Incidents and reminiscences of the Fire Department of Medford.
[Read before the Medford
Historical Society, Dec. 17, 1900.]
N the earlier days of the town's history there was not sufficient care taken to preserve the records of events and the doings of the Fire Department.
I have perused the records of the different fire companies, but could learn nothing of their services at the fires which occurred, except from the records of the Hook and Ladder Company, and of the Washington Engine Company No. 3
From the early records of the Hook and Ladder Company, and from books in their possession, I learn that in the year 1785 an association was formed bearing the name of the ‘Amicable Fire Society,’ and having for its motto ‘Amicis Nobisque.’
By Constitution and By-Law the members bound themselves to assist each other in extinguishing fires that threatened the destruction of their property.
For this purpose they agreed to furnish themselves with two leathern buckets for carrying water, two fire sails, or bags, for carrying small articles to a place of safety, and a screw or bed key for taking apart the bed which, in those days, was of the sacking or windlass pattern.
On the alarm of fire being given, they were to answer the call, and render all the assistance in their power.
The fire buckets were passed along the line formed from the nearest well.
The water was sometimes thrown on to the fire, sometimes used to supply the engine nearest the fire.
The buckets were suitably inscribed with the owner's name and the year that he became a member, and, with the bags and screw key, were to be kept in a suitable place in his home.
Once each quarter they were inspected by a committee appointed for that purpose, and if not found [p. 7]
in place a fine of twenty-five cents was levied for each article missing.
Meetings were held quarterly at some of the hotels in the town; and the annual meeting for election of officers and the annual dinner was often held at some hotel out of town, such as Spy Pond House, Fresh Pond Hotel, sometimes at Lynn
, or other places to suit the pleasure of the members.
The members of this society were not only banded together to protect the property of themselves and friends, but they were free to render assistance out of town.
I learn from their records that at a quarterly meeting held Nov. 6, 1818, a committee of members, Messrs. W. Ward
and Dudley Hall
, were appointed to consult with the Fire Wards
and Selectmen of the town, to inquire if it be expedient for the engine to go to Boston
at their fires; also to inquire into what further preparations can be made for the security of the town.
At the next meeting, Nov. 1, 1818, the committee reported as follows:
It was also voted that Resolve 8 be posted.
In their records no mention is made of fires at which they did service, although reports were made of the loss of buckets, bags, and screw keys, for which fines were levied and paid.
If a member was absent at the first call of the roll he was fined twelve and one-half cents; if absent from the meeting he was fined fifty cents. The fines thus collected enabled them to have occasionally a collation or chowder after the meeting.
This was the first organization of which we have any knowledge formed for the purpose of assisting each other to extinguish fires in those early days.
They continued their existence till the year 1849, when the society was dissolved.
There are now hanging in the carriage room of the hook and ladder house twenty-two of these leathern buckets, inscribed with the name of the owner and the year of his membership, which the present company prize as relics of ‘auld lang syne.’
Mr. Francis A. Wait
has hanging in the front hall of his house three buckets inscribed as follows:
The following are those in the hook and ladder carriage room:
Two, Andrew Blanchard
, Columbian Eagle Fire Society.
We have now in the service of the city an organization bearing the name of Washington
Hook and Ladder Company which has been in existence for seventy-two years without interruption.
From time to time this has been composed of many of our best and most influential citizens, who were imbued with the same sympathetic spirit that characterized the members of the former organization.
They were organized under an act of the General Court of Massachusetts
in the year 1828, by a charter duly signed by the Hon. Levi Lincoln
as Governor, and Edward D. Bangs
as Secretary of State
So far as I have been able to learn, this is the only Fire Company now holding a charter designating them a Company of Hook and Ladder Men. At the time of their organization there were two companies of firemen in the city of Philadelphia
, called The Northern Liberty and The Hibernian Engine Company, who were organized with a charter signed by King George of England
in 1750 and 1752, but these have long since ceased to be active members of the department, although continuing their organization to this day. Therefore I think this company can justly claim the honorable distinction of being the oldest active fire company in the United States
, of which fact the city of Medford
may justly be proud.
By their records I learn that at a meeting of the Selectmen [p. 11]
of the town of Medford
July 26, 1829, the following persons were appointed to form and constitute a Company of Hook and Ladder Men, agreeable to an act of the General Court for that purpose, passed June 11, 1829, viz.: John B. Fitch
, N. H. Bishop
, A. S. Kent
, George W. Porter
, Horatio A. Smith
, John Stimson
, Eph'm Tufts
, Jos. P. Hall
, B. Richardson
, T. R. Peck
, Ebenz'r Chamberlain
, Dexter Harlow
, Elisha Livermore
, Azor Richardson
, and Thomas Jameson
At the first meeting of the company, July 8, 1829, they organized by the choice of John B. Fitch
as moderator and George W. Porter
as clerk, and then voted to adopt the following Constitution as a form of government:
The first fire on record occurred Thursday, March 13, 1834, at Thatcher Magoun
's shipyard; the second, Dec. 30, 1834, on Andrew Blanchard
's lumber wharf.
These same rules and regulations have been in existence, and were rigidly adhered to by the present company until the department was made a permanent one.
In 1839 the town of Medford
petitioned the Legislature for an act of incorporation for their fire department.
This suggested to the Legislature the importance of considering the whole subject; 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, and the act is as follows:
This act was submitted to the town to be accepted and approved, and accordingly the present fire department was organized in due form.
There were three engine companies formed under this act, viz.: Governor Brooks No. 1
, General Jackson
No 2, and J. Q: Adams No. 4
The Governor Brooks No. 1
was located where the public pound now is on Back street. The Selectmen appointed a company consisting of twenty-nine members, who on the thirteenth day of November, 1835, met and organized by the choice of the following officers: George L. Stearns
, clerk; James T. Floyd
, foreman; David Kimball
, assistant foreman; and Luther Angier
The company continued its organization till July 2, 1839, when there was an insufficient number to work the engine at a fire.
They chose a committee to wait on the Selectmen
, make a statement of the condition of the company, and request that it be disbanded.
It was also voted, ‘that the foreman, Mr. John T. White
, surrender the engine ‘Governor Brooks
’ and whatever moneys there may be in the hands of the Treasurer
to the Selectmen
to be disposed of as they may judge expedient.’
On July 3, the next day after disbandment, the Selectmen
appointed twenty-nine men to take charge of the engine, and on July 22 they met and chose Mr. John T. White
, foreman, Joseph James
, assistant foreman, and Daniel H. Forbes
, clerk and treasurer.
They continued the organization till March 17, 1858, when by order of [p. 15]
the engineers they were disbanded for disobeying the order of the engineers at a fire on the plains, Mr. Hugh Nugent
's house on Cherry street.
Engine No. 2
, ‘General Jackson
,’ was first located in a building near the Meeting-House brook
at the foot of Marm Symond's hill, and after a few years was relocated in the rear of the First Parish meeting-house.
They by their records were organized in 1808, and held their first meeting at the house of Mr. J. Johnson
, where it was voted that Zaccheus Wyman
be master of the engine and James T. Floyd
The following persons were appointed by the Selectmen
to constitute the engine company, viz.: Zaccheus Wyman
, James T. Floyd
, John Symmes
3d, John Dickson
, William Harris
, Jonathan Brooks, Patrick Roach
, Joseph Bucknam
, Joseph Wyman, Jr.
, Isaac Floyd
, Isaac Brooks, Leonard Bucknam
, Samuel Teel
Jr., Daniel Wier
In their records the engine is sometimes called the Western Engine Company
They held their meetings the first Monday in every month at the houses of the members or at the hotels in the town.
In January, 1820, the Selectmen
appointed the following persons as members of the company, viz.: William Butters
, Ebenezer Putnam
, Cornelius Bigelow
, Abial Butters
, Henry Woodwarth
, James T. Floyd
Jr., Benjamin Floyd
2d, John M. Kuhn
, Oliver Wyman
, William E. Otis
, Marshal Symmes
, Sewall Pierce
, Thomas Calf, Edward Hudley
Thus it seems that the Selectmen
, with the approval of the engineers, appointed new men every year or two which was in accordance with the act of the General Court.
This company voted to disband on the twenty-second day of December, 1859, and so notified the Board of Engineers.
Engine No. 4
, ‘J. Q. Adams
,’ was located at the Ship Yard
nearly opposite Park street, and having no [p. 16]
suction hose was used for the watering of ships in course of construction.
Engine No. 3
,’ was organized in 1855, and at a subsequent meeting the following officers were elected: Joseph W. Mitchell
, foreman; Jonathan Oldham
, first assistant foreman; Almon Black, second assistant foreman; Samuel N. Sylvester
, clerk; and Hiram Simmons
They continued their organization till the year 1868.
This company was composed of persons who had seen service in the other companies of the department, many of whom were prominent in the higher offices of the town.
They also contributed largely in filling the quotas of the town in the Civil War
, many never returning to their homes again.
Capt. Joseph W. Mitchell
remained at the head of the company during the entire time of their organization, and was highly respected and esteemed.
The members of the company were ever watchful and zealous for the welfare of those who had gone to the front in their country's service, and careful that those left behind did not suffer.
Money, time, and service were not spared in endeavors to show an appreciation of the sacrifice made for their country's cause, and the same may be said of all the companies, for members enlisted from them all, and many after having faithfully served their country returned home to the peaceful pursuits of civil life.
In the year 1862, by vote of the town, the Selectmen
caused to be constructed in different parts of the town cisterns or reservoirs to be used only in case of fire for the engines to draft from.
Thus was service rendered to the town by the volununteers of the department till the introduction of steam fire engines
, which in a measure dispensed with the services of those who had bound themselves together for the love of rendering service to those in distress and danger from the fiery element.