Historical Collections of Ohio pgs 819-822
Historical Collections of Ohio: Pages 819-822
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~ pg. 819 ~

JACOB WYKOFF PIATT—This noted citi-zen of Cincinnati was born in Kentucky in 1801.  Brought to Cincinnati when quite young, he grew to man’s estate in the home of his father, Benjamin N. PIATT, elder brother of the more famous John H. PIATT.

Jacob WYKOFF became a successful lawyer, and accumulated quite a fortune in his practice, and successful operations in real estate.

The one event in his life was his success in establishing a paid fire department that is now known in every city of the civilized world.  The old volunteer fire system, once the pride of the citizens, had fallen into dis-repute.

The better class had either neglected the companies to which they belonged, or had been shouldered out by the worse elements of a prosperous town.  This evil was not confined to Cincinnati.  Every city in the Union suffered from the same cause.  The Mose of New York, the brazen-checked, red-shirted ruffian was duplicated in every

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municipality that possessed a fire department.  Mr. PIATT returned to the city council at a time when the most reputable citizens con-sidered it an honor to be a councilman, opened war on the volunteers, by introducing an or-dinance providing for the se1ection of, and paying the firemen for their services.

There was scarcely a member of council that did not privately admit the necessity for such a reform, and yet when the vote was taken, in a chamber crowded by roughs, whose noisy demonstrations left no doubt as to their opposition, but one man was found brave enough to vote with Mr. PIATT in favor of this measure.  This gentleman was Judge Timothy WALKER, the well-known author and jurist.

Nothing daunted Mr. PIATT continued his efforts.  At every assembly of a new council, his ordinance was offered to be again voted down.  But the minority grew slowly in spite of the brutal opposition.  Mr. PIATT was wont to defy the crowd in the debate that preceded defeat, and the feeling got so intense, that it was dangerous for the bold reformer to go to and from the chamber.  As it was a volunteer guard of Irish constituents accompanied representative.  One night after a heated debate a mob assembled in front of Mr. PIATT’S residence and amid groans, hisses, howls and yells, he was burned in effigy.

This contest continued for years.  A happy event, however, came to end it.  This was the invention and building of the Latta fire-engine.  After being tested by a commission of experts, the engine was accepted.  What to do with it was the question.  Turn it over to the volunteers was to insure its immediate destruction.  It was resolved, at length, to organize a paid company to use and protect the machine.  A committee was appointed having on it Messrs. PIATT, WALKER, KESSLER and LODER to organize a company.  To the amusement of his associates Mr. PIATT nominated Miles GREENWOOD as the captain of the new company.  Judge WALER remonstrated.  It was, he said, putting the new engine in the hands of the enemy, for Miles GREENWOOD was the pet of the volunteers, and had been loud in his denunciation of what he called the degradation of the paid system.  Mr. PIATT persisted and asserted that GREENWOOD was the only man in the city who would make the new machine a success.

“Well try him,” was the response, “he won’t accept.”

GREENWOOD was sent for.  He was startled at the offer but immediately accepted, provided that he could select the men.

“The machine will be attacked at the first fire, and I want to know whom I am to rely on.’’

The first alarm of fire that brought out the new engine proved the correctness of GREENWOOD’S prophecy.  The fire was a serious one on Sycamore street above Fourth.  The general alarm brought all the engines to the fire and among the rest the new steam machine.  Drawn by huge horses at a gallop, driven by Miles himself, a noble figure in his brass hel-met, red shirt and speaking trumpet swung to his side.  The impression made on the swiftly gathering crowd was impressive.  Miles had about him the newly made firemen in their splendid uniforms.  He had in ad-dition all the men of his great foundry and workshops;  and hurrying to the front of his first and only fight came Jacob Wykoff  PIATT, followed by two hundred and fifty bold Irish-men from the old Thirteenth.

The volunteers were prompt to a  redemption of their word.  They attacked the new fire company.  The fight was fierce, bloody and brief Miles GREENWOOD led the van.  His tall figure, bright helmet and trumpet-toned voice, made him a leader to follow and a man to fear.  The engagement lasted about thirty minutes.  A few bloody heads, and damaged countenances, and the tumult ended in the volunteer companies striving to put the steam “squirt,” as  they called the new en-gine, omit of public favor, through their own  superior management and work.

It was all in vain.  The new device won, and in less than a month all the fire companies were clamoring for the new invention, organization and pay.

We write with unusual gratification the name of MILES GREENWOOD, who died in 1885.  He was one of the strongest, most useful public-spirited men in the annals of Ohio.  He was of a large, strong physique, a great worker, labored incessantly in his own business and in many public enterprises.  He was of Massachusetts stock, but was born in Jersey City, March 19, 1807; mingling in his veins were English, Huguenot French and German blood.  In 1831 with ten hands he started iron founding in this city and event-ually had an immense establishment.

In 1861 he turned it into a United States Arsenal for the manufacture of implements of war.  Upward of 700 hands were employed, and among the goods turned out were over 200 bronze cannon, the first ever made in the West, hundreds of caissons and gun carriages, also a sea-going monitor; and forty thousand Springfield muskets were turned into rifles and supplied with percussion locks——a very effective weapon with tremendous “kicking qualities,’’ so the soldiers who used it laugh-ingly said.

To Mr. GREENWOOD the Cincinnati Fire De-partment was greatly indebted for its efficient organization.

Having been a leading spirit in time old volunteer fire department, he was induced by Jacob Wykoff PIATT to assume the leadership of the paid steam fire department.  Once enlisted in behalf of the paid system, he quickly perceived the possibilities of vastly increased efficiency, and with iron will and never shrinking bravery determinedly fought and overcame all opposition.  At one time the City Council failed to appropriate money to pay the men, and during this time Mr. GREENWOOD advanced for this purpose $15,000, to keep the men together by paying them regularly.

Night and day he was constantly engaged in fighting the opposition to the organization.


He had no time to attend to his own business, but paid a man $1,500 to attend to it for him.  Of this sum the city subsequently re-imbursed him $1, 000, which he at once paid into the funds of the Mechanics’ Institute.  Eventually every difficulty was overcome, and to-day such a thing as a volunteer fire depart-ment is unknown in any city of the first class in Europe or America.

The first steam fire-engine ever built that

was used at a fire was constructed  at GREENWOOD’S establishment by Messrs. SHAWK & LATTA, and was first used on a Sunday morn-ing in May, 1852.  It was named the Uncle Joe Ross.  It initiated a moral reform, as under the old system the engine houses had been the nurseries where the youth of the city were trained in vice, vulgarity and debauchery.

DR. DANIEL DRAKE was born in Plainfield, N. J., in 1785, and died in Cincinnati in l852.  He was a man of genius and did more to advance the intellectual life of Cincinnati than any one who had lived there.  His family emigrated to Mayslick, Ky., where they dwelt in a log-cabin.  When a lad of 16, he came to Cincinnati to study medicine, and then finished his course at the University of Pennsylvania.  He was at one time a medical Professor in the Transylvania University of Kentucky, and at another in that of the University of Louisville.  In 1835 he organized the medical department of the Cincinnati College.  In this city was past most of his life.  An eloquent summary of the qualities of this distinguished man was given by Dr. COMEGYS before a medical convention in Cincinnati, wherein he said in conclusion:

“Nothing seemed to escape him for the adornment of the city and the comfort of the people.  The line of elm trees on the south side of Washington Park were planted under his own direction over sixty years ago.

“He was a voluminous writer on profes-sional and general topics, but the work with which he crowned his life’s labor was his ‘Systematic Treatise on the Diseases of the Interior Valley of North America,’ to which he devoted more than twenty years of travel throughout the vast Mississippi Valley.  It was, so to speak, dug out of the very elements of the continent and society of Amer-ica.  It is a great work of absolutely orig-inal research in medical topography, and will always remain a monument to his fame that has no parallel in the science and liter-ature of medicine.

Though DRAKE has long been dead, yet all of his great undertakings remain and are flourishing.  The Cincinnati College is the large Law School of the Ohio Valley; the Medical College of Ohio, now a Medical Department of the University of Cincinnati was never so prosperous; the Clinical and Pathological School of the Hospital is attended by four hundred students.  It has a large and grow-ing library and museum, and is now undertaking to establish a pathological laboratory for original research.  The beautiful elm trees are now as verdant as ever.

“The wonderful activity of DRAKE’S mind, which led him to undertake the most severe professional labors and throw himself besides into every struggle for the advancement of the interest of society, is readily explained when we consider the philosophic spirit which


animated his mind; for he was possessed of that gift of genius which sees beyond all the apparent disparity of phenomena; that severe unity, after which all true philosophy is continually aspiring.

“To him the universe was not a summation of material phenomena conveying sen-suous impressions merely, but a revelation.  His was a reverent and devout soul.  He felt like Von Barden, who declared that ‘he who seeks in nature nature only and not reason: he who seeks in reason reason  only and not God; he who seeks God out of and apart from reason, or reason out of and apart from God, will find neither nature nor reason nor God, but will assuredly lose them all.’

“All the institutions he planted exhibit his great powers of mind and will always pre-serve his memory fresh and venerated in the great Western Valley.  In the medical firmament bending over the world, reaching from the past and stretching indefinitely away, amidst all the glittering galaxy and burning orbs that represent the immortal dead, the orb of DRAKE will shine as a star of light forevermore

BENJAMIN DRAKE, a brother of the above, who died in 1841, was the author of several works of value on Cincinnati, Lives of Tecumseh, Gen. HARRISON, etc.  Another brother, CHARLES, born in Cincinnati in 1811, repre-sented Missouri in 1867 in the U. S. Senate, and later became Chief Justice of the Court of Claims in Washington.’’

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