Detroit, MI Fire, 1832-33


The next fire that occurred, of any note, happened during the winter 1832-33. As I was an eye-witness of the affair, I will endeavor to detail it, as memory serves me. It broke out early one intensely cold Sunday morning in Jerry Dean's saddlery and harness shop, that was situated about midway between Griswold and Shelby Streets, on the north side of Jefferson Avenue, and before it was mastered, consumed the building in which it started, also the book store of Stephen Welles, adjoining on the west, and the general store of Oliver & Walter Newberry, that stood on the now so-called Ives' corner, Griswold Street. The buildings, being of wood, burned like tinder.

It was at this fire that Mr. Joseph Campau (he lived almost opposite the fire, as did my uncle and family) in his excitement, rushed in among the crowd summoned there by the clanging bell in the church steeple, corner of Woodward Avenue and Lamed Street - some to render assistance and others to look on, as usual - and exclaimed:
"Frenchman took de bucket, white man took de engine."

Engines No. I, 2 and 3 were stationed as near the burning buildings as prudence would permit, and two lines, composed of the citizens, were formed and extended from them to the river at the foot of Griswold Street. There was not any dock or wharf there at that date. A hole was cut in the ice and some citizen volunteered to station himself at it and pay particular attention to filling the fire buckets as fast as they came to him, which was pretty fast, and handing them to his nearest neighbor, who in turn passed them to the next, and so along the line to the fire engine. The empty buckets came back along the other line in due course, and so on.

It was a bitter cold job, and before the affair was over nearly all those who participated in keeping up the lines, as well as the men at the brakes, were covered with icicles. There were no convenient hydrants, reservoirs or hose in those days, and the engines had to depend on the "bucket brigade" to keep them supplied with water.

This "bucket brigade" was a most necessary institution. Each householder was obliged to provide himself with two leather buckets for use in case of fire. When an alarm was sounded he would grab his buckets and rush to the scene of danger. They would form lines, as said before, and hurry up the water. After the fire was over the buckets were thrown into a heap and then each owner claimed his buckets, names being conspicuously painted on them. I think the present fire department owns three or four of these self-same leather fire buckets. Senator Thomas W. Palmer has two of them, in the "Log Cabin" at Palmer Park. They used to belong to his grandfather, Judge James Witherell.

Early days in Detroit : papers, 1906 by Friend Palmer, pages 333-334