Possibly my favorite, ever.
It's a small book. Sixty-three pages. and it has more interesting history in it than I've read almost anywhere else.
There is no way to tell how much of it is completely factual- it is likely that there are exaggerations, given the nature and subject of the stories.
But it is a wildly entertaining read, and has been the subject of read-aloud fun here for days now.
So I have to share some of it.
It's hard to choose...
The book was published in 1977, written by Bob Robinson.
The title? "Ithaca Fire Department."
I knew we were in for something when I opened it and the first line reads:
"Several centuries ago the Scandinavians had a God they called Thor."
Some choice tidbits:
"On June 6, 1823 a bunch of the leading businessmen voted to purchase a hand pumper, of the gooseneck type, so that water could be forced through a short length of hose and nozzle to the scene of the fire. A fire company was formed and a hand engine ordered from New York at a cost of $350. It arrived near the end of the summer."
"...on May 12, 1828 another fire company was formed and a new hand engine ordered.
When the new machine arrived it proved so much better than the previous engine the original company wanted it for their own. The new apparatus already had "RESCUE COMPANY TWO" painted on the sides of it, so after much bickering it was agreed that the original company would become company two and the neophytes would be company number one. Thus company two is the oldest."
"Let's go back a bit so as to build up to the year of 1845. Luther Gere came to Ithaca in the early days with a few bucks in his pocket. He started a lumber business and built the Ithaca Hotel. After a few years he was persuaded that prospects were better in Ohio so he sold the hotel, and the lumber business, and headed west.
In 1818 Luther returned to Ithaca. Opportunities for making money were just as good here as in Ohio. He constructed the Columbia Inn on the northwest corner of Owego and Cayuga Streets. When it was completed, in 1819, business flourished but being convenient for the clientele living west of Albany Street, the atmosphere of the Inn changed. One evening, in 1831, Guy Clark brought his wife in for considerable elbow bending.
Before morning Guy had swung an axe through her head. He was tried and hung, the first hanging in Ithaca, on the grounds now occupied by the Fall Creek School. He was buried there but before morning the body had disappeared presumably for the use of a doctor in making further studies in anatomy.
After the Guy Clark episode the Columbia Inn lost it's
"Owego Street" is now State Street.
The corner where the Columbia Inn stood is the same location as the most recent fire in Ithaca's downtown business area, this past January.
I don't know the exact location of the Franklin House, but it is approximately where the Lost Dog cafe is now. I'll see if I can get more information.
Ithaca no longer has "companies," as such. The different stations are the descendants of the original companies. There is no longer a station one or two. The current Ithaca Stations are Central, Five, Six, and Nine. None are in their original locations, although Nines is very close.