Timeline of John Stanhope Damrell

John Damrell was Boston’s Fire Chief during Boston’s Great Fire of 1872 and later became Boston’s Inspector of Buildings during the 1880’s. Damrell brought a new level of professionalism and organization to firefighting and was instrumental in creating modern building codes at the national level.

Docema constructed this timeline from a variety of sources including census records, city archives, city directories, and published obituaries.


John Damrell's Family Tree [view image]



Birth – Age 12


Childhood [read more]


June 29, 1829

John S. Damrell born in Boston

1830 -

Family moves to East Cambridge

1835 -

Little sister and mother die

1835 -

Works summers on farm in Haverhill, north of Boston

1840 -

Father dies and a guardian is appointed


Attends school in Cambridge and Boston


Age  12 – 17


Youth [read more]


1842-46 -

Apprenticeship to Cambridge carpenter, Isaac Melvin

1846 -

Returns to Boston as a journeyman carpenter


Age 17 – 21


Early Career [read more]


1846-55 -

Hired by builder, D.P. Gross, and quickly becomes a foreman

1846 -

First volunteers in the Boston Fire Department


Age 21- 38


Family Growth & Career Advancement [read more]


1850 -

John marries Susan Emily Hill in Cambridge

Lives at 4 Champney Street, Boston, with uncle’s family

1851 -

First child, Ann Elizabeth, is born (she died before 1860 census)

1853 -

Damrell is elected Clerk of Cataract Engine No. 4

1854 -

He is elected Assistant Foreman of Cataract Engine No. 4

Second child, John Edward Stanhope, is born (called E.S.)

1855 -

Third child, Carolyn Maria, is born (called Carrie)

Moves to own home at 3 Champney Street, next to uncle

Elected Foreman of Cataract Engine No. 4

1856 -

Begins building business with James Long of Somerville

1857 -

Elected to Common Council (takes year off from BFD)

1858 -

Elected as Assistant Engineer for BFD moves to 15 West Center Street, Boston, renamed 28 Anderson

1859 -

Fourth child, Charles Stanhope, is born

1863 -

Fifth child, Susan Emily is born, but dies at one year of age

1866 -

Moves to 60 Temple Street, Boston

Elected Chief Engineer of BFD



Age 38 – 45 


Chief Engineer Boston Fire Department [read more]


1867 -

Reports on problems with hydrants and water pressure; and the problem of no enforcement authority for building inspection during construction

1869-71 -

Reports ongoing concerns about water supply

1871 -

Building inspector office established to oversee construction & enforce codes Damrell travels to Chicago to see fire ruins and reports findings

Fall 1872 -

Horse disease strikes and Contingency Plan is developed

Nov. 1872 -

Boston’s Great Fire

 Spring 1873 -

Commission reports on the “Causes and Management of the Great Fire

 April 1873 -

Damrell is re-elected Chief Engineer of BFD

June 1873 -

Damrell urges the establishment of a national organization of fire chiefs

Fall 1873 -

Founder and first president of National Association of Fire Engineers (NAFE)

Damrell resigns after BFD is reorganized and Fire Commission established


Age 45–75


Boston Building Inspector [read more]


1874 -77 -

Damrell continues active leadership role in NAFE

Establishes J.S. Damrell and Son

Continues leadership in Massachusetts State Firemen’s Association and Firemen’s Life and Relief Association

Continues as Sunday School Superintendent for First Methodist Episcopal Church on Temple Street

1877 -

Assumes position of Chief of City Department of Building Inspection

1878 -

Daughter, Carrie Damrell Burlen, dies at age 22

1879 -

Damrell leads a coalition advocating amendment to building codes

1883 -

Damrell reports to City Council on “Unsafe Buildings in Case of Fire

1884 -

Building Code Report was presented by Damrell to the NAFE Convention      

1891 -

Damrell founded and was elected first President of the National Association of Commissioners and Inspectors of Public Buildings. (NACIPB)

Joins leaders of other national organizations in discussion of national models for building codes 

1893 -

Wife, Susan, dies of cancer

1894 -

Re-elected President of NACIPB at annual conference held in Boston

1896 -

Buys property in Dover, MA adjacent to son, Charles’ home

1901 -

Delivers speech on ‘The Fire Department, Past, Present and Future,’ at the gathering of the Massachusetts fire chiefs

1902 -

Attends International Association of Fire Chiefs (formerly NAFE)

1903 -

Submits his last Annual Report for the Building Department

1905 -

John S. Damrell died in Boston at age of 77.  He had served Boston and the cause of firefighting, fire prevention, and fire safety for 58 years

The first National Model Building Code is established


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