits. Speakers include Michael S. Gruen, Eileen Millett, Philip Wienberg, Albert K. Butzel, Michael B. Gerrard, and Carol E. Rosenthal. For more information, see

For more information, see Sierra Club web site. Training will be held at Doral Forrestal Conference Center in Princeton, New Jersey.

September 14, 2002, Saturday
Sail for America
This all-day event pays tribute to the victims of September 11th. Boat enthusiasts from all over the world will gather in NY Harbor in a tremendous parade of boats. Visit Sail for America for more information or to sponsor a Memorial Flag.

9:00 p.m.
Prospect Park Moonlight Ride
Come enjoy a fun, relaxing, auto-free ride in the Park. A nature lover’s dream! Bring your bike or skates and meet at Grand Army Plaza at 9 p.m. Free! For more information, call the Time’s Up! Event Line at 212.802.8222 or visit the web site at

September 21, 2002, Saturday
Hudson River Valley Ramble
September 21-22
This weekend “ramble” features 122 guided walking, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, biking, and equestrian events as well as explorations of the Hudson River estuary by boat. Sponsored by the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and the Hudson River Valley Greenway. Call 800.453.6665 for a program guide or more information.

NY State Beach Cleanup
Volunteer for the cleanup at a beach near you! For more information, contact Barbara Cohen, Beach Cleanup Coordinator for the American Littoral Society at 718.471.2166 or e-mail:

3:00 p.m.
2002 Hudson River Swim Series
Little Red Lighthouse Swim. 7.8 miles. For more information and applications, see

September 25, 2002, Wednesday 6:30 p.m.
Basic Boating Course
North River Power Squadron begins its fall six week Basic Boating Course which ends on November 6th. Classes will be held on Wednesday evenings at 301 West 57th St. Register on the lst or 2nd night of classes. For further information, see or e-mail:

National Clean Marina Workshop - A Decade of Experience
Sept. 25-27. This first of its kind workshop is designed to produce through consensus building with key constituencies and partners, a national framework for implementing EPA’s marinas & recreational boating management measures guidance. Mystic Hilton Hotel, Mystic, CT. For more information, see MEEF’s web site or e-mail:

September 28, 2002, Saturday 10:00 a.m.
Sponsored by the Passaic River Coalition, the hike offers a charming blend of historical, cultural, and natural resources. Fee. For more information, contact Allison Moehlis at 908.766.7550.

October 04, 2002,
Friday 10:00 p.m.
Central Park Moonlight Ride
Come enjoy a fun, relaxing, auto-free ride in the Park. A nature lover’s dream! Bring your bike or skates and meet at Columbus Circle at 10pm. Free! For more information, call the Time’s Up! Event Line at 212.802.8222 or visit the web site at

October 05, 2002,
Saturday 10:30 a.m.
Brooklyn Walking Tour
Join Ben Gibbard in a walking tour of Brooklyn. This tour will travel to the Gowanus Canal and then the Third St. Bridge. Meet at the Owls Head Treatment Plant on the 69th St. Pier at 10:30 a.m. Remember to wear comfortable shoes; bike riders are welcome as always. For more information or to RSVP, e-mail:

October 16, 2002, Wednesday
HEP - Toxics Work Group
Contact: Bob Nyman at 212.637.3809 for more information or see:

October 22, 2002, Tuesday
New York State Quality Communities, Quality Coasts Conference held October 22 and 23 at the Empire State Plaza Conference Center in Albany, NY. The conference promises to offer something for anyone who is interested in waterfront issues in the state of New York. Here’s a small sample of what the conference has to offer: * Creating a vision for transforming your community * Successfully revitalizing and marketing your downtown neighborhood or region * Using the new environmental justice policy * Getting citizens, governments, and developers to work together Early registration ends Sept. 5, 2002. For more information, please see

*The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance is a growing network of organizations and concerned individuals dedicated to helping this region reclaim and reconnect to our greatest natural resource—the harbor, rivers and estuaries of the New York and New Jersey waterfront.

The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance works through education, grassroots organizing and media advocacy to include the public’s voice and values in the decision making that will determine the future of our region’s waterfront and waterways.