Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Lindner Estate and the Limits of Early Local Firefighting

The subjects of this blog don't usually veer beyond the borders of West Hempstead. In the case of the present subject, however, the magnificent home of Paul W. F. Lindner (shown above) I made an exception because, a) it lied just beyond WH's border, b) Lindner was born and raised in West Hempstead proper and his older brother, Henry, owned a large farm in WH just to the south of the future site of WH middle and high schools. The home was located in a familiar spot along Hempstead Avenue, just SW of the Grossmann Farm, where Grace Lutheran Church of Malverne currently stands.

Paul Lindner's father George, came over from Germany some time in early 1870s and, like so many other local Bavarian pioneers, he purchased a farm on Long Island, located in Washington Square (West Hempstead). Paul was born in 1877, the seventh of eight children. In 1898 he attended Princeton Theological Seminary and entered the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. He then went on to graduate from Princeton University. In the first decade of the 20th century, Lindner purchased a large farm on Hempstead Avenue, in what was then called Norwood, and his farming business brought him a modest degree of success. Soon thereafter he built the grand home pictured above.

He went on to become President of the Norwood school board (district 12) and held that position for over a decade. It was Lindner who sold most of the land purchased by the Amsterdam Development Co. to create what would become the Village of Malverne. Together with Alfred H. Wagg, he was heavily involved in the early development of Malverne and served as president of the Malverne Club. Lindner Place in Malverne is named after him. More information about Lindner will follow in a future post. For now, let's just say he was a pretty important local figure.

On a blustery Tuesday afternoon, January 18th, 1921, a fire started in the Attic of Lindner's home and quickly spread throughout the house. The Norwood Hook & Ladder Co. was called but then quickly needed additional help. They then called on the Lynbrook, Rockville Centre and Hempstead Fire departments for assistance. The trucks rolled in and the massive assemblage of firefighters provided plenty of manpower but was soon confronted with a major problem - water supply. There was none. The wells on the farm were pumped dry and the nearest water supply was almost a half-mile away. The bucket brigade that was formed did little to battle the wind-swept flames. Rockville Centre FD did manage to lay the half-mile long hose but turned it on just it time to watch the home completely engulfed in flames. At least they managed to save the adjacent outhouses and neighboring properties. (Those of us who enjoy turning back the clock by visiting the Grossmann farm probably have those men of the RCFD to thank for ensuring that the fire didn't spread there).

The aftermath of this fire forced locals to take a long hard look at improving firefighting capabilities in the rural sections between Hempstead and Lynbrook. Two and a half years later, on July 26, 1924, Malverne taxpayers voted to lay water mains throughout the village, thus ensuring a supply of water for any future fire emergencies. The incident also generated a firestorm of protest in Lynbrook. The following Monday at a Village Board meeting, 55 taxpaying citizens of that village drafted a letter outlining their outrage at Village President George Wright, who had ordered every available piece of apparatus to fight the fire at the Lindner home. Wright acted apparently without consent of the Fire Chief, leaving his village totally exposed for lack of backup coverage. This despite the fact that the hose wagon and fire engine were completely useless in the fire for lack of a water hookup.

Paul Lindner rebuilt his home and lived there for over a decade before he moved further out on the Island, settling in Smithtown Branch. In 1948 the property was sold to Grace Lutheran Church and in 1952, the edifice shown in the "now" shot was dedicated.

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