Chief Fire Marshal and three Assistant Marshals,
one from each district. The selections were subject to approval by
Council. The new department was called "The Fire Department of
the City of Camden". In protest of this ordinance the New Jersey
Fire Company No.4 withdrew from the new, organized volunteer
W. Ayers of the Weccacoe Engine Company No. 2 was elected Chief Marshal
and served until 1868 when he was succeeded by Wesley P. Murray of the
Weccacoe Hose Company No.2. Murray was aided by Assistant Engineers
William Abels, First District; Simeon H. Long, Second District; and
Charles H. Knox, Third District. Both Ayers and Murray were well
organized and popular with the volunteers. For this reason the New
Jersey Fire Company No.4 petitioned City Council to be readmitted to
the volunteer department. Although the petition was supported by all
the fire companies, it was rejected by the Council which had already
sold the New Jersey apparatus on June 13, 1866 for $100.
in 1867 three major fires occurred in the city. The first, on the
afternoon of Wednesday, November 20 about 3 P.M. destroyed the Third
Street Methodist Episcopal Church located above Bridge
disastrous blaze was one of the largest fires in the history of the
City destroying five dwellings and seriously damaging several others
while leaving the church in ruins. A roof fire was discovered on the
south side of the church; the cause believed to be a defective flue
but some said it was a spark from a passing locomotive. A stiff
southwest breeze quickly spread the flames, overwhelming all efforts
by the firemen. Chief Ayers
summoned assistance from several
Philadelphia volunteer companies as Camden's fire fighters turned
their efforts toward saving exposures. These efforts were greatly
hampered by an inadequate water supply. The dwellings at 229, 231 and
233 Taylor Avenue burned to the ground while 227 sustained heavy
damage to the roof and top floor. Properties at #9 and #11 South
Street also were damaged as flying embers ignited their roofs. A
dwelling at #13 South
Street was heavily damaged by the flames.
Only due to the valiant efforts of the combined fire forces was the
conflagration halted late that night. Both Chief Ayers and Captain
Wesley P. Murray were commended for their judgment and action while
directing firefighting efforts. Citizens felt that if the water supply
had been better the: efforts of the firemen would have contained the
blaze much earlier.
a month later the second blaze occurred; the Nickel Works, owned by
Wharton and Fleightman and located in the block bounded by York, State
Tenth Streets and Cooper's Creek. The fire started about 6 P.M. on
Sunday: the 15th, when the dryers in the drying house overheated. A
total effort by the Independence and Weccacoe steam engines, the
United States ladder company and the hose companies of the department
contained the fire to the original 40 by 50 foot building. A good
water supply from the creek nearby and a quick response by fire
companies contained the spread of fire resulting in only minor damage
to several surrounding buildings.
days later, on December 23, 1867 the Camden Rolling Mills Company
was severely damaged by fire. The mill was one of the city's largest
industries and stood at the head of Third
Street on the Delaware
River. The blaze began in the machine shop when a cinder was thrown
from one of the puddling furnaces. Flames spread rapidly through the
wood frame building that covered almost an acre of ground. A prompt
response and assistance from Philadelphia enabled fire fighters to
save the other buildings in the complex.
ornately decorated presentation speaking trumpet is inscribed
"Presented to W.P. Murray by the members of the Weccacoe Hose Co.
No.2 of Camden, N.J." Wesley P. Murray served as Chief Marshal of
the Fire Department of the City of Camden (volunteer) during] 868 and]
869. He was a highly regarded member of the Weccacoe Hose Company No.2
and was most likely presented this fine specimen at that time.
Courtesy of the Independent Fire Company, Maple Shade, New Jersey.
Good Intent Steam Fire Engine Company and the William Penn Hose
Company were the first Philadelphia companies to arrive on the scene
to aid the Camden fire fighters. Steamers from the Mechanic,
Philadelphia and Fame Fire Companies subsequently arrived and were
followed by additional hose and hook & ladder companies. Good
Intent's steamer had to pass through a section of the burning building
to reach a wharf from which to supply much needed water to combat the
blaze. While doing so, it became jammed between a pair of shears. Fire
fighters were successful in freeing the apparatus but not before the
horses were badly singed.
in the fire were seven puddling furnaces, four heating furnaces, one
scrap furnace, twenty-two boilers, six steam powered drive engines,
thirty-two nail machines, three trains of bar rollers and other
machinery and stock.
the Nickel Works fire in 1867 another, more destructive blaze occurred
at the complex on Sunday night, July 12, 1868. Flames were discovered
in the southwest corner of the main building and as firemen arrived,
the fire was extending to several nearby occupied dwellings and to the
roof of the mill's power house. Fire fighters placed their apparatus
effectively and were able to darken the flames on the power house roof
and contain the blaze. The original fire building and the homes were
destroyed. Damage was estimated at $30,000 to $40,000, far more than
the $10,000 damage estimate of the earlier fire. Firemen had to
contend with high temperatures and humidity as well as the heat from
the blaze while quelling this mid-summer fire.
another destructive fire occurred less than a week later. About 5 P.M.
the following Saturday, July 18, flames were discovered coming from
the engine room of Goldey & Cohn's large box factory on Taylor Avenue. Flames spread through the building, feeding on the highly
combustible stock. The entire building was soon engulfed in fire as
was the late R.H. Middleton's brick stable. A brisk southwest wind
carried the flames across Taylor Avenue
to the company's lumber pile
and onward to Middleton's warerooms at #7 South Second Street and also
his two and one-half story frame dwelling at #5 South Second Street.
Engineer Ayers realized that additional help was needed and
telegraphed Chief McClusker of Philadelphia for assistance. The blaze
was already threatening to consume the most densely populated and most
valuable section of the City. Chief McClusker responded with steamers
from the Vigilant and Hibernia Fire Companies, the Fairmount,
Lafayette, Neptune, America and Diligent Hose Companies and the Empire
Hook & Ladder Company.
the firemen placed the steamers along the Delaware River and laid
their hose lines, the fire spread to the Ware & Marshall meat and
provision store, a two story brick property at #3 South Second Street
and to a two and one-half story brick dwelling at #1 South Second
Street (owned by Joab Scull and occupied by Charles Armstrong). These
buildings were destroyed as was Joab Scull's wood frame grocery store
on the southwest corner of Second and
Federal Streets and an adjacent
three story brick dwelling (also owned by Scull but occupied by Mr.
fire continued to spread destroying Mr. Test's frame drugstore and
extending to the home of James M. Cassady, Esquire's house at 128
Federal Street. Firemen were successful in saving Cassady's residence
destruction. Although the property sustained heavy water damage, only
the rear of the building was destroyed. The fire fighters continued
their determined stand against the oncoming flames and were able to
save the property of the late Samuel McLain which adjoined Cassady's
Hoell's saloon at the corner of Second and
Federal Streets and the
adjoining building occupied by L.G. Peterson ignited several times,
but the flames were quenched by what the West Jersey Press called the
"superhuman exertions" of the fire fighters.
firemen were overcome by the intense heat, including Captain Wesley P.
Murray and Joseph Flanigan of the Weccacoe Hose and Robert S.
Thomas McCowan and Thomas Allibone of the Independence Steam Engine.
These men had to be removed from the scene.
losses exceeding $54,000 were reported as a result of this devastating
conflagration. Chief Engineer Ayers praised the efforts of his men and
the good work done by Chief McClusker and his forces from
Philadelphia. The grateful citizens joined in this praise.
the afternoon of Monday; September 14, 1868 about 2 P.M. Camden's
volunteers along with others from Philadelphia were called to an
inferno at the Washington Manufacturing Company in Gloucester City.
This huge blaze caused a half million dollars in losses and destroyed
hose belonging to the Weccacoe and Shiffler Hose Companies of Camden.
Both companies received compensation for the damaged hose from the
owners of the manufacturing firm.
INCEPTION OF THE PAID DEPARTMENT
and frequent insubordination in the volunteer department led to its
demise. An example of these problems can be found in an article in the
West Jersey Press on September 23, 1868:
discordant elements belonging to the Independence and Shiffler fire
companies have found a common ground of compromise and settled upon it
as we learned from Chief Murray. Hereafter, we are to have no more
bricks and paving stones flying around loose. Let us have peace, long
a case in point, someone had cut the Independence Fire Company's hose
during the Nickel Works fire and a $50.00 reward had been offered for
the identity of the culprit(s).
the citizens supported their volunteers and vehemently opposed the
creation of a paid department. The community-at-large was proud of the
service rendered to them by the volunteers and leery of the costs
involved to create and maintain a paid force. The proposed downsizing
of the department to only five pieces of apparatus and forty-one
members was another cause for concern. Numerous meetings were held and
many articles appeared in newspapers expressing concerns about, and
opposition to, the paid department.
early photo shows the devastation which resulted from the disastrous
blaze at the United States Hotel in Cape May. The fire occurred on
8-31-1869. Courtesy of the Greater Cape May Historical Society.
the smaller paid department existed on August 31, 1869, Camden would
not have been able to provide the much needed manpower and equipment
to Cape May, New Jersey. On that day a conflagration threatened this
shore resort at New Jersey's southern most tip. An urgent call was
received from the City of Cape May during the early morning hours.
huge blaze, involving the famous United States Hotel and many other
hotels, businesses and residences was burning out of control. Chief
Murray dispatched the Shiffler and Independence steamers with 2000
feet of hose, the hook and ladder from the United States Fire Company,
and manpower with apparatus from both the Weccacoe Engine and Hose
companies to the Cape May fire. These units from Camden were sent 90
miles by special train where they "rendered gallant and efficient
service in extinguishing the raging flames". Camden's citizens
were proud that they could provide valuable service to neighbors in
need, yet maintain adequate fire protection at home. This was
something the proposed, much smaller paid department would not have
been able to do.
opposition, on September 2, 1869 City Council enacted a municipal
ordinance creating a paid fire department. It provided for the annual
appointment of five Fire Commissioners, one Chief Marshal (Chief of
and two Assistant Marshals. The City was also divided into two fire
districts. The boundary line ran east and west, starting at Bridge
Avenue and following the tracks of the Camden and Amboy Railroad to
the city limits. District 1 was south of this line and District 2 was
north. The commissioners also appointed the firemen who were
scheduled to work six 24 hour tours per week. William
Abels, from the
Weccacoe Hose Company No. 2 was appointed Chief Marshal with William
W. Mines, from the Independence Fire Company No. 3 as Assistant Marshal
for the 1st District, and William H. Shearman as the Assistant Marshal
for the 2nd District. Abels
had served with the volunteer fire
departments of Philadelphia, Mobile, Alabama and Camden for sixteen
years prior to his appointment as Chief of the paid force.
Camden Fire Departments personnel roster, recorded when the department
went into service, states that William Abels then lived at 218 Cooper
Street, and that his previous occupation was that of a currier. A currier is
a specialist in the leather processing industry. After
the tanning process, the currier applies techniques of
dressing, finishing and coloring to the tanned hide to make it strong,
flexible and waterproof. The leather is stretched and burnished to
produce a uniform thickness and suppleness, and dyeing and other
chemical finishes give the leather its desired color. After
currying, the leather is then ready to pass to the fashioning trades
such as saddlery, bridlery, shoemaking and glovemaking.
the morning of November 9, 1869 a fire destroyed nine frame dwellings
at Cooper's Point. Many of the occupants narrowly escaped death as
flames spread rapidly. One resident, Mr. Elliot, was badly burned as
were two of his children. His wife and mother were injured while
escaping the flames. The steamer of the Weccacoe Hose Company
overheated due to lack of water in the boiler and had to shut down.
Steamers from the Weccacoe Engine Company and Shiffler supplied the
hose streams that battled the blaze. An adjacent lumber yard owned by
Perry & Packer was spared due to the efforts of firemen.
November 10, 1869 City Council purchased the Independence Firehouse,
the three-story brick building at 409 Pine
Street, for $4500. The
building was designated to serve as quarters for Engine Company 1
the 1st District. On October 29, 1869 City Council authorized
construction of a two-story brick building on the northwest corner of Fifth and
Streets as quarters for the 2nd District. On November
25th the Fire Commissioners signed a contract with M.N. Dubois in the
amount of $3100 to erect this structure. The 2nd District would share
these quarters with
Engine Company 2 and the Hook
& Ladder Company
and the facility would also serve as department headquarters
for the new paid force. The original contract remains part of the
Camden County Historical Society collection.
Engine Company 2 with 1869 Silsby Hose Cart. Photo Circa 1890. Note badges
upon derby hats worn by Fire Fighters.
Amoskeag second class, double pump, straight frame steam engines were
purchased at a cost of $4250 each. Two Silsby two wheel hose carts,
each of which carried 1000 feet of hose, were another $550 each and
the hook & ladder, built by Schanz and Brother of Philadelphia was
$900. Each engine company received a steam engine and hose cart.
Amoskeag serial #318 went to Engine Company 1, and serial #319 to
Engine Company 2. The Fire Commission also secured the services of the
Weccacoe and Independence steamers in case of fire prior to delivery
of the new apparatus. Alfred McCully of Camden made the harnesses for
the horses. Camden's Twoes & Jones made the overcoats for the new
firemen and a Mr. Morley, also of Camden, supplied the caps and belts
which were manufactured by the Migeod Company of Philadelphia. The new
members were also issued badges.
is the earliest known photo of fire headquarters on the northwest
corner of Fifth and
Streets. Originally built in 1869, the
building shows signs of wear some twenty years later. Note the
weathervane shaped like a fireman's speaking trumpet atop the tower.
Also, the fire alarm bell is pictured to the left of the telegraph
pole above the rooftop. The bell was removed from the building once
the fire alarm telegraph system was expanded and in good working
maker's plate once was attached to a harness made by A. McCully &
Sons, 22 Market Street, Camden, New Jersey. This firm provided the
first harnesses for the paid fire department in 1869.
worn by the marshals, engineers, stokers and engine drivers bore the
initial letter of their respective positions and their district
number. The tillerman and his driver used the number "3" to
accompany their initial letter. The extra men of the 1st District
were assigned badges 1-10; 2nd District badges were numbered 11-20 and
the extra men of the hook & ladder wore numbers 21-30.
the Fire Commission intended to begin operation of the paid department
on November 20, 1869, the companies did not actually enter service
until December 7th at 6 P.M. because the new apparatus and buildings
were not ready. The new apparatus was not tried (tested) until
new members of the paid force were:
first style of breast badge worn by members of the career department
in the City of Camden. 1869. (Courtesy of the C.C.H.S. Collection).
G. Zimmerman was the brother-in-law of Chief Abels, married to
the Chief's sister Keturah. Charles G.
Zimmerman's brother Theodore Zimmerman also was a charter
member, serving with Engine
helmet of natural grain believed to have been worn by Fireman Charles
Baldwin, Hook & Ladder Company 1 when paid force was organized in
1869. Number 21 at bottom of frontpiece indicates member's badge
number. (Courtesy of the Camden County Historical Society Collection.)
Board of Fire Commissioners consisted of Rudolphus Bingham, Chairman
and Samuel C. Harbert, Richard Perks, Jonathon Kirkbride and Jacob
salaries for the members of the paid force were: Chief Marshal, $800;
Assistant Marshal, $200; Engineer, $600; Driver, $450; Stoker, $450;
Tillerman, $450; Extra Men, $50. All but Extra Men were paid monthly.
members of the newly organized paid department were former volunteers
and had distinguished themselves as leaders through their dedication
and hard work.
fireman's axe, Circa 1870, was removed from the basement of a building
in the City of Camden many years ago. With handle missing, a
replacement handle was modeled after the original and crafted by Mr.
George Homan, a retired wood shop teacher at Collingswood High School.
for the long reign of the volunteer fire companies, their era had
ended. The Shiffler sold its "Blue Dick" in 1869 to Dr.
Schenk for service at his laboratory at Schenk's Station, Pennsylvania
(the well known Mandrake Pills were made there). In 1870 Shiffler sold
its white hose carriage to a company in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The
American Hose Company of Trenton, New Jersey purchased the Shiffler
steam engine, had it rebuilt, and the apparatus saw many more years of
service. The Shiffler boys traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in
November 1870 and presented whatever property remained to their
namesakes in that city. The Shiffler Firehouse was sold to Washington
Chew who converted it into a tavern. For several years the tavern
was a favorite meeting place for the Shiffler boys.
October 1869, the Independence sold its newer carriage to the City of
Rahway, New Jersey for use by its Washington Fire Company. Two months
later, Independence sold its first Amoskeag steamer and old hose
carriage with 800 feet of hose to Millville, New Jersey. In May 1871,
Millville sold the steamer to the Friendship Engine and Hose Company
No.1 of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The steamer remained in service
until 1911 and was scrapped the following year. The Independence
Firehouse had been purchased by the City of Camden as quarters for
Engine Company 1 of the new department.
taken 5-20-1871 in front of the Friendship Engine &
Hose Company No.1 of Chambersburg, PA. The steam engine
on the right has just arrived after being purchased from
Millville, N.J. This apparatus was originally purchased
by the Independence Fire Company No.3 of Camden in June
1864. It was a class two Amoskeag steamer
No. 92. Independence sold the apparatus to Millville in
December 1873 Independence offered to sell its second class Gould
steam engine to the City for $1200. The engine had cost $5250 when
built in 1869. A short time later City Council accepted the offer.
Independence disbanded on October 13, 1874 with a membership of sixty
men; Edward Gilbert was President.
memorial is dedicated to the deceased members of the Niagara Fire
Company of Merchantville, New Jersey. The bell in the center of the
memorial once adorned the tower of the Weccacoe Engine Company No. 2 of
Camden, New Jersey. The firehouse was located at 517 Plum Street, now
Arch Street. The bell has been in the possession of the Niagara Fire
Company since 1896 when it was purchased to sound the alarm of fire in
Merchantville. Courtesy of the Niagara Fire Company, Merchantville, New
Weccacoe Engine Company sold its Amoskeag to Amsterdam, New York and its
firehouse to John Pfeiffer who converted it to a hotel. The company
disbanded, as did the United States Fire Company, when the paid
department entered service. The bell which hung in the tower of the firehouse
was sold to the Niagara Fire Company of Merchantville, New
Jersey in 1885. The bell was mounted in that company's tower and, today,
remains the property of the Niagara Fire Company. The cost of the bell
Weccacoe Hose sold its hose carriage and 500 feet of hose to the Western
Hose Company of Wilmington, Delaware on December 4, 1869 at which time
the Wilmington company changed its name to Weccacoe Hose Company.
Camden's Weccacoe Hose sold its steam engine to Brinton & Henderson
of Philadelphia in 1870. The fire company had planned to payoff the debt
on its new steamer through subscriptions but with the advent of the paid
department, this plan went awry. Nevertheless, the members were
determined to retire this debt and raised funds until final payment of
$14.25 was made on September 8,1883.
January of 1871 Bordentown, New Jersey purchased a hose cart from the
Weccacoe Hose Company No. 2 of Camden and named their newly organized
hose company after the Camden Company.
records indicate that on Thursday night, December 30, 1869 the paid
force responded to its first fire at the R.M. English & Company oilcloth
factory at Cooper's Point. The plant only recently had begun operation.
The paid firemen performed admirably under the direction of Chief
Marshal William Abels. Although one of the main buildings was destroyed,
the fire fighters were able to limit damage to the other buildings. The
blaze, which resulted in a loss of $30,000, was thought to have been
caused by a defective flue.
second major fire to confront the new department occurred on Christmas
morning, 1870. Fire destroyed St. John's Episcopal Church at
Streets. The church had once been a floating chapel for
seamen on the Delaware River. Within an hour the church burned to the
ground. Several years later, in 1892, the new church building would also
be destroyed by fire.
Council and contractor Abraham Lower entered into a contract on May 16,
1870 that called for Lower to erect a brick stable adjoining the
quarters of Engine Company 1 at 409
Pine Street. The contract amount was
$1650. The original contract remains the property of the Camden County
Abels was politically active, however, he ran into some legal
difficulty in January of 1871 involving a dispute over a glass
factory purchased by then Sheriff Randall Morgan.
Abels served as Chief Marshal until his replacement on September 2,
1871. City Council appointed Robert S. Bender as his successor while the
Assistant Marshals remained the same.
Abels was elected to Camden's City Council in 1878, and was made
President of that body in 1880. He served in that capacity for
one year. No occupation is
given in the 1880 Census records, nor is one given in later City Directory
listings. The 1880 Census shows him living at 126 Cooper Street with his wife Sarah and three
children- Marie, a teacher, Charles, an artist's student, and Belle, at
Abels had been appointed Postal Inspector. His address was listed at 105 Penn Street in the 1887-1888 and 1888-1889 City Directories.
While his mother and father continued to reside in Camden for
many years thereafter, William Abels, his wife and children were not listed in the 1890-1891 City
Directories and had apparently left the city. He was in the area
in November of 1897 when he took part in a Thanksgiving parade
in Stockton, the town that was made up of what is today referred
to as East Camden and Cramer Hill.
Abels passed away on June 17, 1899 at Interlaken, New Jersey,
near Asbury Park. After services at the home of his son-in-law,
Joseph Sweeten, 104 North 6th Street, William Abels was buried
at Colestown Cemetery in Delaware Township (present day Cherry
Hill), New Jersey.
Abels younger sister. Keturah, was married to innkeeper and
original Camden Fire Department member Charles