Victory Auto and Ferlo’s Bakery have teamed up to help keep a part of Rome’s history alive and accessible to the community. The two Rome businesses recently joined together to donate an antique, horse-drawn sleigh to the Rome Historical Society.
“We commend Paul Uvanni for not only saving part of our past but for also having long supported the Rome Historical Society and our core mission to preserve our city’s history,” said Art Simmons, executive director of the Rome Historical Society.
The sleigh, believed by the Society to have been built between 1850 and 1884, carries a plaque on its backside that reads “D. D. Williams — Rome, N.Y.”
David D. Williams, believed to be the sleigh’s maker, is listed in the city’s 1888 directory as a “carriage and cutter manufacturer” living on North George Street, and his “wagon shop” can be found on a city map dated 1884.
Located on Front Street — a now-defunct avenue that ran east to west, through present-day Freedom Plaza on Erie Boulevard — Williams’ shop was one of many in the nascent city’s lumber district.
According to archival Sentinel reports, in the early morning hours of Nov. 24, 1884, a night watchman spotted “a small light” in a building neighboring Williams’. He alerted his supervisor, and the steam-whistle fire alarm was sounded.
The article continues: “About this time Officer Schuster, who was near the corner of Dominick and Washington streets, heard the cry of fire and at once sent in an alarm from Box 52, at the Arlington Hotel corner. He says that there were no signs of fire from Dominick street at the time, but by the time he reached the scene the flames were coming through the roof.”
Whipping winds spread the fire from one building to the next — almost every structure on the block was wooden, the Sentinel reported — engulfing the lumber district and its wares.
Rome firefighters soon arrived on the scene, with both of the city’s steam fire engines dispatched. By this time, the fire had spread to the other side of the block, on John Street, and had reached a wooden tenement called the “long block” — “an ancient structure” housing at least three families, according to the Sentinel.
Even with the full force of Rome’s fire department battling the blaze, “it seemed at first as though the whole street must be swept away, and there seemed to be no telling where the fire would end.”
Then-Mayor Frederick E. Mitchell was alerted, and “telephoned to Utica for help.” Rome’s sister city dispatched “a steamer and two horse carriages ... but before they could get started the fire was controlled ... Never did firemen work more persistently than did the members of the Rome fire department” that night, the Sentinel opined.
As the flames were extinguished and the panic subsided, the toll of the blaze became clear. Though the Sentinel reported no injuries or deaths, three families occupying the long block were displaced.
They sat in an empty lot across John Street with the few possessions they managed to save from the blaze.
A reporter approached one victim, Mrs. Frank Bassett, as she watched her home burn.
“She said it was pretty bad to be turned out of doors in such a manner,” the Sentinel wrote, “but that it would have been much worse if the rain had been pouring down as it was the night before. There’s philosophy for grumblers.”
D. D. Williams’ carriage shop, just next door to Selden’s Lumber House where the fire began, was destroyed. Contemporary reporting mentioned Williams had insurance policies totaling $1,000, which was apparently sufficient — a city map dated 15 years after the fire shows the carriage factory back in business on Front Street.
“The significance of the find cannot be understated,” Society executive director Simmons said.
“Though we know very little of it maker, D. D. Williams, the fact remains that this sleigh is thought to be over 125 years old which, in turn, connects us all directly to a time before the automobile,” he added.