Roslyn rescue history
Written by: Roslyn Rescue
On November 1, 1852, a meeting of the "Inhabitants of Roslyn" was held at the Roslyn Hotel for the purpose of procuring "fire apparatus" and to organize a fire company. The minutes of this meeting show that the sum of $132.00, a large amount in those days, was subscribed and a committee was appointed to get estimates on a site and a suitable house. A resolution was adopted at the meeting that the fire company be known as “Rescue.”
Records of company meetings for the year of 1853 show that a “complete set of hooks and ladders” was procured and a “carriage” contracted for. A site for the firehouse was leased for the sum of two dollars per year and it was reported that the “house was built complete.”
It would appear that this first firehouse of Rescue was located on land between what is now the George Washington Manor and Nassau-Suffolk Lumber Co. The company stayed in that location until 1879 when the firehouse was moved to a site adjacent to the Roslyn Savings Bank. On January 26, 1891, the company moved to their new “truck house” on Bryant Avenue, now demolished to make way for the Northern Boulevard viaduct, where they remained until 1937 when rescue moved to its present quarters next to the viaduct.
Records of the early company meetings are quite complete and make for interesting reading. It would appear that the original “house” was unheated, so meetings were held there only in warm weather. The winter meetings were held in the offices of the Roslyn Mill or of Hicks and Son Lumber Co.
It is recorded that March 12, 1866, a meeting was held on the “new Fairbanks Patent Scales” owned by J. Hicks & Sons. The roll was called. “Greasers” were appointed for the following month. No other business was performed, as “the moon did not give sufficient light for our purpose.”
In that same year, on May 14, 1866, the old company was granted its Charter by the Legislature of the State. This Charter is one of Rescue’s prized possessions and the company still operates under its provisions.
The equipment of Rescue in its early days was primitive to say the least. An inventory of the company property in 1875 shows that it consisted mainly of buckets, ladders, hooks and chains.
In the year 1888, the company was presented with a horse drawn hook and ladder truck by Admiral Aaron Ward, a Roslyn resident. This truck carried a hand pump slung on a platform underneath the ladders. It was delivered to Roslyn from New York on the steamer “Idlewild”, which docked at a pier between what is now the Curtis and Fahnstock Estates in Roslyn Harbor. The arrival of this equipment was the signal for great celebration. The company at its meeting moved “that the inhabitants be notified and invited to light up.” The Firemen, in new uniforms, and with a band of music, met the steamer at the dock and drew the new apparatus through the Ward’s yard and around the village.
Fires were fortunately few and far between in those times and accounts of these events are noted in the minutes. Such records usually state that on the alarm of the fire being received, the company responded promptly, the pump worked well, and the adjoining buildings were saved. A veil of silence hung over the fate of the building in which the fire occurred.
With new equipment and new uniforms, the company took a new lease on life. Parades were the order of the day. The company traveled around the county to Hempstead, Oyster Bay, Merrick, to the parades in horse drawn wagons, while teams drew the fire apparatus. They took part in the opening of the Town Hall in Manhasset on October 10, 1907.
In the year 1901, the firehouse on Bryant Avenue was wired for electricity. The bid of the Roslyn Light and Power Company (now the Long Island Power Authority) in the amount of $31.00 dollars was accepted.
On, November 15, 1902, fire destroyed the famous William Cullen Bryant Homestead, now the Goodwin Estates. This catastrophe was brought on by the failure of the hand operated Hook & Ladder pump; apparently a common occurrence. As a result of this incident, a fine Silsby steam fire engine was presented to the company by Clarence H. Mackay, who lived on his estate, Harbor Hill, which is now the major portion of the Village of East Hills. The efficient pumping engine is still the prized possession of the company and it is occasionally taken to parades, although it is increasingly difficult to obtain horses to draw it. This engine was still in pumping condition at the time of the World’s Fair at Flushing in 1938 and put on demonstration there at that time.
Clarence H. Mackay of A.T. & T. fame was elected a member of Rescue on October 12, 1908. Other famous figures were also members of the company at one time or another and included John D. Ryan, of Anaconda Copper; De Lancy Kountze, Chairman of Devoe & Reynold Paint Company; Charles Snedecor and Cornelius Remsen, both Chairmen of the Nassau County Board of Supervisors at various times.
In the early 1900’s the first auto appeared. The minutes of the meeting of September 13, 1909 contain a violation that $3.00 was paid to Arthur Francis for transporting firemen in his auto to a fire in Westbury. On June 10, 1912, the company purchased a Mack motor hose truck for the sum of $3,000. This truck was not noted for speed and some present members can still recall running alongside the truck up Roslyn’s hills to lighten the load.
Finances were always a problem as the company was dependent upon donations and various social activities for money to purchase apparatus and equipment. In 1913, arrangements were made with the Town of North Hempstead by which the sum of $700.00 per year was paid the company for fire protection. A special meeting was held on March 15, 1915, in regard to becoming “Town Firemen,” and at its meeting of June 14, 1915, the company refused to sell its apparatus to the Town. While the company income today is considerably more then $700.00 per year, the cost of operating a modern up-to-date fire department steadily is increasing so that there is no danger of the company members becoming spendthrifts. Rescue is proud of the fact that while all other taxes have risen fantastically, taxes for the fire protection in the Roslyn area were the same for many years. There was no increase in the fire protection tax rate from 1947 to 1971.
Rescue is proud of its beautifully designed and well maintained fire headquarters and two annex fire stations housing up-to-date and efficient fire and E.M.S. equipment. All the most modern devices from fog and foam for fire fighting, two-way radios for communications, and medical supplies are carried on the two pumpers, aerial ladder truck, flood light truck, heavy rescue truck, ambulance, and chief’s cars.
The company’s members are proud of Rescue’s history and achievements and intend to maintain its excellent record and reputation of the past one hundred forty-eight years.
Memories of Roslyn Rescue Hook and Ladder Company #1
by Peter Elmer Lynch and edited by Myrna Sloam.
NOTE: Peter Elmer Lynch (1901-1990) was born July 10, 1901 in Roslyn Village. Though he lived much of his adult life in Glen Head, his roots in Roslyn date back to the 1860s to his grandfather, Peter Lynch, who was captain of the schooner “Highlander.” His father was Peter Lynch Jr. and his mother was Mary Pearsall Lynch who, in the 1920’s, served as librarian of the Bryant Library. Peter Elmer Lynch attended Roslyn schools and Columbia University. He was best known for his life-long involvement in fire fighting, both in Roslyn, and as Nassau County Fire Marshall. The following is an excerpt from a typed transcript written by Mr. Lynch in 1976 and donated to the library’s Local History Collection. We would also like to thank Helen Lynch Becker for her continued support.
Next to marrying my Ruth, [Ruth Hartman (1906-1970) and Peter Elmer Lynch were married June 6, 1925] the most important move in my life was when I became a member of Rescue Hook and Ladder Co. #1, of Roslyn on August 8, 1921. From this act flowed all my subsequent successful fire service affiliations and career. [This included] membership in various county, state and national fire organizations, appointments to important committees, and an important part in drafting Section 1700 of the new Nassau County Government Law which provided for the County Fire Commission and County Fire Marshall, and eventually my appointment as Assistant fire Marshall in 1938 and as Fire Marshall in 1958. [A post] which I held until my retirement in 1970.
At the time I joined Rescue, [Rescue Hook and Ladder Company #1 was the first fire company in Roslyn, founded in 1852] it was hard to become a member. It was only because my Uncle, James Lynch, was 1st Assistant Forman that I made it. Rescue was what was known as a “kid glove” outfit, as compared to the Highlands Company. [Roslyn Highlands Hook & Ladder, Engine & Hose Company #1 was formed in 1905.] Its members included all the local important business men, such as the president of one bank, the treasurer of another, the chairman of the Nassau County Board of Supervisors, and so on. The Company had not taken on new blood in so long that it was not too active and I was the beginning of an influx of new men. At this time  Rescue’s equipment consisted of a 1912 Mack open body hose truck, a horse drawn steam fire engine, a horse drawn hook & ladder truck, with a hand pump slung on the platform underneath, and a hand drawn hose reel. The steamer was in operating condition and I remember it being towed by the Mack truck to at least two fires. I never remember the ladder truck being used or the hose reel. There were only two or three men left who knew how to operate the steamer.
During the next five or six years, our membership was opened to the younger generation and we acquired an up-to-date American LaFrance 750 GPM pumper and a hook and ladder truck. At this time the income of the fire company was limited to a thousand dollars from the Town of North Hempstead. Each truck cost $12,500. The [additional] money was raised by donations from local residents, bazaars, tag days and anything else we could do to raise a dollar. This was before the Depression, [and] we had many wealthy residents and donations were generous. Clarence H. Mackay [Roslyn] was always good for a thousand dollars, Nicholas Brady [North Hills], for a thousand, John D. Ryan [North Hills] for a thousand, and others for five hundred. We soon paid for the trucks.
At this time we were in a little old wooden fire house on Bryant Avenue, which was demolished to make way for the pier of the Northern Blvd. overpass. In order to make room for the new equipment, the hose reel was given to the Glenwood Company, the ladder truck to Albertson. It was a tight squeeze. The old building was heated by a coal furnace and the various pieces of equipment were parked all around it, but only one piece could get out at a time. It was a wonder [that] we never had a gasoline explosion, but the truck floor was so cold and draughty it probably prevented it….
[As] I mentioned…. we bought and paid for two fire trucks costing $12,500 each on an income of $1,000 per year from the Town. One interesting thing happened during these fund drives. The [Rescue Company] tournament team used to practice on the Old Powerhouse Road, [now Long Island Expressway Service Road] west of Searingtown Road, [near] by the Brady estate. One night after practice, some one suggested [that] we go up and ask Nicholas Brady for a donation. So, all wet and dirty as we were, we piled on the fast truck and drove up to the front door of the Brady mansion. The butler answered the door and after one look at us refused to tell Mr. Brady [that] we were there. We left, but when we got back to Powerhouse Road, we decided we were not going to take that treatment. This time we took both trucks, red lights flashing and sirens going, and pulled up to the Brady’s front door in a shower of gravel. The front door opened and out came Mr. and Mrs. Brady to see what was the matter. We told Mr. Brady about the butler. They asked us in and we sat and talked in that beautiful hall with the beamed rafters, while Mrs. Brady played the organ for us. The butler was forced to serve us drinks and Mr. Brady wrote out a check for a thousand dollars.