BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 27, 1904
PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY
BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Read before the Brookline Historical Society Nov. 18, 1903, by Edward W. Baker.
THIRD ANNUAL MEETING.
From classical mythology we learn that fire was brought to the earth by Prometheus, who stole it from the gods, lighting his torch at the chariot of the sun. Since that day in the long, long ago, all men in all ages have been more or less devout fire-worshippers. We in the twentieth century worship with both gratitude and fear - gratitude for its benefits and comforts, especially when on winter nights we are cozily ensconced with a favorite author before the blazing hearth - fear, when startled by the clanging alarm bells we dread that terrible power for devastation and death possessed by no other element in greater degree.
Because of this power of destruction, the step from fire-worshipping to fire-fighting is only a short one, and the story of the fire-fighting organizations of our fathers and grandfathers is not without interest.
To attempt to tell in a short hour the story of the volunteer fire department of Brookline for the first hundred years of its existence is difficult, not because there is not enough to tell, but because there is so much which can be told, that the limit of time must make the story only disjointed and fragmentary. To give simply an enumeration of the fires in Brookline which could be compiled from existing records would be unsatisfactory; a much more interesting phase of the subject is a study of the fire-fighting organizations and their workings as characteristics of those periods in our town's history which such organizations represent. The uniformed salaried fire department of 1904 consists of forty-two officers and men, twelve pieces of modern apparatus with necessary horses, located in seven buildings in different parts of the town. This force is supplemented by forty-three paid call men, the whole requiring nearly $70,000 for annual maintenance.
The first fire department organization identified with the town in 1784 consisted of a volunteer company of eight men, two of whom were officers, equipped with a piece of apparatus such as now would hardly suffice to properly sprinkle our lawns.
What the municipal expenses of those days may have been is not known, but certainly they were nothing extravagant. The first recorded assumption of the cost of fighting fire on the part of Brookline was in March, 1795, when the town voted, "To pay one-half the expense of the repairs of the fire engine in futer." This was followed in 1797 by another vote, "That this town will bear one-half the expense of the new wagon for conveying the fire engine."
No further town action is recorded until 1829, although an engine company was organized, and a fire-engine located in Punch Bowl Village as early as 1787, at which date the village was partly Brookline and partly Roxbury.
During the century preceding 1787, we know of eight serious fires within the town.
No bells rang, no whistles blew, probably no alarm of any kind was given for the first recorded fire in Brookline, when on a cold and blustering night, with strong northwest wind, March 26th, 1688, " three Indian children being left alone in a wigwam at Muddy River, the wigwam fell on fire, and burned them so that they all died." This record comes to us in Sewall's Diary, and to us of today the thought of Indian wigwams in Brookline seems even less familiar than the fabled theft by Prometheus.
In September, 1768, the large dwelling house of Isaac Gardner, Esq., together with the great part of the household goods for a family of eighteen, was consumed, the loss approximating £5,000 Old Tenor. Although Brookline at that time contained only about fifty families, £100 lawful money was raised by subscription, to assist Mr. Gardner in rebuilding:
In 1774, June 8th, the house occupied by the Rev. Joseph Jackson and owned by Samuel Croft was burned, and a principal part of his library was saved only by the aid and direction given by Dr. Aspinwall.
The hand bucket was the only means of fighting fire in those days, and when a fire started, the loss was usually serious, the property saved consisting of only what the family, with the help of the nearest neighbors, was able to move out.
Not even a regiment of our great-grandfathers, equipped with the old leather fire-buckets, would be as effective as the small company of trained firemen of today, with a modern steam fire-engine capable of throwing thousands of gallons of water each minute through several lines of hose.
The Roxbury volunteer fire department was always noted for its promptitude, skill, and efficiency. In 1784, the first fire-engine was located on Roxbury street, opposite Warren street, the site of the old Grey Hound Tavern, and in 1787 a new fire-engine was located in Punch Bowl Village, as Brookline Village was then called. The members of this first fire-engine company were John Ward, Isaac Davis, Joseph Davenport, Joseph Crehore, James Pierce, Samuel Barry, Capt. Belcher Hancock, and Lieut. William Blossom. Of these names only that of Joseph Davenport appears in the Brookline records of that date, and the others were presumably all Roxbury men.
The first public recognition of the Punch Bowl Village company came in 1794 at the great fire in Boston, July 30th. Mr. How's ropewalk near Milk street, with about thirty-six houses, barns, out-buildings and stores, was burned, and the Selectmen of Boston published in the newspapers an " acknowledgment of the very timely and efficient aid by their brethren of the several towns in the vicinity with their fire-engines and their personal services at the distressing fire of yesterday," etc. " The towns from which engines were brought to the fire were Cambridge, Charlestown, Roxbury, Milton, Brookline, and Watertown."
This public recognition, and the hope of future glory, was possibly the immediate incentive for the town of Brookline to vote in 1795 to assume one-half the expenses, after enjoying the protection of the engine and its company for eight years.
The general direction of fire-fighting was under "firewards," so called, elected by the town at the annual town meetings in March.
In 1788, Brookline elected Col. Aspinwall and Lieut. Croft, and in 1870 Willard Y. Gross, Thos. S. Pettengill, Patrick H. Cusick, and Henry M. Hall qualified for the office. Many well known citizens served in the position in the years intervening. The functions and duties of fi rewards were set forth in the Laws of 1791 as follows:-
" Firewards shall have for a distinguishing badge of their office a staff of five feet long, painted red, and headed with a bright brass spire, six inches long.
" On notice of a fire, they shall immediately repair to the place (taking their badges with them), and vigorously exert themselves to extinguish and prevent the spreading of the fire, and for the pulling down or blowing up of any house, or any other services relating thereto as they may be directed by two or three of the chief civil or military officers of the town, to put a stop to the fire, and in removing household stuff, goods and merchandise out of any dwelling houses, store-houses, or other buildings actually on fire, or in danger thereof, in appointing guards to secure and take care of the same and to suppress all tumults and disorders -and due obedience is required to be yielded to them and each of them for that service on penalty of 40S.
" Note.--Persons who embezzle, carry away or conceal goods at such a time, and do not restore them, or give notice thereof to the owner, shall be deemed thieves and punished as such."
That the badges of office probably saw hard service we may gather from an item in the records of the early part of the last century covering the expense of "repainting the firestaffs." Miss Woods wrote in her "Historical Sketches
" : -
"The first engine-house of the Punch Bowl Village company was a little building 10 x 14, situated for several years at what is now the junction of Walnut street and Village lane. It was later moved to the lot between Walnut and High streets, the present site of Quinlan 's carriage shop, and was standing there as late as 1820. This company was called 'The Vigilant' and consisted of Jeremiah Lyon, Isaac Davis, Lemuel Foster, William H. Brown, Jerathmeel Davenport, James Leeds, Reuben Hunting, Reuben Smith, Silas Snow, Robert S. Davis, Senr. Caleb Clark, Moses Jones, Edward Hall, Samuel Slack, (?) Whiting."
The new wagon purchased by vote of the town in 1797 must have been for the old engine first mentioned, in 1787 - at least nothing is intimated to the contrary- but this engine, so called, was probably little more than a box, equipped with force-pumps and a brake for working them. The water had to be brought in buckets and poured into the box, from which the pumps forced it through a pipe attached to the body of the engine, as the use of hose was not then introduced.
But the old machine was well built, and was worth $30 in 1828, when it was sold, and a new fire-engine, built by Thayer, was purchased for $400. The purchase price for the new engine was raised by popular subscription, the citizens of Brookline contributing $325 and those of Roxbury $150; and it was the intention of the subscribers that the engine should be for the use and benefit of both towns, without reserving claim of individual interest.
The balance of the amount subscribed, with the $30 received from the sale of the old machine, was expended in building a new engine-house, which was located over the brook where Washington street crossed it, approximately where B. W. Neal's store now stands.
With a new engine and a new house, the company attached to the Roxbury and Brookline Engine, the "Norfolk" as it was named, organized in 1829; and with this company the real story of the Brookline fire department begins, although for some years later the " Norfolk " was listed as " No. 7 " of the Roxbury department at Punch Bowl Village. The "Norfolk" was not a suction engine, although it did use hose in place of the old style pipe, and in April, 1829, Brookline appropriated $50 for the purpose of aiding jointly with Roxbury in providing buckets and hose.
The Engine Company in those days had as prominent a place in the community as a social factor as it did as a fire-fighting organization, and the old " Vigilants " and " Norfolks " no doubt assembled more often in the hospitable tap room of the old Punch Bowl Tavern nearby, than they did in the engine house, in which there was room enough only to run the engine out and in.
The Engine Company was to its members what libraries, reading rooms, lectures, clubs, lodges, and historical societies are to us today, and, if we could only refer to them, the old account books of the Punch Bowl would give us many interesting side-lights on the doings of the organization attached to the Roxbury and Brookline Engine. The old tavern at the fork of the roads from Boston to Cambridge, Watertown, and Sherborn attracted the wayfarers from all directions, both going and coming, who stopped for rest and refreshment for man and beast. Although the strictly local patronage was not great in volume, it was no doubt constant, and the members of the Engine Company, individually or collectively, were ever welcome guests. The heart of the genial landlord must have been saddened by the sudden change in policy, brought about by some unexplained cause but of sufficient influence to bring about this action by the Engine Company, recorded under date of April 6, 1829 : -
" Voted, that the custom heretofore in practice of giving entertainments be abolished."
In the same year another vote was recorded which is certainly unique :
" Voted, That on cloudy days when the sun at its setting cannot be seen, that its setting be determined by time as given by J, Davenport's clock and the Farmer's Almanack."
This certainly was a most complete confession of faith in things terrestrial, with the assumption that things celestial must accommodate themselves thereto.
Mr. Davenport, or " Jerry " as he was universally known, was a most popular resident of the Village. He was thoroughly identified with all local interests, and later held responsible town offices, being a Selectman for a number of years.
The records of the " Norfolk " Engine Company begin with the year 1829, and three volumes of manuscript now preserved in the Town Clerk's office give us the details of the Fire Department history to the year 1865.
Next to the engine itself, it would seem from reading these volumes that the most important factor in the company's equipment for fire-fighting was the company's constitution and by-laws. No less than a dozen formidable compositions are spread at length on the records, to say nothing of revisions, amendments, and repeals.
The companies usually organized or re-organized annually, and in only a very few instances does a newly organized company consider the constitution of its predecessors good enough to be adopted without change.
The first constitution recorded, was approved by the Selectmen of Roxbury in 1831, with the following preamble: -
"We, the subscribers, impressed with a sense of duty we owe to ourselves and the public to take every possible measure to protect ourselves and them from the alarming ravages made by fire, do for that purpose form a company to be attached to the Roxbury and Brookline Engine, etc."
" Article I. That the company shall be distinguished by the name of the Norfolk Engine Company."
The following articles specify the duties of the officers, and the obligations and privileges of the members. Article XL, perhaps, being the most interesting.
" Article XL Any person who may wish to become a member of the company must be proposed by some member of the company, and may be balloted for, and if a majority of the members present vote in his favor he shall be entitled to all the privileges of the company by signing the by-laws and paying to the treasurer the sum of one dollar."
Eighty or more signatures are subscribed to this first record of organization in 1829-1830, among which we select Lemuel Foster, Caleb Clark, Jeremiah Davenport, Moses Jones, William H. Brown, Silas Snow, Jeremiah Lyon, John G. Stearns, Clark Haynes, Stephen S. C. Jones, Thomas Seaverns, Henry S. Ward, Daniel L. Perry, Franklin Gerry, Abraham H. Lambert, and Moses Withington.
Miss Woods gives an account of a contest between the new "Norfolk " company and the other companies in the Roxbury department, and probably this is what is referred to in the company's records, which read as follows : -
" 1829, Oct. 4. The company met at two o'clock, thence repaired to Wait's Mill to meet the Roxbury engines under the direction of the Fire Department for exercise and improvement, and returned at sun-setting."
"Voted, That the thanks of the Company be presented to Mr. Davenport for his kind and protecting attention to the company at the exhibition and trial of power."
In 1831, the Punch Bowl department was augmented by a new piece of apparatus, a much needed hook and ladder. This piece of apparatus did not much resemble the fine three-horse truck of 1903, but the company voted to purchase a ladder and case at a cost of $8.25, and that it be located in front of the Punch Bowl Tavern stable, also a fire hook at a reasonable cost; and it was made the duty of every member to forbid any person taking out the ladder except at fires. A committee of two from the company, and one from the people at large, was also appointed " to procure a sucktion and bell for the engine."
In 1832 the company voted to sell a collar and hames, and appropriate the proceeds for the treasurer to purchase a trunk large enough to hold the records and bills. The bills have disappeared, but the records are still preserved by reason of this thoughtfulness. In 1832 the Brookline members petitioned the Selectmen for a remission of poll taxes in consideration of their services as firemen. In 1833 the important item of record was the fire at Mr. G. F. Thayer's schoolhouse. In 1834, the company began to feel that the little house was no longer adequate to the needs of the department, and in February of that year a committee was appointed " to petition the Selectmen to enlarge the house and have a kettle." This kettle was probably to be used in preparing the ever popular chowders which were always a principal feature of the company's hospitalities.
Perhaps the Selectmen did not give the petition sufficient consideration, perhaps the kettle was not large enough, per26 haps there were other reasons, but the resignations followed each other rapidly, without any applications to correspond to keep up the membership, and finally, in June, 1834, the records read : -
" Voted, to disband ourselves from the company; accordingly Clark Haynes, Moses B. Mcintosh, Stephen S. C. Jones, Charles N. Ford, Samuel Craft, Jr. and Henry May left the company."
A new company organized without delay, adopted a constitution, but kept no records, until it also disbanded in April, 1835- E. W. Stone, Reuben Hunting, and Isaac Thayer formulated a new constitution, and it was approved by Charles Stearns, Jr., Daniel Sanderson, and Abijah W. Goddard, Selectmen of Brookline.
This 1835 company, while still "distinguished" by the name of the Norfolk Engine Company, ignored the previous interest of the town of Roxbury as part owner of the engine, and adopted a " Constitution of the Engine Company attached to the Brookline Engine." This 1835 company chose Isaac Thayer foreman, Caleb Clark assistant foreman, and Elisha Stone clerk; and these officers were instructed " to wait on the gentlemen in Roxbury who were the year past attached to the volunteer company and request them to become members of the present Brookline company." Elisha Stone was appointed bell-ringer to the company in case of fire.
On Sept. 7th, 1835, there was a fire at Mr. T. H. Perkins' house. At this fire the conduct of one of the firemen from Roxbury was such as to call for very severe condemnation on the part of the Brookline company, and a vote is recorded disapproving of his acts, and instructing the clerk to publish such vote in the Boston newspapers.
In 1836, a committee consisting of Stephen S. C. Jones, Isaac Thayer, and Marshall Stearns, was appointed to make arrangements and issue invitations at their discretion for a supper at the hotel in Brighton. At this supper the company were greatly delighted to receive from James Leeds, Esq., a complimentary letter enclosing a twenty-dollar bill.
Elisha Stone, clerk of the company, was presumably too, busy with his other duties as Collector of Taxes, Constable, Sexton, Undertaker, Bell-ringer, etc., etc., to give much attention or time to writing up the company's records, as only the very briefest notes are entered during his incumbency. In the next year, 1837, Charles Stearns, Jr., Artemas Newell Samuel A. Robinson, and Seth T. Thayer were among the new names in the company, and David S. Coolidge and Charles W. Tolman were leading hosemen.
The year 1839 marks an epoch in the history of the Brookline Fire Department. At a town meeting a committee was appointed "to see what the town will do with the fire engine."
This committee reported in substance that the old engine did not answer as a suction engine, that a new engine should be a suction engine so as to be more efficient when a supply of water could be availed of, and that Brookline ought to own an engine independent of Roxbury, because Brookline had the whole expense of maintenance, and had to attend to the fires in both towns.
The town endorsed the recommendations of the committee, and a new engine and apparatus was purchased of W. C. Hunneman & Co. for $900. The disposition of the old "Norfolk" was a matter of time. It was proposed to turn the old tub over to Roxbury, to be kept housed in Punch Bowl Village and manned by "a voluntary company," as an emergency company for both towns. No such company was formed, however, and as the engine was rapidly falling into bad condition, it was finally sold, together with ninety-seven feet of old hose and three hose joints, for $197.40, of which amount $50 was paid to Roxbury, and $147.40 retained by Brookline, in proportion to the original subscriptions in 1828.
In the days of the hand fire-engine, when the ambition of the young men of athletic instincts was to belong to the engine company and " run with the machine," great rivalry existed between different organizations and led to friendly but most spirited contests to be first at the fire and throw water the greatest distance. Whenever or wherever the light or smoke of a fire was discovered by day or by night, the boys turned out, manned the rope, and started off for a one, two, three, or five mile run. The Brookline company in one instance, so the record states, ran to Roxbury in response to an alarm given for the light of the moon rising behind the hill. As an example of this readiness to respond to alarms from a distance, it is recorded that there were about fifteen engines from neighboring towns at a fire in Brookline Village on the morning of May 12, 1845.
The introduction and distribution of water by aqueducts and hydrants, the invention and perfection of the steam fire engine, together with the establishing of permanent fire departments, have brought this spirit of rivalry under almost military training and discipline, and the area to be served by each piece of apparatus is carefully regulated so as to leave no spot unguarded.
With a new "up-to-date" suction engine, and a fresh constitution and by-laws, Brookline Engine Company No. 1 was organized in May, 1839. Among the thirty-nine signatures to the agreement or pledge for organization, some of those best known or remembered today are Thomas Seaverns, David S. Coolidge, George W. Stearns, James Bartlett, Samuel Clark, Seth T. Thayer, John Dustin, Augustus T. Newell, Abraham H. Lambert, Charles W. Tolman, William J. Griggs, and Charles Stearns, Jr.
It is interesting to learn from this company's records that the engine was present at a fire of Mr. Pettee's machine shop in Newton on November 25, 1839, and on December 14 of the same year also met at a fire of Mr. Foster's blacksmith shop in the Village. The Pettee Machine Works of Newton, and the blacksmith shop in the Village (now Nagle's) are still doing business at the old stands.
The social side of engine company life was very pronounced about this time, because there were few fires and the zeal and activity of the members had to seek some outlet. In 1841 Brookline No. 1 for the first time recorded, elected a steward, and one George Bell was chosen. Whether there was a difference of opinion in regard to this matter, or whether the steward's efforts were not conducive to harmony, is not known, but evidently something went wrong because on May 20th, 1842, the company voted unanimously to disband. This gave the constitution framers another chance, and their production is spread on the records with the following preamble :-
" From the acknowledged utility of an institution formed for the benefit of our fellow citizens, we, the undersigned, do form ourselves into an association by the name of Brookline Engine Company No. I; and being aware of the great importance of preserving order and giving method to our proceedings, we by our signatures do subject ourselves to the following Laws and Regulations for our government, that we may more effectually fulfill the object of our institution."
Among the signatures to this declaration of principles appear Oliver Whyte, Jr., John W. Blanchard, Charles Trowbridge, Horace Cousens, and Patrick Dillon. Hugh M. Sanborn was chosen foreman and Oliver Whyte, Jr., clerk.
July 4th, 1842, was a gala day for Brookline Engine Company No. I. At six o'clock in the morning they went to the Baptist meeting-house and worked the engine, then to the rear of Lyceum Hall and worked it again. After returning the engine to the house, they adjourned to the hall, and partook of a breakfast which had been provided through the generosity of friends and which was so highly appreciated by the members of the company that a card of thanks was published in the Boston papers.
Elaborate preparations for the annual supper of 1842 were made, and it was voted to invite Dr. Pierce and Rev. Mr. Shailer free of charge, and also to engage two or more glee singers. Forty-three subscribers agreed to pay one dollar each for a supper at the Cattle Fair Hotel (Brighton), all liquors, cigars, and amusements to be extra. As soon as so large an attendance was assured, the company " reconsidered the vote of invitation to the two reverend dispensers of the gospel," so the record reads, but the glee singers evidently were on hand when the celebration took place.
It was the custom to ring the church bell when an alarm of fire was to be given, and the bell on the Baptist Church was the one usually rung. The Baptist Church was then what is now known as Harvard Building, facing Harvard Square. It was erected in 1828 and used until the present church was built in 1859. The deacons and brethren, however, did not allow any interference with the services even for an alarm of fire, as is recorded in at least two instances.
To quote the record of the Clerk of January 20, 1843 : -
" An alarm of fire was given this eve at 1/2 past eight (I said alarm, it was not an alarm inasmuch as the bell did not ring, though the Co. did what they could towards it by hullooing). "
"There was an attempt to ring the bell, but the proprietors of the church (as there was a meeting in the vestry) dispatched their infatigable [?] sexton, Mr. Luther Seaverns, to allow no one to ring the bell. The fire was on the old Porter Estate in Cambridge near the Colleges.
"April 16, 1843. An alarm of fire was given this eve. Came from Roxbury. The proprietors of the Brookline Baptist Church Refused to allow the Bell to be rung because they had a meeting in the vestry, thereby refusing that the engine and company should help their Roxbury neighbors in case of fire."
In 1843 the Engine Company manifested much zeal in the cause of the Temperance Reform movement. This was shown principally by the acceptance of invitations and attendance at the anniversary exercises of the Roxbury Washington Total Abstinence Society, and the Jamaica Plain Total Abstinence Society. Brookline Engine Company was present at both these anniversary functions with considerable style and enthusiasm, which called forth the following from the Jamaica Plain Society :-
"Resolved, that the thanks of this society be extended to the Brookline Engine Company No. 1 for their attendance at the anniversary of our Society, and that we hail with pleasure the glorious example which they have set in uniting themselves in the great and glorious cause of temperance."
This being held up for an example was too much for the Engine Company, and at the next meeting after formally accepting the resolutions the company voted to disband.
Another organization immediately followed with James Bartlett, foreman; Thomas Seaverns, assistant foreman; James Morse, clerk; and during this regime the department met with a serious misfortune, as fully set forth in the records :-
"Sept. 12, 1843. Was called out to a fire which proved to be the engine house, which was totally consumed. Engine was saved, although in a ruinous condition, and the total loss of the hose carriage and hose attached,"
It was supposed that this fire was caused by somebody who was disgruntled over some personal slight, real or imagined, as the engine was so blocked that there was much delay and difficulty in getting it out of the house. Before the engine could be repaired, the company was called out on September 14th, and responded with the usual readiness to a request for assistance from Boston, for a great fire in which were burned ten buildings on Harrison avenue, and six buildings on Washington street. The company clerk records the event as follows :-
" Sept. 14. Was called out to a fire. Went a short distance when it was found to be in the city, and owing to the rapidity with which it was raging and the high state of the wind it was deemed advisable by a majority of the company to proceed, which was accordingly done and proved of great service to them."
No. 1 was sent to Hunneman for repairs, a substitute engine was supplied for emergencies, and a barn was utilized as a temporary engine house.
The Town Hall, now Pierce Hall, Walnut street, had been set apart for a High School, and in 1843, a committee consisting of Samuel Philbrick, Charles Stearns, Jr., Abijah W. Goddard, Daniel Sanderson, and Timothy Corey was appointed to consider the matter of a new Town Hall and a store-house for the engine.
This action of the town was no doubt hastened by the impatience of the Engine Company, which adopted the following Preamble and Resolutions : -
"Nov. 14,1843. Whereas Owing to the inconveniences that the members of the Brookline Engine Company have been subjected to of late by the desolation of their engine house by fire and the long time that has elapsed since they have had any deposit for their engine save that of a Barn, and the prospect of a still longer time owing to the neglect of the officers of said town to take decisive action for said company, who are in duty bound to secure and protect all public property of said town, therefore,
"Resolved, That we as Members of Brookline Engine Company feel it a sense of duty which we owe to ourselves to adopt measures for the total annihilation of said fire department.
"Resolved, That in so doing we deem it our duty as freemen to be relieved from all duty as a fire department in a town where so little interest is manifested for their welfare.
"Resolved, That we do agree to disband and give up said Engine to the town, return the Book, etc., to the Selectmen of said Town."
"This is signed by twelve members of the disbanded company, evidently all that remained of the old guard after the temperance campaign of the year preceding.
The town was now facing a dilemma. The engine had come back from the builders in first class condition, but there was no company to take charge of it, no house to keep it in, and as the resolutions would have it, "no interest in the welfare of the department." The citizens of the town, however, faced the crisis and relieved the situation at once.
Forty-nine names were immediately secured to the following agreement :-
"The undersigned feeling desirous that the Brookline Fire Engine in case of fire may be in a condition to render all that service of which it is capable
" We do therefore cheerfully volunteer to render our best services, in case of fire in Brookline, or its immediate vicinity, until a more efficient and better organized Fire Department may be constituted.- Brookline, Nov. 24, 1843."
Among these, some of the names are those of Thomas Griggs, Otis and Moses Withington, Timothy Corey, Timothy Corey, Jr., F. Henry Corey, Edward Hall, Charles Wild, Daniel Sanderson, Samuel Philbrick, Isaac Dearborn, Jesse Bird, John Bird, George Gushing, Marshall Stearns, Benjamin B. Davis, E. R. Secomb, Harrison Fay, and others. At a public meeting, Dec. 1, 1843, at the Town House, Deacon Thomas Griggs was called to the chair, Otis Withington acted as secretary, and Henry S. Ward was chosen foreman, Seth F. Thayer assistant foreman, Marshall Stearns clerk, J. Davenport steward.
The newly organized company asked the Selectmen to prepare the essential constitution and by-laws, and passed a vote of thanks to be presented to the old company. At a subsequent meeting time was saved by adopting the old constitution, after which it was decided to provide runners for the engine, and horse power to draw it, and Caleb Clark was "appointed a committee to ring the bell of Dr. Pierce's Meeting House whenever he shall judge it necessary." This was the only company which did not organize from a most serious sense of duty to themselves and the community, but simply "cheerfully volunteered." After six months' existence, on July 1st, 1844, it was voted to give notice to the Selectmen that it would disband on the first Monday in August, at sunset. Under date of August 3d, however, the record says that the engine was drawn with great velocity to Jamaica Plain, for an alarm which appeared to be produced by the burning of some shavings.
To quote a curious note interpolated in the record :-
"This company disbanded without noise, nobody knows when, and the next we hear of any proceedings of the Fire Department in Brookline bears the date of Sept. 2, 1844. At this eventful era, a new and commodious Engine House having been built by the Town, a convention was held for the purpose of forming a new Engine Company, whose proceedings may be seen on turning over this leaf."
The commodious new house referred to was a two-story wooden building, still remembered by our older residents, erected on Washington street, the present site of Fire Department headquarters. There -was a difference of opinion as to accepting this location, many preferring the old location near the brook where the former house stood, but Seth T. Thayer offered the town 874 square feet of land for $100 for the purpose, which was accepted on the following condition, "Said lot of land to be used for the purpose of erecting thereon a building for an engine house to be used on said land as such exclusively." According to the Town Treasurer's reports, the land and building cost $2,901.41.
A public meeting was held in the new house on the evening of Sept. 2, 1844, at which an address was drawn up and signed as follows : -
" Officers of the Town :
" Sirs : Owing to the little interest that has been manifested during the past year by the young men of the town of Brookline as regards the Fire Department, those who are the Bone and Muscle of your town, and knowing her to have been but feebly manned by our much respected and aged Sires, and for the last two or three months no fire department at all in a town that has justly been termed the ' Garden of New England,' we could not but deem it our duty to unite ourselves together, providing the Town will give us suitable encouragement, once more to join ourselves together by subscribing our names to a paper, etc."
Thirty-nine of the " Bone and Muscle of the town " signed this address, and after the list was approved by the Selectmen the company organized with Alfred Tufts, foreman; Augustus Allen, assistant foreman; James Morse, clerk; Alfred Tufts, Moses Withington, and B. F. Baker, standing committee.
It was voted to procure a bell to be placed on top of the engine house and also a sign with the name of the engine for the front of the house. The "Bone and Muscle" also provided that twenty-five feet of rope additional be annexed to the engine. Among some of the new names in 1844 were Ephraim Church, Oliver Cousens, Edward A. Wild, Thomas Pettengill, Ansel Waterman, Joshua A. Little.
The clerk chosen failed to give satisfaction, and the vacancy caused by his resignation was filled by the election of Dr. Edward A. Wild.
"Ned Wild," afterwards Captain of Co. A, First Massachusetts Volunteers, and later Brigadier-General, gave to his duties as clerk of Brookline No. 1 the same ability and enthusiasm which he later in life manifested in wider fields. He served from November 11, 1844, until October 6, 1845, when he was given an honorable discharge on account of leaving town for the winter. The records during his incumbency make amusing and interesting reading and a few items may well be quoted : -
" Dec. 26, 1844. An alarm of fire from Charlestown about 1/4 before 9 P. M. The Company drew the engine 1/2 mile, and then, rather than be disappointed of their fun, playfully squirted at Lyceum Hall and over
the neighboring hickory pole.
"Jan. 29, 1845. The company met and drew the engine to the top of the hill in Roxbury. The fire was in Salem.
"Jan. 30, 1845. 1 o'clock A.M. A serious fire having been burning for some time in Roxbury, the Roxbury department at 1 o'clock this morning sent up for our aid with two horses. The company went and worked for a long time under very embarrassing and difficult circumstances; then they were supplied with refreshments by Roxbury No. 1.
"March 3, 1845. Voted, That a committee of three be appointed to keep an eye upon the officers of the town and assist them with their advice in case the town at their next meeting shall grant us better suction, &c.
"April 30, 1845. About 8 3/4 o'clock on Wednesday evening, a fire was seen in West Roxbury or Dorchester, about five miles distant. The company (without a horse) was the second to reach the spot. Returned at 12.
"May 10, 1845. Saturday afternoon about 3 o'clock an alarm came from Newton. The company ran to the top of Vengeance Hill and walked back.
"May 12, 1845. Monday morning at 8 1/4, the barn of Mr. Benjamin B. Davis, our townsman, was burnt, including pigs, hay, horse, carryall, etc. It was set on fire by an enraged beggar, who escaped, notwithstanding a vigorous pursuit by several patriotic individuals (one in particular). Half the houses in the Village were in danger of being set on fire by flying cinders. About 15 engines were here from the neighboring towns. Some companies were refreshed. The same evening (May 12) at 9 1/2, the house of Thos. A. Davis, present Mayor of Boston, in Linden place, was discovered to be on fire in the cellar (probably from carelessness). The engine was on the spot in an instant, but the fire was extinguished by hand. Damage small, being confined to hay, shavings, and nice rustin apples.
"Aug. 19, 1845. Tuesday noon at 2 o'clock an alarm of fire from some unknown land. The company ran to the railroad in Roxbury and found themselves no nearer the fire than at starting.
"Oct. 6, 1845. After the regular monthly meeting, the company proceeded to organize themselves as a militia company, and to drum up volunteers for the celebration of the defeat of Cornwallis, soon to be held. On the appointed day they proceeded to the battle field and showed their patriotism and valor and then dispersed and returned from their military to their civil duties.
E. A. W. Surgeon."
B. F. Baker succeeded Clerk Wild and served until May, 1846. During his incumbency, it is recorded that Brookline No. I did good service at the burning of the mills of the Roxbury Iron Co., when the loss was $100,000, and also gained much credit for their assistance at a fire on the Brook Farm, West Roxbury, at which they were handsomely entertained by the proprietors.
A large gang was required to work the old hand engine with success, and the population of Brookline sixty years ago was only 852 males and 830 females. To secure the necessary membership for the company, a canvasser was paid to circulate a paper for thirty-five or forty signatures in the spring of 1846, and his efforts brought a great deal of new life into the organization. Fifty members signed the constitution and started making history with a new record book. William K. Melcher, James M. Seamans, Reuben A. Chace, and Royal Woodward were signers of the roll in 1846, with G. H. Peck as foreman and Edward F. Brigden as clerk.
At the first meeting of this company it was decided to be inexpedient to go out of Brookline unless absolutely needed at some large fire in some of the adjoining towns. On the morning of July 4th, 1846, the company met at half past five o'clock, proceeded with the tub to the Village, played her out through three hundred feet of hose, then proceeded to the Orthodox meeting-house and played her out again, then returned to the engine house and sat down to breakfast prepared by friends of the company. During this year, and for the next few years, few alarms were given for fires in Brookline, and the company devoted nearly all its time to a strenuous social life. On the 7th of December, 1846, the Selectmen by vote were invited to partake of the company chowder.
" The company formed themselves into couples, proceeded down stairs, and after waiting some time the Fathers of the town arrived. The company arose and remained uncovered while they passed upstairs. The chowder was then attacked as though we were half starved- and such a chowder, as fit to his Majesty, the best ever made in Brookline."
The temperance question came to the front again in 1847, but alas for the company, the glorious example of the Washingtonian era was not followed. Trouble ensued and out of it the Fire Department gained much discredit, although the innocent majority no doubt suffered for the offensive minority. The immediate cause of the trouble was a small bill of $13.75 for refreshments furnished after a fire in the Village. These refreshments, so the records say, " were liquid, something carried in a bucket and which smelt very strong of brandy." This bill the Selectmen refused to approve, and this disapproval displeased a considerable number of the company. The Selectmen's account of the affair recites that the Engine Company met, and raised the flag half-mast, union down, evidently as a public demonstration of contempt and disrespect for the authority of the Selectmen.
The Selectmen at once enforced measures for discipline, discharging some of the members and putting new officers in charge. At the June meeting a long evening was spent in very acrimonious discussion by the company, which was becoming much heated and quite personal, when the gathering was broken up by an alarm of fire; the company manned the rope, ran as far as Jamaica Plain, returned to the house, and disbanded.
The Selectmen without delay took action officially and passed this order : -
" In view of the present deranged state of the Fire Department and the abandonment of the engine by the company for the current year, the town being without any adequate fire protection, the Selectmen appoint officers to serve the remainder of the year, and invite such young men, to the number of thirty-seven, who feel an interest in the public welfare to become members."
The officers appointed were George Stoddard foreman, George Peck assistant foreman, Oliver Whyte clerk.
This company of 1847 gave strict attention to the duty for which they were appointed, and the Selectmen published the following in January, 1848 :-
" The undersigned avail themselves of the opportunity of expressing their entire satisfaction with the management of the Fire Department under its present organization, and the disposition manifested by the officers and members of the company to attend to the necessary duties of firemen in a quiet and orderly manner, in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the inhabitants of the town, meets with their unqualified approbation."
The fires of 1848 resulted in serious loss, the "Green" house, Pleasant street, and the " Harris " house, Harvard street, both due to a lack of water, and it is a coincidence that immediately following these losses the present system of water supply was introduced into town by the laying of the Cochituate water supply pipes through Brookline to Boston. A hydrant was located in the Village and others along the line of the main on Boylston street.
The next year the Selectmen voted "to form a Hydrant company who are to have the whole charge of the hydrant at all fires, under the general supervision of the Selectmen, said company to consist of eight men." In 1849 the engine was thoroughly repaired and $30 of the company's funds were expended in ornamenting the engine, including the inscription of the new motto selected from many suggested : -
" OUR AIM THE PUBLIC GOOD."
The roll for 1850 shows Charles P. Trowbridge foreman, B. F. Baker second foreman, C. L. Palmer clerk; and among the members Alfred Kenrick, Dennis Driscoll, Daniel Duffley, Francis Henry Corey, Peter W. Pierce, George S. Gushing, and Reuben Chace.
The worst fire for some time occurred Sept. 30, 1850, the burning of Col. Perkins' house at one o'clock in the morning. The Engine Company did good work and later received a substantial present from Col. Perkins.
(Of the 1851 company some members are still living in Brookline : William K. Melcher, Terrence Gallagher, Michael Ouinlan, and Daniel Duflfley.)
During the years 1848-1851, there were quite a number of fires in Brookline, all evidently of incendiary origin, and the records of the Selectmen show a number of offers of rewards for the detection and conviction of the culprits.
Rewards offered specify fires at Higginson's, J. Howe's, T. W. Woodward's, William Dwight's, Gooding's, and E. L. Wetherell's. The town unanimously voted a reward of $1,000, and sundry persons were appointed and paid as special watchmen. J. Davenport supplied $14 worth of watchmen's rattlers and watch hooks.
Every member of the Fire Department became an amateur prototype of Sherlock Holmes, with the result that several arrests followed and at least one conviction. In 1852, Augustus Allen and A. H. Clapp received the reward of $200 for arresting one Thaxter Prouty, who was afterwards duly convicted of having set fire to Thomas N. Woodward's barn. By vote of the Selectmen June 7, 1852, J. Davenport was made a committee to procure a fire hook and ladder for the use of the Fire Department, and oilcloth suits for hosemen. The Hook and Ladder was purchased in 1855 at a cost of $200, and $30 was expended in repainting. This piece of apparatus was purchased from Roxbury, having been condemned for use in that department, and remained in the service of the Brookline department for nearly twenty years, but with no organized company to take charge of it. A company was organized in February, 1871, under the name of George H. Stone Hook and Ladder Co., and the old truck was exchanged as soon as possible thereafter for something more suitable.
The land and house for the Hook and Ladder truck was provided in 1855, at a cost of $1,694.41, and by vote of the Selectmen was put in charge of Reuben A. Chace.
The Catholic Church was seriously damaged by fire in 1855. The church was a large wooden building on Andem place where today is the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Co. The Engine Company did service deserving of great praise, not only saving the building from total destruction, but also a large amount of valuable property in the immediate vicinity. The efforts of the firemen were much handicapped by some miscreant who deliberately cut the leading hose of the engine, and after repairs had been made cut it again. For information as to the perpetrator of this offence the Selectmen offered a substantial reward, but no conviction ever followed.
Fire Department matters were practically at a standstill from 1855 to i860. For the greater part of the time there was no organized company, but the apparatus was kept in good condition for emergencies. In 1856 there were no fires, and in 1857 only two alarms and those of little consequence. In 1858 an attempt was made to organize a company, but of the names suggested not enough met the approval of the Selectmen. The Selectmen sent a communication to the would-be organizers which contained two votes that could not be misunderstood :-
"Voted, Not to approve the names sent in to the Board May 12th.
"Voted, That the remainder of those men who were approved be and are hereby honorably discharged from the company."
Among those who then received their honorable discharge from the company were B. W. Neal, William Stearns, P. S. Allen, Alonzo Bowman, and Charles H. Stearns. The Clerk of that day faithfully performed his duties, wrote out the full account of the meeting, and closed his record with this expression of personal disappointment :-
" Any person who will examine the foregoing records will be justified in concluding, at the present time, there is 'No Balm in Gilead.'"
In 1860 the Selectmen gave official approval to an organization to take charge of the department, with these officers : A. H. Waterman, H. Orcutt, and George H. Stearns, foreman and assistants, W. Y. Gross clerk, and D. T. Kenrick, T. S. Pettengill, B. W. Neal, D. B. Sawyer, and J. H. Woods, standing committee.
This company was called out at half past three in the morning of June 27, 1860, for the burning of a house in White place owned by S. A. Walker. At this fire the efficient clerk of the company was so severely injured as to disable him for weeks, and to show their appreciation of their fellow fireman the company formally voted to remit his fines incurred by absence, and subscribed liberally to a purse for his benefit.
There were a good many alarms for fires in 1860, but possibly the one of most interest, historically, was the one given at 8 p. M. on Nov. 12th. This alarm was caused by the ringing of the bell on the Unitarian meeting-house in honor of Lincoln's election, but the Engine Company turned out and ran as far as Boylston street before learning the true cause of the alarm.
By a vote passed August 5, 1862, the sum of two dollars was added to the amount due those members that had gone to the war, and in the September following W. Y. Gross was given an honorable discharge and presented with a revolver.
In 1864 the Selectmen's appreciation of the Engine Company's services was published in their annual report as follows :-
" By their activity and promptness they prevented a serious conflagration of Mr. Cusick's house on Washington street, and in this as in every instance did all they could in accordance with their motto, 'Our aim the public good.' "
The " Good Intent Hose Co." was organized in 1865, to take charge of the extra hose and of the hook and ladder. For the accommodation of this company and other additions to the department anticipated to be needed soon, the brick building now facing Village Square was built, on the so-called "Whyte lot," and was occupied in 1870.
With this step, so far in advance of anything preceding it, came the change in policy in regard to Fire Department management recommended by the Selectmen in their next year's annual report :-
"We therefore recommend the town to omit the choice of Firewards at the annual March meeting, and that the Selectmen appoint a Board of Engineers so that ' as with the growth of the town this department must naturally increase, its affairs can be economically administered and its efficiency promoted by being placed under its proper head.'"
The town adopted the recommendation and the first Board of Fire Engineers consisted of Alfred Kenrick, Jr., chairman, Reuben A. Chace, Henry Collins, Nicholas Watson, and J. Thomas Waterman clerk.
With the passing of the Firewards ends the story of the old volunteer organizations. The story of the department since 1871 should be told in an entirely different style, and certainly at some other time.