Posted with Permission of

March 17, 1901

Fire Destroys A Big Railroad Building

New York, New Haven and Hartford Line's Records Burned.

Flames Blister Elevated Trains---Lack of Water Cripples Firemen Till a Fireboat Arrives---Three Accidents.

Fire completely destroyed the big brick building occupied as general offices for several departments by the New York Division of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, at One Hundred and Thirty-third Street and Willis Avenue, about dusk last evening. Three alarms were rung in by the Fire Department but the engines were practically useless, as it was discovered when they arrived on the scene that little or no water was to be obtained from the hydrants, owing to the water famine from which the Borough of the Bronx has been suffering for weeks, and Fire Chief Croker sent four companies away as useless.

The flames held full sway until the arrival of the fireboat Havemeyer, which turned two strong streams of river water on the burning structure, but did not succeed in extinguishing the flames until the interior had burned out completely and left nothing but the four walls standing. The damage to the building, which was a three-story brick structure 40 by 300, is estimated at about $100,000, while books and records which were destroyed were considered invaluable to the company.

The flames, which started a few minutes before 5 o'clock in the record room, located in the extreme eastern end of the third floor, were first discovered by an engineer on one of the yard engines. He attracted the attention of the clerks in Yardmaster J. W. Turbush's office, and all alarm was sent in immediately. Almost instantly the entire eastern end of the building burst into flames, the records burning like tinder, and the twenty or more clerks who were employed on the third floor were obliged to flee for their lives. About this time some persons on the opposite side of the Harlem River saw the flames, and rang the fire alarm box at One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Street and Second Avenue. Several companies were soon on the spot, but finding that the fire was across the river, returned to their quarters, and were just about to unhitch when the second alarm, quickly followed by the third, was sounded and they started off again.

By the time the first apparatus arrived at One Hundred and Thirty-third Street and Willis Avenue the fire, fanned by the strong east wind, had gained tremendous leadway and was sending high into the air a column of flame that attracted great crowds from both Harlem and the Bronx.

The down-town track of the Manhattan Railway runs within forty feet of the building, and as the cars rolled by the heat from the fire was so great that it peeled the paint off the car sides. Once as a train passed a gust of wind struck the column of fire, tipped it over, and the fiery tongues lacked the elevated cars, making the passengers recoil in terror. The train was running at a good rate of speed, however, and the fire did no damage.

On making connections with the hydrants, the firemen found that tenre was little or no water to be had from them, and the stream they threw was little better than that of a garden hose. In the meantime the flames had eaten down to the second floor of the building, which is occupied by the waiting and baggage rooms of the suburban branch of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, which runs from One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Street to New Rochelle. The weak streams of water that were being played on the flames, and which did not reach above the second-story windows, had no effect on them. Several of the engines were pumping nothing more than air from the hydrants. On the arrival of Chief Croker, the condition of affairs caused by the lack of water was reported to him, and he sent men scurrying about to find and make better connections if possible. Other connections were made, but it did not improve the condition of affairs in the least, for there was no water forthcoming, and as a last resort the fire boat Havemeyer was sent for.