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Nyack History, Died in the Line-of-Duty? BY JAMES LEINER

Nyack History, Died in the Line-of-Duty?

BY JAMES F. LEINER

April 2016

For this story I’m going way back in Nyack History and WAY out on a limb. Awhile back I wrote a column about the history of Nyack’s Memorial Park for the Nyack Villager. While I was researching the park’s history I came across and even more interesting story. It has become a story I have spent hours researching. I’m not sure it has a conclusion, but I thought the tale is so good I would share with readers of the Rockland Post what I have discovered so far. 

The DePew family once owned much of the property in the vicinity of 147 Piermont Avenue. In the early 18th century, they established a 70-acre farm along the banks of the Hudson River west to the top the mountains behind the village. They had greenhouses on the upper plateau of the current site of Memorial Park. On the lower shoreline a red sandstone gristmill was erected along what is now called the Nyack Brook at the south end of their property. By 1800, the gristmill had been converted into a sulfur match factory. In 1850, the match factory was converted into Storm’s Cedar Tub and Pail Factory. The Storms brothers, Arthur and Henry, operated a woodenware factory using water power to produce products to be sold throughout the United States and Europe. Their cedar pail factory employed seven men, and the Storms’ brothers were becoming quite successful until a severe problem would arise on July 29, 1854 putting halt to their production.

It was a typical warm summer Saturday and the factory closed a bit early. About seven o’clock smoke and flames were discovered coming from the south side of the main building. The call of FIRE was heard and soon the members of Orangetown and Mazeppa Fire Companies were on their way. As the firemen set up their hand drawn engines to fight the conflagration it was seen almost immediately the entire building was enveloped in fire. Owing to the dry state of everything about the building, and the combustible nature of the cedar wood inside, the fire burned with fury, in spite of the firefighter’s efforts to combat the blaze. A rider with a fast horse was dispatched to see if the firemen from Piermont would come to help. Nyack firemen directed their efforts toward saving the brick building opposite the main factory building, which was used for the finishing process, but some of the Nyack firefighter’s hose burst allowing the roof to burn off and drop into the inferno.

While the blaze was at its height, Engine Companies Nos. 1 and 2, from Piermont arrived. In the early days of firefighting firemen pulled and pushed their engines and, the Piermont crews covered the distance of nearly four miles in the almost incredible short time of fifty minutes. Their arrival was cheered by the men of Orangetown and Mazeppa. The hose they brought with them helped to prevent further spreading of the blaze. By nine o’clock nothing remained of main factory building but a mass of smoking ruins. The entire contents of the building were destroyed.

While I find the story of the fire a good history lesson it is the following piece from the Rockland County Journal of August 5, 1854 that piques my interest: 

“Died from the effects of overheating and exhaustion at the late fire in Nyack. – Tom Pomp, the colored man who came up with one of the Piermont Engines the night Storms’ factory was burned, died last Friday, at Piermont, from the effects of a getting overheated and exhausted that night.”

With the aid of a professional researcher, I have discovered his real name was Thomas Pomplin.  He was born in 1826 and was 28 years old at the time of his passing. He lived on the south side of Piermont with his mother Mary Pomplin and his brothers Samuel and James.  Also in the lodging were Hannah Brown and her six children. Slavery was abolished in New York in 1827 yet was around Orangetown in some form until 1828 so can I assume Tom was born a slave? More than that question I wonder if he is the first volunteer firefighter to die in the line of duty. From information I received from Piermont’s current fire department, it doesn’t appear he was a member of either of their fire companies in 1854, so how did he get to “run with the engines” to the fire? Did he volunteer, or was he pressed-into-service? The more my research uncovers I believe Tom “Pomp” Pomplin deserves to be known as the first volunteer firefighter to die in the line of duty in Rockland County!

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