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[p. 6]

Incidents and reminiscences of the Fire Department of Medford.

by Samuel G. Jepson.
[Read before the Medford Historical Society, Dec. 17, 1900.]

IN 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, Hingham, 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 and Charlestown 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:

Your committee beg leave to report that on Friday evening, the sixth instant, they met as by vote directed, and after due deliberation unanimously agreed to submit the following:

Resolutions for the consideration of the Society:

Resolve 1.—That by the Statute Laws of this Commonwealth the Fire Wards have sole power in case of fire, either in their own town or in the vicinity thereof, to order out the engine; and in case of fire in town, to direct and appoint their stations, and apparatus of the enginemen with their engine, and of all other persons, for the purpose of extinguishing the fire and preventing its increase.

Resolve 2.—That in case of fire out of town it is never expedient that more than one engine nor more than half the Fire Wards should leave the town to attend it.

Resolve 3.—That in case of fire in Boston or Charlestown [p. 8] it be recommended to the Fire Wards that they immediately order the enginemen to bring the engine and their buckets and their other furniture to the hotel, and that the Selectmen, the committee chosen by the society, and the Fire Wards, meet there forthwith, to determine on the proper means to be adopted.

Resolve 4.—That in case of fire in the neighboring towns it is expedient that the Fire Wards repair thither with the engine and enginemen immediately, and without any delay whatever.

Resolve 5.—That whenever it shall be necessary for the engine and enginemen to leave town to attend a fire, it be recommended to the Fire Wards to furnish wagons if possible for the purpose of transporting them.

Resolve 6.—That the three ladders now owned by the town be kept in the following places, viz.: One upon the fence south of Mayo's Hotel; one upon the fence adjoining the meeting house; and one upon the fence west of the burying ground.

Resolve 7.—That it be recommended to the town that three more ladders be added to the present stock, to be disposed of as the Fire Wards may direct.

Resolve 8.—That it be recommended to the householders of the town that they burn their chimneys frequently in wet weather, and keep ladders to ascend the roof in case of fire.

Resolve 9.—That it be recommended to the Fire Wards to provide themselves with the proper staff of office, to see that the engine-house be properly aired, and that the buckets and other implements belonging to the Engine Company be kept in good order for use.

Resolve 10.—That at the annual meeting of this society in November, a committee of three shall be appointed therefrom to meet and confer with the Fire Wards and Selectmen, that the above resolutions be carried into effect.


Dudley Hall,Committee. W. Ward. Committee.
[p. 9] Present at the meeting:

Doctor Luther Stearns, Selectman and Fire Ward.

Thatcher Magoun, Selectman.

Nathl. Hall, Esqr., Fire Ward.

Andrew Blanchard, Fire Ward.

Jonathan Porter, Fire Ward.

Your Committee.

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:

One, John A. Fulton1785.
Two, Nathan Wait1810.

The following are those in the hook and ladder carriage room:

Two, J. Swan1785.
Two, Ebenezer Hall1785.
Two, Benjamin Fisk1800.
One, Daniel Swan1821.

[p. 10]

Two, Robert Bacon1822.
Two, Thomas R. Peck1827.
Two, Abnah Bartlettno date.
One, E. Hallno date.
One, Daniel Lawrence1841.
One, Timothy Cottingno date.
One, Samuel Chaseno date.

Two, Andrew Blanchard, Columbian Eagle Fire Society.

One, Nathan Sawyerno date.
One, Gov. BrooksNo. 1
One, Gen'l JacksonNo. 2.

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:

Constitution of the Hook and Ladder Company of Medford, instituted July 8, 1829.

Article 1.

On the third Monday of October there shall be an annual meeting of the company, at which time there shall be a Captain and Clerk, chosen by ballot. The Captain to preside as Moderator, and have power to call special meetings when he shall think proper. The Clerk to preside at any meeting in the absence of the Captain.

Article 2.

The business of the Clerk shall be to keep a true account of all fines due, and all other necessary records.

Article 3.

The business of the company shall be determined by a majority of the members present.

Article 4.

There shall be four quarterly meetings, viz.: on the third Mondays of January, April, July, and October at the ladder house, unless otherwise ordered by the company, at 4 o'clock P. M., at which time the roll shall be called, and absent members shall pay, if absent at [p. 12] roll call, twenty-five cents, and if absent during the continuance of the meeting, fifty cents.

Article 5.

At special meetings every member shall be warned by the Clerk, and if any one is absent, he shall pay the same fine as at quarterly meetings, and a proportionate part of the expense of said meeting.

Article 6.

If any members shall leave the company at any quarterly meeting until adjourned, or at a fire until the ladders are housed, without permission of the Captain, he shall pay a fine of fifty cents.

Article 7.

If any member is absent at a fire, he shall pay a fine of one dollar, unless he shall make a reasonable excuse to the Clerk within ten days, which excuse and all others shall be submitted to the company.

Article 8.

One of the company shall be employed to keep the door of the ladder-house free from snow, he shall receive such compensation as shall be agreed on between him and the company, and if he neglects to do his duties, he shall forfeit for each and every offence fifty cents.

Article 9.

When any person is admitted a member of the company it shall be the duty of the Clerk to procure the approbation of the Selectmen, application to be made to the Selectmen at their first meeting after.

Article 10.

Every member shall settle his account with the Clerk at each quarterly meeting.

At a meeting of the Selectmen July 20, 1829, the preceding Rules and Articles as adopted by the Hook [p. 13] and Ladder Company for their regulation and government were laid before the board and approved, and allowed as the rules and regulations of said company.


A. Bartlett, Clerk.

Medford, April 19th, at a meeting of the company this day at the ladder house the following By-Laws were enacted.

That every person entering the company shall pay to the Clerk two dollars to be appropriated to defray the expenses of the company.


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:

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 [p. 14] in an act to regulate fire departments passed on the 9th day 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 relates to them respectively.

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, treasurer. 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 be clerk. 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, ‘Washington,’ 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, steward. 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.

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