A devastating fire at the DeLand factory in February of 1893 prompted the village of Fairport to invest in a waterworks system, including a network of fire hydrants. Prior to the DeLand fire, blazes in the village very often resulted in a total loss. Despite the best efforts of firefighters, the challenge of getting water to the fires was often insurmountable.
A handwritten record of fires in Fairport covering the years 1888 to 1907 reveals that firefighting was often, literally, an uphill battle. On Summit Street, seven houses and a barn were burned over the 19-year period. The near impossibility of getting fire equipment up the steep hill, coupled with little or no availability of water, put firefighters in an impossible position.
In the case of a fire at the Bown carriage factory in 1886, although firefighters did all they could, the results were devastating. The complex once stood among neighboring houses on the east side of South Main Street, between Church and Orchard streets. At midnight, a neighbor spotted flames in the upper story of the carriage shop and awakened owner George Bown, who lived by the factory. Moments later, a passerby noticed the flames. He ran one-third of a mile to the DeLand factory, where the engineer on duty was prompted to blow the factory whistle, alerting firefighters that a blaze was underway.
Firefighters quickly assembled, and directed their horse-drawn fire engine to the corner of Main and Church streets. They ran a hose through a basement window of the First Baptist Church, intending to pump water off the cistern, but it was dry. They then doubled back with their fire engine north to the canal. A hose was lowered to the water and laid down on South Main Street, but was short of the distance required to reach the fire. Chief Levi DeLand raced to his factory and obtained another length of hose. Once connected, 1,700 feet of hose finally carried canal water to the raging inferno, but by then it was too late.
Without water to fight the blaze, the three-story factory and two smaller buildings were in ruins. Two adjacent homes were also destroyed. The Monroe County Mail opined, “It would seem this experience would be sufficient to cause our people to take immediate steps to provide the fire department with an ample water supply. We hope the Village Fathers will not allow this matter to rest until some measures have been put in place to better protect the property of Fairport.”
Seven years later, the great Deland factory fire of 1893 finally motivated Fairport to install a waterworks system, giving firefighters a far better chance at success.
Bill Poray is historian for the town of Perinton.