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The Lamp Lighter

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The Lamplighter of Olde Middle Village

by Dorothy Speer

A lamplighter At night the streets were lighted by gas lamps in glass enclosures at the top of a pole about 8 feet high. Every evening a man would make his rounds lighting the lamps individually and in the early morning he would travel his route once again to extinguish them.

The Bello family was the first Italian family to move into Middle Village. A member of the Bello family was the lamplighter in early Middle Village days. He was called Papa Licht or Papa Light by his children as he made his rounds each day. He was well liked by the children and regarded with warm affection by the older people of Middle Village.

Pasqual Bellow moved to Middle Village in 1894. He was with the Welles Bach Company of Philadelphia and when they opened an office in New York he came with them. Pasqual was in charge of 38 men who lit and attended the gas street lamps. Frank worked for his father as a lamplighter also, earning $34 a month.

Frank’s father was in charge of lighting the street lamps in Queens. Frank’s route was Dry Harbor Road, Furmanville Avenue and Pullis Avenue (now 79th Place). The lamps had to be lit an hour before dark and extinguished an hour before dawn. They also had to be cleaned once a week. Frank’s brother, who also worked for his father, had a different route where many of the area’s farms were. On that route there was no underground source of gas to the lamps so he had to carry gas with him. He put a quart of gasoline, called naphtha, in each of the lamps.

In 1891 the Newtown Gas Company was founded to supply gas for lighting, heating and cooking. By 1894 they had started to lay mains along Metropolitan Avenue, Myrtle Avenue and Fresh Pond Road, and completed this project in 1895, when the company was acquired by the Brooklyn Union Gas Company. As houses were built in Ridgewood, Glendale and Middle Village gas mains were laid down the side streets and inasmuch as the streets were dirt, this was no problem. Until gas became available on the side streets, houses were lighted by kerosene lamps.

At appropriate locations the gas company installed a street light. The gas company employed lamp lighters to tend the street lights. The lamp lighter was usually a young man who carried a small ladder as he walked from street light to street light making his rounds. To turn the street light on, he placed his small ladder across the lamp post and then a rod which had a wooden handle with a metal “U” was used to turn the gas switch. He lit the taper with a match and then used the other end of the “U” reaching inside the globe to open the switch to turn the gas on. When the gas flowed, he applied the light from the taper and the open gas flame illuminated the surrounding area. In the morning the lamp light put his ladder against the pole, and using the rod turned the switch and shut off the gas.

Eventually the gas lights were phased out and in about 1916 electric lights began to take the place of gas lamps.
 

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