The History of the Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, N.Y. - Part I, pages 82 - 86


conditions then were in harmony with those of our developing municipality in general during the thirties and forties.

The members of those volunteer Companies enjoyed certain prerogatives in the community and - conscious of their usefulness - they were not disposed to submit to any restrictions in the performance of their work.

They were promptly at hand whenever duty called them. Hardly had the shrill-sounding fire bell - hanging in a tower beside the old Court House on Batavia Street (Broadway), near Washington Street - started the fire signal with two or three strokes, when the hand fire-engines, drawn over the sidewalks with long ropes, each by from thirty to forty men, rattled to the scene of the fire. Hose-carts and ladder-trucks followed, also drawn by human teams.

Induced by the reward given to the engine which arrived first at the place of a fire, and incited by ambition, the single fire companies, hurrying to the fire, fought hard for priority. This naturally caused collisions and differences of opinion, which frequently were settled in a very forcible manner.[1.]

The members of the fire companies were mostly younger men of a reckless, daring disposition, whose desire to save could not be checked by any obstacles. To them every fire occuring in their district was an event of pleasure, because it offered to them an opportunity to give full vent to their longing for activity.

A volunteer fireman in service was the most sovereign man on earth and well understood how to use this sovereignity - especially in reference to political aspirations - to its fullest extent.

A true volunteer fireman of the original type longed for a fire, as the plant longs for light and heat. The fire, or rather the fight against it, was his element; his fire-engine his weapon, to the care and fine condition of which he devoted his fullest attention. The engine-house was his second home. Here he passed his leisure hours, listening to the yarns of his comrades and dreaming of his future heroic deeds.

Many of the ambitious members of the "wild chase" felt most unhappy, if no fire occurred for a long time, and it seems as if a sympathetic fate took pity on them, for if there were no fire during the week, it would surely happen, that during Saturday night some old building would be in flames. Then the volunteer fire-brigade would come chasing along, with blowing of howns and earpiercing noise, followed by a throng of people, mostly halfgrown boys, whose shouting would outdo that of the firemen, and who acted and raved as is possessed by the fire demon.

[1.] Translator's note: One example of high-spirits gone awry among the Fire companies can be seen in a news report published in the Democracy of October 3, 1854. Go to to see that story. Return to text


Full page picture of Buffalo Engine Co. No. 4, organized 1829 and Rescue Hook & Ladder No. 1, organized 1830 (according to the plaques on the firehouse)


Whatever might be thought of the extravagant and wild actions of the volunteer firemen, it must be conceded, that they exhibited great courage and persistance in the performance of their work, and shrank from no danger to life and limb.

The first fire company in the village of Buffalo was organized March 7th, 1817. It was formed by twenty young men. One of them being William Dorringer, is by name characterized as German, but we have no further information about him. The formation of this company was accomplished by voluntary action of its members, the village authorities taking no part in it.

But as early as December of the preceding year, shortly after a fire, these authorities had passed an ordinance that twenty-five ladders were to be procured; that every house owner was to provide "one good leathern bucket for each house"; that the chimneys were to be swept, and that in the future chimneys were to be built wide enough for sweepers to go through them.

By order of the Village Board the first volunteer fire company was organized December 16, 1824, and two years later the sum of $100 was levied on the village property, with which to built [sic] an engine house.

While only a few of the older German immigrants of the thirties and forties joined the volunteer fire companies, their descendants became members in such large numbers, that soon entire companies were formed exclusively by Germans. Such companies were:

Buffalo Engine Company No. 4, organized November 24, 1932 on Huron, near Washington Street, of which Philip Beyer was assistant foreman in 1842, and in 1847 Philip Pfeifer was foreman and Charles Georger secretary of this company.

Rescue Hook and Ladder Company No. 8, on Huron, near Washington Street, organized March 2,1836.

Hydraulic Engine Company No. 9, organized October 18, 1845. This company was known by the name of "The Dutch Nine".

Jefferson Engine company No. 12, on Batavia Street (Broadway), opposite the Arsenal, organized January 14, 1852; with Gottfried Schulz, foreman; John Lorenz, assistant foreman; George Ritt, secretary; John Davis, treasurer.

Fillmore Engine Company No. 3, on Genesee, near Spruce Street, organized in June, 1853.

Niagara Hose Company No. 7, on Pine, near William Street, organized in March, 1862.

American Hook and Ladder Company No. 3, on William, near Hickory Street, organized in December 1868.


Lockrow Hose comany No. 6, on High, near Michigan Street, organized in June, 1872.

The only German standing at the head of the Volunteer Fire Department as its Chief Engineer was John Lorenz, in 1856.

In the Spring of 1880 the Buffalo paid Fire Department took the place of the volunteer organization, after two efforts - made in 1862 and in 1872 - to accomplish the change, had failed, in consequence of the political influence of the "Volunteers".

The Firemen's Benevolent Association of Buffalo, for the relief of indigent and disabled firemen and their families, was incorporated March 23, 1837. The present president is Jacob Shoemaker; its secretary, William Ziegler.

Destruction by Fire of Music Hall and St. Louis Church

No conflagration that ever occurred in our city was a greater calamity to the Germans in general, than the great fire, which on the 25th of March 1885 destroyed the first Music Hall (built in 1883) and old St. Louis Church. Although an event of comparatively recent date and fresh in the memory of the contemporaries, a description of this great fire, taken from the report of an eyewitness, will no doubt be a welcome appendix to this part of our book:

On the evening of the 25th of March the McCaull Opera Company was to perform the comic opera "Falka" on the large stage of Music Hall. All the members of the company were in their wardrobes, busy

Caption under picture at center reads "old excelsior" in possession of C. Person's Sons


with their wardrobes. About fifty persons were in the auditorium. Suddenly the cry of "Fire" was heard! Gas escaping from a leaky pipe, had become ignited and the flames had at once been communicated to the painted scenery suspended from the ceiling of the stage. In an incredible short space of time the entire section of the stage was a mass of flames.

The first fire alarm was given about fifteen minutes to 8 o'clock. Six minutes later the general alarm was given, which called out the entire Fire Department. A fatal delay was experienced, until all the engines were in activity. The Department had to struggle against obstacles and difficulty, of which frozen hydrants were the most troublesome. But even under the most favorable conditions human power would have fought in vain against the raging of the destructive element. A few minutes after the starting of the fire dense clouds of smoke appeared under the roof of the stage-house. A dull detonation of air entering through the gap now drove flames forward into the large hall. Fifteen minutes after the first alarm the magnificent building was a fiery sea from front to rear. Through doors and windows broke the flames, crept up the two towers and leaped high up into the air between thick black clouds of smoke. Millions of sparks and fire-brands were driven northward by a strong south wind. An enormous crowd of terrified spectators surrounded the place of the fire and witnessed, how one of the most beautiful buildings of the city, a monument of German enterprise, fell a prey to the fiery demon.

At eight o'clock the upper part of the front wall collapsed with a terrible crash, falling outwards upon the great entrance-stairs and covering it completely with a mass of stones. The southern wing of the structure, until then having remained untouched, was now also attacked by the flames. In vain streams of water were thrown on the raging element to conquer it. High columns of flames rose from the centre of the building into the nightly sky, filled with sparks. The roof of the main hall had collapsed, and the entire interior was a roaring crater. Soon also the cupola of the southern tower sank down. The element of destruction had consumed everything of the building that was destructable. Through the open doors of the front main-entrance the eye saw nothing but a furious mass of fire and flames.

The the work of destruction was not yet completed. The sparks and flames, driven northwards by the strong wind, set fire to the roof of the venerable St. Louis Church, and notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the Fire-Department, this structure also was entire consumed by the flames. The lives of two human beings were lost through

Caption under picture at left top reads John Lorenz

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Revised March 13, 2005
Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks