The Story Behind the Photo: United States Fire Company, No.
On Monday, October 16, 1865, the Philadelphia Fire Department
held a grand parade through the streets of Philadelphia. Consisting
of fire companies from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Albany,
Newark, Pittsburgh, and several other cities, thousands of firemen
paraded with their steam fire engines, hose carriages, ambulances,
and bands down an estimated ten-mile route crowded with spectators.
According to a New
York Times article on October 17, 1865, the parade lasted
from 10am to 6pm and "not a scene of disorder occurred on
This "Grand Parade of Firemen in Philadelphia" is an
interesting piece of our city's history, but you may be wondering
what in the world it has to do with PhillyHistory.org.
We certainly weren't randomly thinking about parades while scanning
photos this month. That is, we weren't thinking about it until
1865 photo of a fire company with a hose carriage made it
to the front of the digitization queue.
We were very excited to add this 147 year old image to PhillyHistory.
Unfortunately, the age of the photo was just about the only thing
that we knew about it. The photo was a small print showing a group
of firemen wearing sweaters labeled US standing in front of a
building with United States on the façade. The back of
the print was labeled "R. Newell 724 Arch St. Philad'a -
Oct 1865" but no other information was available. It was
time to do some research.
A search for articles on firemen published in October 1865 led
us to discover the parade held during that month. For a short
time, we wondered if the photo could have been of a group who
traveled to Philadelphia for that event. The United States on
the building façade and the US on the sweaters most likely
referred to the United States Fire Company, however, which was
located in Philadelphia in the 1800s. Thanks to the Greater
Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, we knew that 724 Arch Street
was not labeled as a fire house in 1862, and we guessed it was
the studio of the photographer (R. Newell) who developed the print.
How would we confirm the fire company's name and discover the
location of their firehouse?
We turned to the experts - the staff and volunteers of the Fireman's
Hall Museum of Philadelphia. Operated by the Philadelphia
Fire Department with the support of the Philadelphia
Fire Department Historical Corporation, we figured that if
anyone could pinpoint the location of this company it would be
these specialists on the history of firefighting in Philadelphia.
Sure enough, a few quick emails later and we had our identification
- the United States Fire Company, No. 21, located at 409 Wood
Street. In 1863, the company possessed both a steam fire engine
and a hose carriage. Two years later, our photograph shows a number
of firemen displaying their company's hose carriage outside the
firehouse. A quick return to the 1862 atlas on the Greater Philadelphia
GeoHistory Network and we saw "U.S. Fire Co." clearly
labeled on the property at 409 Wood Street near the intersection
of Wood and York Avenue.
Was the photograph taken as part of the firemen's parade of October
1865? We can't be sure. Even though we'll never know what led
to this photograph being made nearly a century and a half ago,
we learned much more about the history of firefighting in Philadelphia
and a unique parade that happened just a few months after the
end of the Civil War. Like the best historical photos, this
image of a captured moment in time got us thinking, researching,
and discovering more about the past.
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Did You Know?
Do you consider yourself a savvy PhillyHistory user? Even
the most frequent visitors to the site may be missing out on some
Commenting on the PhillyHistory.org Blog: With posts
every week, the PhillyHistory
blog gives you the stories behind the photos. Articles cover
topics ranging from the historical background of current
events to neighborhood
histories to unexpected
connections between Philadelphia and national history. Commenting
is open on each entry and we would love to hear your opinion.
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Philadelphia Historic Streets Index: Over the three hundred
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