The Camden
Fire Department

& Early Years
1810 - 1869


As part of an ongoing effort to make known the history of the Camden Fire Department and those who served with it, this page presents one of the first comprehensive accounts of fire fighting in Camden, taken from a book first published in 1886, George Reeser Prowell's HISTORY OF CAMDEN COUNTY, NEW JERSEY. While this material can be found elsewhere on the Internet, I thought it would be a good idea to place it on the website as it would serve as a hub through linking to so many pages about people and places already on the site.

As to further readings about the Camden Fire Department, to celebrate its 125th anniversary, a very limited edition history book was published in 1994. The fire fighters of Camden have served the city well, often with less than adequate staffing and equipment, and have compiled an admirable record not only during the years covered in the abovementioned book, but in the years since. I doubt that anywhere in the United States have so few done so much for so many with so little.

That being said, I believe that the story of the fire fighters in Camden deserves being told to a much wider audience that the original limited edition book could ever hope to reach, so it will presented here and on other web-pages within the website.

The years 1864-1873, 1912-1928, 1929-1950 and 1980-1990 are presented on other webpages.

For profiles of individual fire fighters of years gone by, go to the Camden Fire Department Uniformed Personnel Index or to the Interesting People of Camden web-page.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or corrections.... and I'm always happy to add further information about the people and event described here. Books have limited space. This website has unlimited space!

Phil Cohen
March 2011

History of Camden County New Jersey
by George Reeser Prowell, 1886


Until 1810 wells, pumps and buckets were the only appliances Camden had for the extinguishment of fires. On March l5th of that year the Perseverance Fire Company was organized. Thirty years later the Fairmount, afterwards named the Niagara, and, later still, the Weccacoe, was formed. In case of fire, the water used to extinguish it was obtained from wells by means of buckets filled with it and passed from hand to hand. When the engine was reached and its well received the water, the bucket was returned for a fresh supply. Meanwhile a number of strong men grasped the lever-arms and worked them up and down, thus forcing the water upon the flames. To fight a fire was the work of the entire community a half-century ago. An alarm was followed by a general turn-out of the people— old and young, of both sexes— each secured a bucket, and, when the scene of action was reached, long lines of people were formed between the engine and the nearest well. The empty buckets were moved toward the wells along one line and the full ones towards the engine on another.

A fully-equipped fire company possessed an engine and a cart to carry buckets, and householders were expected to keep a supply of buckets on hand. Wells and pumps were equally essential, hence the City Council encouraged the digging of wells and the placing of pumps in public places by paying part of the cost. In 1883 Joseph Kaighn was paid sixteen dollars as part cost of placing a pump in a well he had dug on Kaighn Avenue, and George Genge’s bill for a pump on Market Street was also paid, while Abraham Browning was allowed part cost of enlarging a well near Front Street and Market. Richard Fetters, Richard W. Howell and Auley McAlla presented a bill of fifty dollars at a Council meeting, held August 27, 1830, for a fire-engine purchased of the Fairmount Company, of Philadelphia. It was but five feet high, and eight men could barely get hold of the levers. In 1835 this engine was repaired, and its name changed from Fairmount to Niagara. In 1848 it was bought by the Weccacoe, and in 1851 came into possession of the reorganized Fairmount Company. It was eventually, after long usage, stored away until 1864, when Robert S. Bender purchased it for twenty dollars, and sold it in Woodbury for fifty dollars. It was accidentally burned soon afterward.

In 1834 the city was divided into three fire districts, Cooper Street and Line Street being the dividing lines. There was virtually no Fire Department, however, for several years later. In 1848, after the erection of water-works, a better fire system was put into effect. The Council appointed a committee on fire apparatus, who exercised supervision over the companies, which, by the year 1851, hid increased in number to six. In 1864 the Independence procured the first steam fire-engine; the Weccacoe, the Shiffler and the Weccacoe Hose Company also soon after purchased steam-engines. More prompt, daring and efficient firemen than those of Camden were hard to find, but each company was independent of the others, and misdirection often caused loss of property, to remedy which the City Council, 1866, reorganized the system, and, by an ordinance, provided for the selection, subject to its approval, of a chief marshal, by the companies. James W. Ayers, of the Weccacoe Engine Company, was elected and served two years, when, in 1868, he was succeeded by Wesley P. Murray, of the Weccacoe Hose. Both were popular men and good organizers, but the volunteer system, with its rivalry and frequent insubordination, was supplanted in 1869 by the Paid Fire Department under an ordinance passed September 2, 1869, which provided for the appointment, annually, of five fire commissioners, one fire marshal, and two assistant fire marshals. 

Further writing about the Paid Fire Department and its companies is below 

VOLUNTEER COMPANIES.— The Perseverance was organized March 15, 1810, and was composed of leading citizens. A hand-engine, made by "Pat." Lyons, of Philadelphia, was bought and placed in a building on Front Street, above Market, subsequently removing to a frame, one-story house on Second Street, adjoining the State Bank, where it remained until the company erected the two-story brick building on the east aide of Third Street, below Market. The eldest living member of the company is Samuel Elfreth, father of the present efficient chief of the Fire Department. On March 15, 1832, the company was incorporated; the names appearing in the charter are Nathan Davis, Gideon V. Stivers, Jeremiah H. Sloan, John Lawrence, Samuel D. Weasels, Isaac Cole, Ledden Davis, Joab Browning, Joab Scull, Richard W. Howell, Auley McAlla, Dr. Thomas Lee, William H. Ogden, Richard Fetters, Abraham Browning and other prominent citizens.

The charter of 1832 having expired, a new one was obtained in 1852, with the following-named persons as incorporators: James C. Morgan, William E. Gilmore, Samuel Hanna, William Hanna, Lewis P. Thompson, Joseph D. Folwell, Pancoast Roberts, Alfred Hugg, Richard H. Lee, William Matlack, Alfred Wood, Frederick Benedict, William Hugg, Amos Stiles, Jr., Samuel Cooper, Nathan Davis, Jr., Samuel Ashurst, Andrew Zimmerman, David Sheppard, John W. Carter, Henry Kesler, John Warner, John Ross, Charles A. Garret, Thomas Sulger. The company prospered until the breaking out of the war, in 1861, when most of the able-bodied members enlisted in the company commanded by Captain Richard H. Lee.

The Fairmount Fire Company was organized October 7, 1830, and purchased an engine of the Fairmount Fire Company, of Philadelphia. The name "Fairmount" was painted on the sides of the engine, and it was then the Camden company decided to assume the same appellation, which was continued until 1835, when the word "Fairmount" on the engine became dim and needed repainting, which would cost as much as to have something else painted, and they changed the name to Niagara. By this name the company was known until it was reorganized as the Weccacoe, in 1848. In 1845 the headquarters was moved to the City Hall lot, on Federal Street. John Laning, Josiah Atkinson and Samuel Jenkins were among the original members of the Fairmount. William Hanna joined in 1835, James M. Cassady in 1838 and James W. Ayers (afterwards fire marshal) in 1843.

The Weccacoe Fire Company No. 2, was the result of the reorganization of the Niagara in 1848. At a meeting of the City Council, September 1, 1848, Richard Fetters presented the names of Edward Steer and thirty-two other persons who had organized as a fire company, with a constitution and by-laws. The Council then recognized them and gave them the old Niagara fire-engine, which was used for a few months, when the company was supplied with a better one in 1850, when a second-hand one was bought of the Southwark commissioners for seven hundred and fifty dollars and was rebuilt, in 1853, by John Agnew at a cost of eight hundred and fifty dollars. A steam-engine was procured in 1864. At the headquarters of the Weccacoe, between a pair of high poles, was hung a bell weighing thirteen hundred pounds, which served to alarm the town in case of fire. The house used as the headquarters was enlarged, but, after several incendiary attempts, the building was burned February 17, 1854. In 1856 the company moved into their two-story brick house, on the site of the old Columbia Garden, on Arch Street, above Fifth. In 1852 the company was incorporated as the Weccacoe Fire Company, No. 2, by John Laning, James M. Cassady, James W. Ayers, Isaac Shreeve, Wesley P. Murray, Joseph F. Murray, Joshua S. Porter, Daniel B. McCully, Richard G. Camp, James Doughten, Stone H. Stow, Charles H. Thorne, Matthew Miller, Jr. James W. Ayers was made president of the Niagara in 1845, continued as such under the reorganization, and, except in 1854, when he was absent from the city, held the office until the company was disbanded. Richard G. Camp was the secretary and Charles Thompson treasurer until 1854, and Joseph L. Bright was his successor until the end. Efficiency and good order were the characteristics of the Weccacoe from the beginning to the ending of their career as firemen.

The Mohawk Fire Company was formed in the spring of 1849. It had a short and turbulent life, and in the confusion the record of its birth was lost. The meeting-place of the company was in the three-story building northeast corner of Third Street and Cherry. Lambert F. Beatty was president and William S. Fraser secretary. The company was strong in numbers and contained many excellent men, giving promise of a career of usefulness, but a lawless element gained admission, after a time, and brawls, riots and, it was feared, incendiarism, resulted. On April 23, 1851, it was determined to disband.

The Independence Fire Company No. 3, organized with Lambert F. Beatty, president; William S. Fraser, secretary; and Joseph Wagner, treasurer. Among the early members were Jacob Prettyman, David Page, Thomas Stites, Andrew Stilwell, Francis E. Harpel, Restore Cook, John Wallace, Claudius W. Bradshaw, William H. Hawkins, Christopher J. Mines, Henry Bradshaw, William E. Walls, William Howard, Albert Dennis, Elwood Bounds, Samuel H. Stilwell, Albert V. Mills, Robert S. Bender, Lewis Yeager, Thomas McCowan and William W. Mines. The company met in a building at Third Street and Cherry for a year, when it was burned. Lewis Yeager gave the company free use of a lot on Third Street, above Cherry, where an engine-house of slabs, donated by Charles Stockham, was built. In 1853 a lot on Cherry Street, above Third, was purchased and on it a frame house was built. This was used until 1859, when, owing to a defect in the title, the sheriff advertised the property for sale. When he reached the ground on the day of the sale he found the house, with its contents, and a number of the members of the company, on an adjoining lot belonging to James B. Dayton, who permitted the action. The following year, 1860, they bought and built, on the north side of Pine Street, above Fourth, a three-story brick, then the most complete fire-engine house in Camden, and which was sold for four thousand five hundred dollars to the city. The Independence was a hose company until June 4, l864, when they secured an Amoskeag engine, being the first fire-engine in use by the fire companies of Camden. Early in 1869 they purchased a larger engine and when the volunteer firemen were scattered, in the latter part of that year, they sold the Amoskeag to Millville, and the later purchase was kept until 1874, when it was sold to the city. Lambert F. Beatty and Timothy C. Moore were presidents of the Mohawk, and L.F. Beatty, John Wallace, William H. Hawkins, J. Kelly Brown, William W. Mines and Edward Gilbert were presidents of the Independence, while its secretaries have been William L. Fraser, William W. Mines, Mortimer C. Wilson and Thomas McCowan; and the treasurers Joseph Wagner and Robert S. Bender, who, elected in 1854, served until October 13, 1874, when, with a roll of sixty members, they met, President Gilbert in the chair, paid all claims against them and formally disbanded.

The Shiffler Hose Company No. 1, was organized March 7, 1849, and recognized by the City Council August 30th of the same year. The original members of the company wore George W. Thompson, president; George F. Ross, secretary; Joseph Brown, W.W. Burt, Charles Cheeseman, Robert Maguire, Samuel Brown, John G. Hutchinson, Armstrong Sapp, Richard Cheeseman, Albert Robinson, George F. Ross, William Wallace. A fine hose-carriage was obtained from the Shiffler Hose Company, of Philadelphia, for the nominal sum of ten dollars. It was placed in a carpenter shop on Sycamore Street, below Third, and that remained the headquarters of the company until the two-story brick house on Fourth Street, below Walnut, was built. In March, 1852, the company was incorporated by William W. Burt, Armstrong Sapp, George W. Thompson, Robert Maguire, James Sherman, William Wallace, John G. Hutchison, Samuel Brown and William Harris. John G. Hutchison became president, and in 1857 was succeeded by Jacob C. Daubman, who held the position during the continuance of the company. On March 29, 1864, a new charter was obtained under the name of the Shiffler Hose and Steam Fire-Engine Company. A steam-engine was purchased, and the company maintained a high state of efficiency until disbanded, in 1869.

The New Jersey Fire Company was organized May 1, 1851, by James Carr, Samuel Ames, Thomas Butcher, Aaron Giles, John Wood, David H. Sparks, William Garwood, E.B. Turner, William Woodruff, Henry Coombs, Adam Newman and Caleb Clark. Henry Coombs was elected president and David H. Sparks secretary. On July 21, 1851, the company secured the engine which previously belonged to the Mohawk, and placed it in a stable near Broadway and Spruce Street, where it remained a considerable time, until better accommodations were secured on Walnut Street, above Fourth. A lot was subsequently bought on the south side of Chestnut Street, above Fourth, where a two-story, brick engine-house was built. The company was incorporated in 1854 and ceased to exist as an organization twelve years later. The presidents of this company in order of succession were Henry Coombs, James Carr, John Crowley, Joshua L. Melvin, Samuel Hickman, John Warrington, Jeremiah Brannon, Richard C. Mason, C. De Grasse Hogan.

Fairmount— United States. On July 4, 1852, the Fairmount Fire Company was organized by William C. Figner (president), William J. Miller (secretary), Frederick Breyer (treasurer), William H. Hawkins, John W. Hoey, Henry A. Breyer and Alfred H. Breyer. They rented a one-story frame building on Pine Street, below Third, which the Shiffler had vacated, and the City Council gave them the old Fairmount engine. George W. Watson, Anthony R. Joline, Thomas Francis, John L. Ames, George W. Howard, William F. Colbert, Francis Fullerton, John S. Ross, Joshua Spencer, Lawrence Breyer, William H. Lane and James Scout were enrolled as additional members. On February 17, 1853, a charter of incorporation was obtained, and on February 10, 1854, the name of the company was changed to "United States Fire Company, No. 5." James Scout was chosen president, and George Deal, secretary. They secured a first-class engine, bought ground and built a commodious two-story frame house at No. 239 Pine Street, which continued to be the headquarters of the company until it disbanded, with the other volunteer fire companies, in 1869.

The Weccacoe Hose Company No. 2, was organized on March 15, 1858, by Allan Ward, Edward T. James, Edward J. Steer, John W. Garwood, George W. Thomas, Simeon H. Pine, Thomas C. Barrett, Thomas Ellis, John Thornton, and the following officers were elected: Thomas D. Laverty (president), Allan Ward (vice-president), Edward T. James (secretary) and E.J. Steer (treasurer). The headquarters of the company were with the Weccacoe Fire Company for nearly two years, and they removed to a stable belonging to Isaac Shreeve, near Hudson and Bridge Avenues, and later to De La Cour’s laboratory, on Front, near Arch. In 1863 they bought ground on Benson, above Fifth, at a cost of four hundred and fifty dollars, and erected a two-story building of brick, costing two thousand two hundred dollars. On February 2, 1860, the company was incorporated. In 1868 the company purchased a steam fire-engine at a cost of five thousand eight hundred dollars, which they expected to pay, by subscription, but the agitation of the question of a paid department prevented the collection of the money, and when they went out of service, in 1869, they were five thousand dollars in debt. Instead of disbanding, they resolved to maintain the organization until every obligation was liquidated and the honor of the company sustained. To do this they utilized their assets, met regularly and contributed as if in active service, and after fourteen years of honest effort, September 8, 1883, they met, and after paying the last claims against them, amounting to $14.25, adjourned.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 425-444, History of Camden County, New Jersey, by George R. Prowell, L.J. Richards & Co. 1886




The commissioners were empowered to appoint the firemen, and the city was divided into two districts. For the First District the city purchased the three-story building of the Independence Fire Company, at Fourth Street and Pine, and for the Second District erected a two-story brick building at Fifth Street and Arch. Each station was supplied with a fire-engine and all necessary apparatus, at an entire cost of thirty thousand dollars. William Abels was appointed fire marshal; William W. Mines assistant for the First, and William H. Shearman assistant for the Second District. The organization has since been modified. The department is now under the control of five members of the City Council, called "The Committee on Fire Apparatus," who are appointed annually by the president of the Council, with a chief and an assistant engineer each appointed for three years by the Council. In 1874 the department purchased the Independence fire-engine, and now (1886), owns three steam fire-engines, two hose-carriages, one hook-and-ladder truck, one supply-wagon, nine horses, three thousand two hundred feet of serviceable hose, twenty-one fire-alarm boxes, with twelve miles of wire, a connecting electric battery, with eighty-one gallon jars to create power necessary for long distance alarms, striking the gongs, lighting gas-jets, unhitching the horses in the stalls and stopping the clock.

The department consists of one chief engineer, at a salary of one thousand dollars per annum, one assistant engineer, seven hundred and twenty dollars per annum, eighteen regular men and twelve call-men. The regular men devote their whole time to the service. The engineers receive sixty dollars per month, and the hosemen, tillermen and laddermen each fifty dollars per month. The call-men pursue their regular vocation, but are required to be present at every fire, to assist, for which they are paid seventy-five dollars per year. A full record is kept of all fires, with time, duration, location, owner of property, occupant, business, value of real and personal property, insurance, and with whom, cause of fire, etc. The department is in a high state of efficiency, and the expenditure sixteen thousand dollars per annum.

THE CAMDEN HOOK-AND-LADDER COMPANY, No. 1, with headquarters at N.W. corner of Fifth Street and Arch, was organized in 1869, and is connected with Camden Engine Company, No. 2. The building is a two-story brick, twenty-four by fifty-five feet, adjoining the building of the engine company. The company is equipped with one ladder-truck (forty-five feet long, mounting nine ladders, one being an extension ladder, of the "Leverich Patent," sixty-three feet in length), one battering ram, two fire extinguishers, four buckets, two axes, four pitchforks, one crowbar, four lamps, etc. In the stables are two large and well-trained horses. The roster of the company is as follows: Tillerman, Amedee Middleton; Driver, Benjamin L. Kellum; Laddermen, Thomas Walton and John W. Toy; Cell-men, William Doughten, Peter S. Gray, John Gray and Charles A. Todd.

THE CAMDEN STEAM FIRE-ENGINE COMPANY, No. 1, was organized in 1869. Their building, on Pine Street, near Fourth, is a three-story brick, twenty by ninety-four feet in dimensions, and was formerly used by the Independence, but is now owned by the city. The equipments consist of one second-class steam fire-engine, made by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, of Manchester, New Hampshire; one hose-cart, made by the Silsby Company, of Seneca Falls, N.Y.; three horses, sixteen hundred feet of good hose, axes, lamps, etc. The third story of the building is used as a lodge-room, and the second story used by the company, with sitting-room, bunk-room, etc. The roster of the company for 1886 is as follows: Foreman, John A. Stockton; Engineer, G. Rudolph Tenner; Driver, William Deno; Stoker, William W. Laird; Hosemen, Wilson Bromley and Jacob F. Nessen; Call-men, William Deith, Andrew Miller, William Bogia and W. Elwood Campbell.

CAMDEN STEAM FIRE-ENGINE COMPANY, No. 2, is located at the corner of Fifth Street and Arch, the head-quarters of the Paid Fire Department. The building is a two-story brick, twenty-four by seventy feet. The ground floor has two connections with the hook-and-ladder building. The outfit consists of one steam fire-engine, second-class, made by the Gould Machine Company, of Newark, N.J., one No. 2 Amoskeag steam fire engine, one carriage and a supply-wagon. In the second story is a large reception room, a sleeping room with thirteen beds, and a battery room. The Gould steam fire engine is only used on extra occasions, or when the urgency of the case demands. The following is a complete roster of officers and men at headquarters:
     Chief Engineer, Samuel S. Elfreth; Assistant Engineer, Samuel S. Buzine; Extra Engineer, Jacob W. Kellum; Foreman, Harry C. Grosscup; Engineer, William Morris; Driver of Engine, C.B. Harvey; Stoker, Frank Turner; Hosemen, Chas. Robinson, Isaac Shreeves; Call-men, James Carey, Logan Bates, William Lyons, Howard Currie.

The chiefs of the Paid Fire Department have been William Abels, Robert S. Bender (second term), Robert S. Bender, Claudius W. Bradshaw, Henry F. Surault, Samuel S. Elfreth, Daniel A. Carter, Samuel S. Elfreth (2d term). The committee on fire apparatus for 1886 are— Chairman, Saml. R. Murray; Wm. B.E. Miller, Geo. S. West, David B. Campbell, James Godfrey; Clerk, D. Cooper Carman.