Santa Clara County History

History of Santa Clara County


The History of San Jose's Fire Department--Primitive Appurtenances of the Early Days--Volunteer Department for Twenty-six Years--The Police Department's Growth and Work.

It was on the eleventh of July, 1850, that the mayor and common council took the first official action toward the protection of property from fire, when it established the first fire limits as follows: Commencing at the center of Second and St. James Streets: thence along Second to San Carlos; then along San Carlos to the Acequia; then along the Acequia to a point that would intersect the prolongation of St. James Street; thence along St. James Street to the place of beginning. At the same time it was ordered that within these limits there should be erected no edifice composed of canvas, willows, cotton, cloth, tules, mustard, reeds or other grasses under a penalty of not less than twenty-five nor more than two hundred dollars. It was also ordered that hay stacks should not be maintained, unless suitably guarded, under a like penalty.

About this time a volunteer fire company called Fire Engine No. 1, was formed. This was a misnomer, as there was no engine or other apparatus in the county. The company seems to have realized its mistake as in the same year it changed its name to Eureka Fire Company, No. 1. The members made application to the mayor and council for an engine. But as there was no fire machinery to be had on the coast and as the city had no money to make the purchase even if the machinery could be procured, the company was forced to work with buckets and such rude appliances as they could find. But what it lacked in apparatus it made up in enthusiasm and therefore much good was accomplished. The inflammable nature of the materials with which the buildings were constructed rendered it almost an impossibility to extinguish a fire, though this same frailty of construction enabled the firemen to destroy connections and prevent the spread of the fire. The most notable fires during the existence of this company were the burning of the house of Samuel C. Young, on Third Street, and the destruction of the old State House. The latter event occurred in March, 1853, and demonstrated the imperative necessity of more adequate protection. Prior to this time the city government seemed to think that private enterprise would take this responsibility from the council. This opinion is based on a clause of Mayor White's message of 1851, in which he says: "I would respectfully urge that a fire department be immediately organized, and, if necessary, that an engine and other apparatus be procured, but there is reason to believe that the public spirit of our citizens will render any outlay by the city in this matter unnecessary."

Having thus relegated the matter to the "public spirit of the citizens," the matter rested until 1853, when the council passed an ordinance dividing the city into four fire wards and appointing the following persons as fire wardens: For District No. 1, M. W. Packard; No. 2, Alvin C. Campbell: No. 3, A. S. Woodford; No. 4, Peter Davidson. At the same time an appropriation of $2000 was made for the purchase of a fire engine, with hooks and ladders, the president of the council being authorized to draw warrants and orders in such sums as he should deem advisable and pay the same over to the committee of citizens that should be selected by the people.

As a result of this action Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 was organized in the latter part of 1853, and on January 6, 1854, it notified the council of its organization and asked for an appropriation for the purchase of apparatus. The matter was referred to a committee, which was instructed to confer with the foreman and draw up an ordinance covering the matter proposed. The committee was also authorized to secure the lease of a suitable lot on which to erect a building for the accommodation of the company. The committee reported that Frank Lightston had agreed to lease a lot for the nominal rent of twenty-five cents per annum, if the company would erect suitable buildings within twelve months. The lease was effected and the old engine house on Lightston Street, for many years a prominent landmark, was erected.

At the meeting of the council held June 26, 1854, new fire wardens were elected, and a committee was appointed to see if a fire engine could be purchased in San Francisco. At the next meeting the committee reported that an engine could be procured for $1800, and that hose would cost $1.50 per foot. The committee also reported that four cisterns would be required and recommended that one be located at the intersection of Market and Santa Clara Streets and one in front of Jones' store on First Street, about opposite Fountain Alley. All the recommendations of the committee were adopted and the apparatus was purchased at a cost of $2,546.25. Of this amount the citizens contributed $1355 and the remainder was paid out of the city treasury. The cisterns were located as recommended and for more than twenty years were maintained and used for fire purposes.

The engine purchased at this time had an interesting history. It had been used by the Volunteer Fire Department of New York as early as 1820 and was known as "Old 41," its quarters being at the corner of Delaney and Livingston Streets. Levi Goodrich, the architect, and Abe Beaty, the first landlord of the Mansion House, had run with the old machine in New York. In 1850 it was sent to San Francisco and sold to the engine company of which Senator David C. Broderick was foreman. The city of San Jose purchased it from the Broderick Company. When brought to San Jose it was given into the hands of the Empire Company and became "Empire No. 1." After it had outlived its usefulness it was sent to the county almshouse.

The city had now a very effective fire department of two companies, manned by prominent citizens full of that heroic enthusiasm for which the volunteer fire companies of America were noted. Hook and Ladder Company had a fine truck manufactured by D. J. Porter and H. J. Haskell, the wood work being done by C. S. Crydenwise.

A grand parade of the department took place on New Year's day of 1855. Both companies assembled at the new engine house on Lightston Street, which has just received its finishing coat of paint from the brush of James Gourlay, a veteran fireman. A procession was formed, the principal streets were taken in, a halt being made at the brick church on the corner of Second and San Fernando Streets. Here Rev. Eli Corwin, in behalf of the ladies of San Jose, presented Empire Company with a beautiful silk banner. The department then repaired to the city hall where a bountiful collation was spread, and passed several hours in speech-making and social intercourse. This was the first parade of the first deparment [sic]. Afterwards the firemen paraded annually on the Fourth of July.

On May 31, 1855, a disastrous fire occurred in the most populous portion of the city. It originated on a short, narrow alley east of Market and south of El Dorado Street. There were several buildings on the alley and immediately west of these and fronting on Market Street were the stores of Lazarus & Company, clothing and dry goods merchants; the fruit and grocery store of Giovanni Mulinari; the vegetable and grocery store of Baptiste Soularis; the jewelry store of E. L. Veuve: the confectionery establishment of Madame Alviso, and the extensive saddlery emporium of August Schweeb. All of these suffered considerable loss. The progress of the fire southward was checked somewhat by the brick walls of the Auzerais building, and this obstacle coupled with the heroic exertions of the little fire department, prevented that portion of the city from being entirely destroyed. After the fire had gone out the half-consumed remains of a man were found in the ruins.

This fire, and the rapid growth of the city, showed the necessity of further additions to the fire department, but it was nearly a year before anything was done. In 1856 James Gourlay returned irom a visit to New York, bringing with him a hand engine which he offered to sell to the city. The council agreed to purchase it if a company to handle it could be formed. This was no difficult matter and in a few days a company reported as ready for service. This company was called Torrent No. 2, and went into the department May 12, 1856. The old Torrent engine did good service for many years.

These three companies constituted the fire department of San Jose for nearly ten years. In 1865 the city purchased a steam engine for Empire No. 1. This action made the old engine used by Torrent No. 2 present a poor appearance, so the boys cast about for a better machine. James Gourlay went to San Francisco, where he found a fine Hunneman hand engine for sale very cheap. He spent some time in testing its capacity, and being fully satisfied came back and reported. Application was made for its purchase. The price was $1750, cash, and the city had only $1200 available for fire purposes. It was finally agreed that if the balance could be raised by subscription the city would buy the engine. A meeting of the company was called and the tenor of the discussion was that it was useless to try to raise such a large amount. Finally Gourlay threw $50 on the table, saying that it was about the last dollar he had, but it should go toward purchasing the new engine. Immediately the coin began to be poured on the table and in less than twenty minutes the required amount was raised. The machine was purchased and remained with the company until 1873, when the city purchased a Clapp & Jones steamer for the Torrents, and the old Hunneman was turned over to Franklin Company, which had lately been organized. A few years later it was sold to the town of Turlock.

In 1855 the department, with the consent of the council, established a board of delegates, by which it was practically governed. The board consisted of a number of members selected from each company. The office of chief engineer had been created and soon became a position of great labor and responsibility. In 1866 the department asked the council to provide a salary for the chief, but the application was denied on the ground that the charter would not permit such action. The officers and members served from 1852 to 1876, with no compensation, giving their best service, and often risking their lives, for the benefit of the property owners of the city. In addition to this much of the money for equipment was taken from their own pockets.

In 1859 a fire occurred in the kitchen of Judge W. T. Wallace's home, on First Street, near where the Arcade is now located. The fire department displayed such skill and energy that but small damage resulted. In recognition of their services Judge Wallace presented the department with $5000, which was placed in a fund for sick and disabled firemen. This was the beginning of the Firemen's Charitable Assocation. In 1869 an act was passed by the Legislature incorporating the department and providing for exemption. By its terms a person who had served in the department for five years was entitled to a certificate exempting him from military service or the payment of poll-tax. The fund continued in existence until the paid fire department was organized, when, most of the members having withdrawn, it was divided among the survivors.

Early in 1876 the question of organizing a paid department began to be agitated. The city had been out of debt for many years, property had largely increased in value, and the city, itself, felt financially able to assume the burden. At this time the city had two steamers, Empire and Torrent; one hand engine, Franklin; two hose companies, Alert and Eureka, and Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. Each of these machines was housed in buildings owned by the city, except Hook and Ladder, which occupied a rented room near the California Theater on Second Street. The city proposed to take over all this property and allow the old department to seek other quarters and apparatus, or disband. The volunteers naturally considered this method of procedure as savoring of ingratitude. They had given long years of hard service with no compensation and they objected to being summarily dismissed. The machinery which the city proposed to take represented several hundreds of dollars of their own money, which they had contributed for the general good, and although the title was undoubtedly in the city, they thought they had strong claim for consideration. They could not legally object to turning over the property and vacating their quarters, but they resolved to disband all their companies. The paid department was organized October 3, 1876, and just before midnight of that day all the companies paraded the streets and when the last stroke of twelve sounded they left their machines in front of the city hall and on Santa Clara Street. This was the last of the Volunteer Fire Department of San Jose, as intelligent, well-disciplined and public-spirited body of men as was ever organized in any city in the United States.

In the fall of 1870 Washington Hose Company was organized and did good service, but after a few years it disbanded because the city had failed to provide it with either suitable quarters or apparatus. In 1875 the people in the northeastern part of the city, needing more adequate protection from fire, organized Eureka Hose Company and a house was built for them on Ninth Street near Julian. In 1876, Alert Hose Company was organized. At first the old hose cart of the disbanded Washingtons was used, but soon a handsome carriage was purchased.

From an old and defaced chart a few of the names of the old members of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, have been deciphered. They are: Joseph McGill, Joseph H. Munn, Calvin C. Martin, Isidro Braun, John B. Newson, W. McGill, John C. Emerson, Geo. Hall, William Cummings, Elihu Allen, J. Y. Ayer, Geo. M. Yoell, S. H. Bohm, S. H. Covert, S. Waterman, August Schweeb, P. H. Burgman, D. C. Chadwick, James Gourlay, Joseph Bassler, James D. Page, John Balbach, Geo. Lehr, Charles E. Allen, Charles F. Willey, Edward Woodnut, Frank Lightston, Elliott Reed, E. P. Reed, W. A. Murphy, Levi Goodrich, D. J. Porter, Samuel Orr, Charles Moody, Josiah Belden, Levi P. Peck, C. S. Crydenwise, John Q. Pearl, Henry J. Haskell, S. O. Houghton, J. N. Flickinger, John M. Murphy, J. O. McKee, R. G. Roberts, John Yontz, Hartley Lanham, Eli Jones, A. W. Bell, Geo. Allen, Thomas Soublette, A. J. Eddy, G. W. Warner, B. F. Davis, W. A. Munn, J. P. Chamberlain, Frank McKee, William Lowrey, John Mott, Sam Jacobs, John T. Colahan, Chas. Martin, L. F. Kidfield, Geo. Pennington, Julian Smart, Narcisso Sunol.

Following are the names of the old members of Empire No. 1: F. G. Appleton, A. S. Beaty, J. E. Brown, B. F. Brown, S H. Brown, John Beaty, Thomas Brown, G. H. Bodfish, George Bego, M. P. Parker, A. C. Campbell, P. Carlos, Chas. A. Clayton, J. Cirinsky, C. Crittenden, C. D. Cheney, S. Dial, W. H. Dearing, Peter Davidson, N. B. Edwards, A. Eaton, R. Fisher, John Forney, M. Fisher, J. H. Gregory, Jasper D. Gunn, Levi Goodrich, Geo. Hale, D. W. Herrington, M. Hillman, Adam Halloway, S. J. Hensley, Geo. Hanna, James Hartwell, S. N. Johnson, J. W. Johnson, Geo. N. Jefferson, Richard Knowles, R. Langley, Frank Lewis, R. H. Leetch, C. W. Landen, Fred Malech, Herrick Martin, J. McKenzie, Philander Norton, B. G. Porter, Peter Pongoon, C. M. Putney, Peter Quiney, W. Runk, A. W. Stone, F. E. Spencer, M. Stern, J. M. Sherwood, F. Stock, M. R. Smith, F. B. Tompkins, Daniel Travis, Francis Thelig, William Travis, A. M. Thompson, T. Whaland, T. Williams, W. Whipple, George Whitman, F. Woodward, C. W. Wright, D. Yochan, C. T. Ryland, J. A. Moultrie.

About the time the paid department was organized the city also adopted an automatic fire alarm system, which has been improved from time to time. The chiefs of the fire department under the volunteer system were C. E. Allen, John B. Hewson, Levi Peck, J. C. Potter, Dan Leddy, Adam Halloway, James V. Tisdall, William Petry and J. Chris Gerdes. The officers under the paid department have been: J. C. Cerdes, W. D. Brown, James Brady, Rudolph Hoelbe, Frank Dwyer, Henry Ford, Richard Brown, George Hines, Geo. Tonkin, Ed. Haley and H. W. Hobson. At the present time (1922) the department consists of eight fire houses and ten companies. The houses are situated as follows: Market Street (old city hall): North Third Street, North Eighth Street, Seventeenth and Santa Clara Streets, First and Reed Streets, Spencer Avenue, Second and Jackson Streets, South Eighth Street. The equipment consists of three engines, five combination outfits, one chemical, one truck, and two hose wagons. In 1915 the horses were displaced by motors. There are forty-four men in the department, one chief (H. W. Hobson), one assistant chief (D. E. Cavallaro), and forty-two privates. The department has the reputation of being one of the most efficient on the Pacific Coast.

The Police Department

San Jose's police department dates back to the days of '49. When the Americans came into power the duties of marshal, constable and sheriff were all performed by Harry Bee, under the Mexican title of Alguazil. In 1851, a marshal for the city work was selected in the person of G. N. Whitman. He served for one year and was succeeded by Geo. Hale, who held office for three years. In 1855 T. E. Soublette was elected to the position and he served the people until 1859, when J. D. Gunn was chosen marshal. Gunn served until 1862 and then gave way to W. S. Patterson, who served only one year, a severe injury causing him to retire to private life. In attempting to arrest an offender he was struck on the head by a beer bottle which caused a fracture of the skull. At times he was insane and finally he was sent to the insane asylum at Stockton. He died there over twenty years ago. After Patterson came J. C. Potter, who held office until 1866. His successor was A. B. Hamilton, who was marshal until 1869. William Sexton was his successor, who served until 1872, and then retired in favor of Hamilton. In 1874, a new charter created the office of chief of police and abolished the office of marshal. The first chief was James V. Tisdall, and after him came D. N. Haskell, W. B. Shoemaker, W. D. Brown, Richard Stewart, H. A. De Lacy, James Kidward, Ed Haley, T. W. Carroll, Geo. Kidder, Frank Ross, Roy Hayward, Dave Campbell (acting), Ben Fuller, J. N. Black. The latter is now the incumbent of the office.

In the early days the city prisoners were confined in the county jail. When the city hall on North Market was built in the late fifties, the city prison (or calaboose, as it was called) was located in the yard back of the police office. There were several sheet iron tanks, about 7 x 9 in size, and these were used both for male and female offenders. The justice's court adjoined the police office, so that it was easy to bring a prisoner into court.

The best known of all the police officers of the early days was Mitchell Bellow, called by everybody "Mitch Belloo." He was a terror to evil-doers and old timers will never forget him. Of medium height, tough as a wildcat, with snappy black eyes and a ferocious scowl, he swaggered along the streets, "seeking whom he might devour." He never wore suspenders, a leather belt serving to keep up his trousers which wouldn't stay kept up, so that Mitch was engaged the greater part of his time in giving them a sailor hitch. He was as courageous as a crusader, but his methods were rough. If a law breaker, petty or otherwise, failed to respond to a command, out would come Mitch's club (he kept his club suspended from one side of his belt, his pistol on the other side), and the offender would receive a series of whacks, the echoes of which could be heard a block away. Sometimes the club would fail of effect on account of the thickness of the victim's head and then the butt of the revolver would get into play. So terror-inspiring was his reputation that San Jose mothers would only have to say, "Now you be good or I'll send Mitch Belloo after you," to compel instant obedience.

In 1887 the new city hall on Market Plaza was built and the police office and prison had new and up-to-date quarters. Now, in addition to comfortable, well-ventilated and sanitary cells with a matron in charge of the female prisoners, there is a receiving hospital and a bureau of identification with Government connection. The force is equipped with a motor patrol truck, and a motorcycle. Besides Chief Black and two captains, there are twenty-two patrolmen.

Source: Sawyers, Eugene T. History of Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, Calif; Historic Record Company, 1922.

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