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Chapter 14: fire-department.

The first action of the town relating to fires was May 12, 1760, when it was voted that two fire-hooks be provided for the use of the town.

March 7, 1763: Voted to raise £ 26. 13s. 4d. for procuring a fire-engine, if the rest can be obtained by subscription. Hon. Isaac Royal, Stephen Hall, Esq., and Captain Seth Blodget, were chosen a committee to procure the engine and receive the subscriptions.

This resulted in the purchase of an engine called the “Grasshopper,” which was placed near the market. This engine was removed to the West End, April 1, 1799 (when another had been obtained), and was kept in the barn attached to the “Angier house.” It is yet in existence, and is sometimes employed in pumping water into vessels.

March 11, 1765: For the first time, nine fire-wards and twelve engine-men were appointed by vote of the town. [472]

In 1785, some gentlemen associated themselves under the name of the “Medford Amicable fire Society,” with the motto, Amicis nobisque. Twenty-four members only were allowed; and they solemnly engage to govern themselves by the nine “regulations” which they adopted. These regulations embrace all the common provisions for choice of officers and transaction of business which such an association would require. The third provides that

each member shall keep constantly in good order, hanging up in some convenient place in his dwelling-house, two leather buckets, of convenient size, in which shall be two bags and one screwkey, each bag measuring one yard and three-quarters in length, and three-quarters of a yard in breadth. If the bags or buckets of any member be out of place at any quarterly inspection, he shall pay a fine of twenty-five cents for each article so out of place.

At the alarm of fire, each member shall immediately repair, with his bags, buckets, &c., to the place where it happens; and, if the house or property of any member be in danger, every member shall resort thither, and use his utmost endeavors, under the direction of the member in danger, if present, otherwise according to his own judgment, to secure all his goods and effects, under penalty of what the society may determine. And if there shall not be any property of a member in danger, then each member, at the request of any other person in immediate danger, will consider himself obliged to assist such person in the same manner as though such person belonged to the society.

Candidates for admission must be proposed three months before election; and three votes in the negative prevent membership. The second line in the first article of regulations reads thus: “The members shall dine together on the first Wednesday in August annually.”

When engines were few, and their hose were short, this society rendered most important service; and, as their chief aim was to rescue furniture, they were sometimes able to save nearly all by their concentrated and harmonious action. The introduction of better engines and systematic procedure at fires has rendered the society so little needed that it has almost lost its existence.

Sept. 19, 1796: Voted to procure a new engine.

These engines served the purposes of the town till a late period. The firemen were selected from the most reliable [473] and energetic of all the citizens; and, once a month, each engine was examined and played.

March 3, 1828: “Voted that the selectmen be a committee to examine and consider the necessity of procuring a new engine for the west part of the town.”

1828: The first record of the organization of a new engine-company. 1831, the town voted to give a supper each year to the firemen. Nov. 14, 1836: Voted to purchase a new engine.

Nov. 9, 1835: The town voted that the fire-engines may be employed to water ships, and that proper compensation be required therefor.

March 6, 1837: At this time there was a general call for a more extended and efficient defence against fire; and the town voted that it approves of the Revised Statutes, sections 19-21.

1839: The town voted to petition the Legislature for an act of incorporation for their fire-department. This petition suggests to the Legislature the importance of considering the whole subject; and accordingly they reconstruct the laws; and, on the 9th of April, the present law was passed. The next day, they authorized the town of Medford to organize a fire-department, according to their petition. The form runs thus:--

An act to establish a fire-department in the town of Medford.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:--

The selectmen of the town of Medford are hereby authorized to establish a fire-department in said town, in the manner, and according to the provisions. prescribed in an act to regulate fire departments, passed on the 9th of April, 1839; and the said fire-department, when so established, and the several members thereof, and all the officers and companies appointed by them, and the said town of Medford, and the inhabitants thereof, shall be subject to all the duties and liabilities, and be entitled to all the privileges and exemptions, specified in said act, so far as the same relate to them respectively.

April 10, 1839.

The ninth section provides that the act establishing the fire-department “shall not take effect until it is accepted and approved by the inhabitants of the town.” It was approved by the town, and the present fire-department organized in due form. [474]

March 7, 1842: The chief engineer made his first annual report.

Large cisterns, sunk in the ground in various parts of the town, are filled with water, to be used only in case of fire. These reservoirs were ordered by a vote of the town, Nov. 6, 1850.

Every provision of hose, fire-hooks, ladders, &c., which the department required, was made by the town.

In 1840 was published a pamphlet, entitled “State Laws and Town Ordinances respecting the Fire Department of the Town of Medford.” It contained the act of the General Court of April 9, 1839; also the act of April 17, 1837, “to prevent bonfires, and false alarms of fire;” also “extracts from the Revised Statutes, chapter 18;” also “an ordinance for preventing and extinguishing fires, and establishing a fire-department in the town of Medford,--passed by the board of engineers, April 25, 1840;” also further “extracts from the Revised Statutes, chapter 58.” “Approved by the town, April 29, 1840.”

The ordinance passed by the board of engineers had, and still has, the approval of every intelligent and virtuous citizen in Medford. A brief extract is as follows :--

Fines for carrying fire openly in the streets, from two dollars to twenty dollars; for allowing to remain any defective chimney, deposit of ashes, &c., five dollars to twenty dollars; chimney set on fire at improper times, two dollars. Engineers shall remove combustible materials where dangerously placed; the engineers shall choose a chief engineer and officers, control the engines, and make all due regulations; engineers shall repair to the place of fire immediately, and take all the steps necessary to extinguish the fire and secure property. There shall be hook, ladder, hose, sail, and engine carriages. The chief engineer shall have full command, and make an annual report to the town. No one shall be a member of the fire-department under eighteen years of age; nor under twenty-one, unless by request of parents. First Tuesday of May, each company shall choose officers. Duties of several officers specified. Engines, after a fire, shall be cleaned; and, once in two months, the companies exercised. Duties of firemen, to protect life and save property. Badges to be worn. Disobedient members dismissed. Duties of citizens who are present at a fire. Officers of a company may be discharged. When buildings, not on fire, shall be demolished. The ordinance closes with the following twenty-first section: “The members of the several companies shall not assemble in the houses intrusted to their care, except for the purpose of taking the engine or apparatus on the alarm of fire, or for drill and exercise, and of [475] returning the same to the house, and taking the necessary care of said apparatus after its return.”

The wisdom of Medford in this twenty-first section is most apparent, and has doubtless prevented the intemperance and moral ruin which have elsewhere been deplored. Some towns have provided their engine-men with a furnished hall, lighted and warmed every evening. This plan, which was designed for good, has, in some cases, produced the most fatal results. It has brought together numbers of young men, who have not had a proper early education, and whose passions naturally lead them to excess. Some of these towns have allowed these engine-men a supper, at the town's expense, whenever they have been on duty at a fire. It has been said that some thoughtless young engine-men have rejoiced at the occurrence of a fire, because it secured to them this public supper; and newspapers have gone so far as to affirm that fires have been actually kindled by unprincipled firemen, for the purpose of having a supper afterwards! Common humanity leads us to hope that such statements are not true. Can it be that any human mind is so sunk to the level of a brute, so polluted in moral debasement, and so lost to all feeling and all justice, as to be guilty of one of the most atrocious crimes, merely to get a supper? If there be one such member of any fire-company in this Commonwealth, the sooner he is transferred to the State Prison, the better for him and for the community. It would be compassion to stop him in his road to ruin, and to put him where his passions can be quieted, and where he could have leisure to see himself as God sees him.

The existence of fire-departments in our wooden cities and towns is indispensable; but we think they have not been wisely organized or properly sustained. They should be considered as insurance-offices, and supported by a premium-tax on all property. All the officers, without exception, should be chosen by the selectmen, and be paid proportionably, as are officers of fire-insurance companies; and, like such officers, should be laid under bonds. Each fireman should be appointed by the selectmen, and so paid as to secure the strongest and best principled men. Their connection with the fire-department should be a mark of respectability, and a proof of good character. Their prompt attendance on the alarm of fire should be rewarded by distinction, and their unnecessary absence be punished by the heaviest fines. [476] There should be no lounging-rooms and no public suppers furnished them; but all the motives should be so arranged, that each fireman would hear the alarm-bell only with sorrow. A department thus organized would bear just proportion to the vast interests at stake; it would be the cheapest in the end; and it would allow every citizen to go to rest at night without troublesome suspicions.

If each town should resolve itself into a mutual fire-insurance company, and make each building pay annually its proportionate premium towards a cumulative fund, it might secure that general and positive interest in the fire-department which it so much needs.

We have great pleasure in learning that the fire-department of Medford is furnished with officers of reliable character, of good judgment, and prompt energy; and with firemen who have in times past done honor to themselves; who will, in times to come, show themselves equal to the severest emergencies, and continue to deserve the grateful esteem of their fellow-citizens.

Expenses of the fire-department, from Feb. 15, 1854, to Feb. 15, 1855, $2,046.04.

The engines in use at the present time are:--

Names.Places.When bought.Builders.Cost.
Governor Brooks, No. 1Union St.March, 1840Hunneman & Co.$1007
General Jackson, No. 2High St.-----, 1845Hunneman & Co.800
Washington, No. 3Park St.May 31, 1850Hunneman & Co.1100

The number of men attached to each engine averages about forty-five. The salary of each officer and fireman per annum is six dollars, and poll-tax refunded. The hook-and-ladder apparatus has twenty-five men attached to it.

March 7, 1847: The town voted to pay each fireman five dollars per annum.

During 1854, the department was called out nine times to fires in town; the loss of property estimated at $17,500.


The strong tendency among us for consociated action makes it easy to form societies for special objects. Medford has its [477] full share; and they are sometimes general, sometimes local, and sometimes confined to parish limits. Sewing-circles, charitable associations, literary unions, religious brotherhoods, and such like, are silent yet powerful agencies for the gratification of the social instincts, for the acquisition of knowledge, the cultivation of taste, the improvement of manners, and the progress of religion; but especially for relieving the necessitous, comforting the sick, and providing for the young.

The order of the sons of Temperance.

Mystic Division, No. 20, of Massachusetts. This branch of a widely extended and benevolent fraternity was organized Oct. 5, 1853, and already numbers over thirty members. The first office, of W. P., has a new occupant every three months. The gentlemen who have held it are S. D. Poole, J. M. Usher, Benjamin H. Samson, William A. Sanborn, John Brown, and Richard G. Pinkham. A public installation of officers was had in the Town Hall, April 11, 1854, when delegations from other branches were present; and a supper afterwards made members and friends of both sexes happy. Fidelis ad urnam.

Mount Hermon Lodge of free and accepted Masons.

Last year, a few Freemasons, who were wont to attend the meetings of Hiram Lodge, West Cambridge, determined to establish a lodge in Medford, so that they might enjoy the pleasures of Masonry nearer home. Hearing of their determination, others of their brethren in Medford united with them in petitioning the Grand Lodge of the State to grant them the requisite authority for assembling as a legal lodge. A dispensation was granted; and, the proper time of probation having nearly elapsed, they will soon (in September, 1855) receive a charter, which will confirm them in the rights and privileges of a regularly constituted lodge. The original petitioners were Messrs. George Hervey, John T. White, E. G. Currell, C. E. Merrill, Cleopas B. Johnson, William Crook, Dr. Samuel Kidder, A. H. Gardner, Elisha Stetson, James Ford, and T. R. Peck. The lodge is now in a flourishing condition, and has every prospect of further success and extended usefulness under its efficient organization, which is as follows:--
Worshipful George Hervey, Master.

Elisha Stetson, Senior Warden.

E. G. Currell, Junior Warden.

C. B. Johnson, Senior Deacon.

C. E. Merrill, Junior Deacon.

Hiram Southworth, Treasurer.

S. C. Lawrence, Secretary.

Lewis Keen, Senior Steward.

S. W. Sanborn, Junior Steward.

James Ford, Tyler.


Medford salt-marsh corporation.

June 21, 1803: On this day, an act of incorporation was passed by the General Court, by which the proprietors of a tract of salt marsh, in Medford, were authorized to make and maintain a dike and fence for the better security and improvement of said marsh. Its bounds are thus described:--
Situate in the easterly part of said Medford, beginning at Malden line, and running westerly by the land of Andrew Hall, Joseph Wheelwright, and Simeon Holt, to the brick landing-place on Mystic River, and otherways bounded by said river, comprising all the marsh within said bounds. And the said corporation shall have power to erect and make a dike, of sufficient height and width, on the north bounds of said marsh, beginning at Malden line, and running westward by the land of said Andrew Hall and others, so far as a dike may be found necessary.

The act contains the usual provisions for choosing officers, assessing taxes, and regulating payments. The company was organized, and a fence built, the proprietors paying each his proportion. The town assessed taxes upon the corporation; and, Feb. 4, 1822, the town's tax was one hundred and fifty-seven dollars and seven cents. The corporation is bound to support the fences and dike, and can compel any proprietor to pay his share.

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