of the Second Annual Convention
Five County Volunteer Firemen's Association of Northern Pennsylvania
Thursday and Friday, September 2nd and 3rd, 1897
HISTORY OF ATHENS FIRE DEPARTMENT
||An unbroken record of nearly fifty years is that of the Athens Fire
Department. Like all or most of the efficient institutions of men, it had
its early small beginning, and its time of trial and days of cloud, but
has struggled, lived and now, at all events flourishes. About the first
fire in Athens, whether it was one that suggested organizing a fire company
or not, was that of an incendiary Indian, who playfully entered a habitation,
kindled a fire in the hall, and stood over it until the building was in
flames, the family looking on in silent fear. When these noble red fire-bugs
were driven out of the country, there was more of a show for insurance
and fire companies.
It is said by some elderly Athenians that they can remember when Dana
Park and Squire H. C. Baird constituted the borough or village fire department-Dana
with his ladder and Baird with his bucket, and to see them race at the
first alarm tap was a sight indeed!
|G. F. MACAFEE
Chief Engineer of Athens Fire Department.
As this was really the first organization, it was in order to give it a name, and the one selected was the "Protection Engine Company, No. 1." And the boys resolved to parade on the coming Fourth of July in full uniform. A blue silk banner was secured, and the ladies embroidered on it in blazing letters: "Protection Engine Company, Athens, Pa.-Always ready," and a gala day it was in Athens "when the band began to play." Ike Snell carried the proud banner, and no prouder man ever went marching down the street. The Company, in their new uniforms, marched over the bridge, led by Jabez Stone’s martial band, to where is now the Hill tannery, where they received their visitors, the Towanda companies, which came up on the canal packet boat, "Gazelle," that had braved the perils of the raging canal. When the "Franklins" and "Naiads" had been thus received, all joined in procession, and marched back to the "Exchange Hotel," and at 10 a.m. the procession formed; the town was gaily decorated, and from every house and every window fluttered welcoming flags to those brave and scarred fire-fighters in their resplendent uniforms. The parade over, they marched to the foot of Ferry street, to test the engines.
The Junction Iron Works were moved from Athens in August, 1856, and this caused Merriam and Harder to resign, and C. T. Hull was made foreman, and Noble Ruggles, assistant; A. H. Spaulding, chief, and J. H. Wilson, secretary.
At the annual election, January 3, 1857, the following were chosen: James H. Wilson, foreman; T. R. Davis, Jr., assistant; C. T. Hull, secretary; A. H. Spaulding, chief engineer, and L. W. Burchard, assistant. After the closing of the Junction Iron Works, the Company found quarters at J. H. Wilson’s, and their place of practicing was the tall chimney of Gillett’s brewery, which was destroyed by fire.
Dissensions arose in the Company, and interest began to flag. On August 3, 1857, a resolution to disband was passed. At the same time a request was made to C. T. Hull to call a public meeting to organize a new company. A meeting was held, and an informal emergency company was enrolled, but a general demoralization on the subject prevailed.
To this time the principal fires in Athens were: J. B. Brockway’s house in 1847, which stood where is now J. L. Elsbree’s residence; adjoining and burned was Hiram Merithew’s small shoe-maker’s shop, from which Merrithew hustled out in such a hurry that he lost his wooden leg.
In 1851 the row of wooden business houses that stood where is now the old brick block, down town, were burned. In this fire passed away the old "Eagle Hotel" building; Billy Wilson’s store, William Mier’s cabinet shop, and Grant Snell’s new frame store, not finished; the Methodist church, "Barrack Row"-tenement houses-and the Episcopal church building. This fire swept away all the business houses on Main street, churches, and Barrack Row, clear to the river on Chemung street, a great calamity to the town.
In 1856 the "Exchange Hotel" barns, sheds, and Dr. William Kiff’s house were burned. It was one of the hottest days in July. This was only a few days after the great parade of "Protection" Company, and the engine was worked mightily, and soon pumped the cistern dry, so a bucket brigade leading to the river was put in force.
Soon after this Patrick’s old brick block was burned. It was rebuilt in its present form. Then the Page store and John Drake’s residence went up in flames. Drake’s residence was one of the old Clement Paine buildings.
In the order following were the fires that destroyed Dorsey’s livery stable, Pike’s hotel and the wooden row of buildings on the east side of Main street; Edwin White’s tin shop, which stood near where is R. N. Lowe’s residence, and with it went the Presbyterian church; then F. R. Lyon’s cabinet shop and the second brick Presbyterian church building.
The Junction Iron Works buildings were burned in 1872, unoccupied at the time. In the vicinity where is now the heavy part of the business on Main street were "hot grounds." The Hemlock row was burned, but other buildings took its place, and they too were burned.
In the meantime the continued indifference to having a live fire company finally paved the way to its rehabilitation. Periodical attempts, at all events renewed efforts after every fire, had been made to this end, and 1877 witnessed the hour and the men when the Athenians should once more become active fire-fighters. A meeting was held at Mitchell Bros.’ Store, and at this meeting appeared Joseph M. Ely, who was fresh from an extended experience with the noted Excelsior Hose Company, No. 14, of New York, and he and C. T. Hull took the matter in hand. The old hand engine and cart were purchased that had fallen into the hands of Blood & Co., a committee was appointed, and six months after the council provided laws and regulations that resulted in the present Fire Department. A lot was purchased on Bridge street at the request of all the leading citizens. A company of eighty members, composed of the best citizens was soon organized, and Protection Company, No. 1, was revived, and the name changed to Protection Hose and Engine Company, No. 1, and at all these preliminary meetings J. M. Ely was secretary and one of the moving spirits. June 7, 1878, an election was held and the following officers chosen: Joseph M. Ely, chief engineer; Charles T. Hull, first assistant chief; Dana F. Park, second assistant chief.
At the special meeting, June 8, 1878, the following general officers were elected: T. D. Wolcot, president; M. R. Heath, vice-president; M. W. Nevins, secretary; George T. Ercanbrack, financial secretary; F. T. Page, treasurer; George A. Kinney and Joseph Hines, trustees; E. G. Fitch, member of fire board; Charles Morse, foreman; John Carroll, assistant forman; H. Carpenter and Ard Crous, pipemen. A new and elaborate uniform was prescribed. With their new company and new uniforms they were ready for invitations, and went to Waverly in September, accompanied by the Athens Cornet Band. New hose, 200 feet, had been secured by a public subscription, and the next year the borough purchased a leather hose. The first building was provided as follows: Mr. Ely knowing the bourough could do nothing, found a man who could furnish the lumber and wait three years for his pay; it was purchased and the members volunteered to do the work, several put in as much as two months’ steady work on it. It was put up in the fall of 1878. The ladies gave a festival, and raised funds to complete and furnish the building.
For 1879 Ely, Hull and Park were re-elected. During this year there had been three fires, and this made it plain that a fire alarm was needed. Seventy dollars were subscribed, mostly by the company, a bell purchased, and swung.
After this thorough re-organization, the principal fires, in addition to those given above, were: October 15, 1879, F. R. Lyon’s cabinet factory, and John Carroll’s residence and the Presbyterian church-losses $12,300: May 19, 1880, Novelty Furniture Works, fire room: May 26, following, frame dwelling foot of Chestnut street; December 27, 1881, John Merritt’s livery stable, Mrs. Stone’s dwelling and Dr. Towner’s barn: May 27, 1882, the old toll-house and Chemung bridge; March 10, 1863, Mrs. Murray’s new frame dwelling, loss $3,000; May 13, 1883, Seth Ellsbree’s three-story double brick, corner Elm and Main streets, loss $10,500; November 4, 1883, barns in rear of Pad Factory; June, 1884, Novelty Furniture Works, Ralph Tozer’s coal office and sheds, Dana Macafee’s grain barn and contents, Daily’s wagon storage, and the Furniture Works’ lumber yard-loss $120,300, insurance, $45,000; December 27, 1884, two and a half story double store building on Main street, belonging to N. C. Harris and occupied by Pike & Lowe: November 28, 1885, contents cellar under Pad Factory: July 3, 1886, W. Carner’s dwelling, partial loss; July 18, 1886, kitchen of D. H. Park’s dwelling: December 18, 1886, the frame hammer shop of Bridge Works.
February 4, 1891, the old "Exchange Hotel" burned. This was a notable old building, once the very heart and center of the village, but now in lower town, and the business has passed away from its locality. It had stood for sixty years, and was at one time a noted stage stand on the great southwest thoroughfare through the county. It sheltered in its day most of the notable men of Pennsylvania or New York-Buchanan, Fremont, VanBuren, Greely, Wilmot, Graw, "Dick" Johnson (Tecumseh’s slayer) and a host of others-a land mark, truly, in northern Pennsylvania. For fifteen years or more it was "too far down town," and when it was built it was thought "it is too far up town." It burned at the dead of night, and to some the greatest loss was the destruction of the old tavern rounded sign that swung so long before the front door.
It was about the year 1887, or previous to the burning of the Exchange Hotel, that the one hose company seemed to be inadequate for the sufficient protection to the increasing population, and the needs of another hose company was thought a necessity. Public sentiment became so strong at this time that C. T. Hull Hose Company was organized. This company, apparently a success at its beginning, became handicapped from the lack of patronage of the town, consequently the burden of support fell upon C. T. Hull. True to his principle, he carried the company for two years, uniforming them in handsome cream colored shirts, but was forced to withdraw his support later, which caused the company to disband. This company was a good one; many words of praise have often been spoken in their behalf, and it was with much reluctance on the part of the members, and a source of much regret from their many admirers when their disbandment became a reality.
Undaunted, Stephen Finch began the agitation of a fire company for North Athens. With an earnest solicitation among the employees at the Union Bridge Works, a meeting was called to those interested to meet at the small coal office at the railroad crossing near the depot. It was here on Aug. 29, 1890, that Union Hose began. Its members from the first were restricted to employes only of the Union Bridge Co., and in honor of the above company the name "Union" was taken. Very few know why the name Union was taken, or that the members are all employes of the bridge company, but such is the fact. For several years meetings were held in this small coal office. The homes of most of the members are in North Athens, and from this modest beginning, with a manifested determination, undaunted by many discouraging features, they have at last a foundation so substantial that they are today one of the strongest organizations of the kind in the valley. "Always on hand," is their motto. At the first alarm they start; a more brave lot of flame fighters could not be found. Today Union Hose, No. 3, while not the oldest company in Athens, share the equal admiration and high esteem of the citizens of Athens. Their hose house on North Main street is a modern structure, built especially to meet the needs of this organization. Their handsomely furnished parlors are admired by all; their drilling and military maneuvors have clearly demonstrated the pride and interest of its members.
To enumerate the various daring deeds and elucidate upon the many virtues of the members of this company would require more space than is at hand in this little souvenir. These men are actuated by the most unselfish motives, to devote their time and service gratuitously, for the benefit of their fellow citizens, and particularly for the protection of those who are fortunate enough to own property.
|CHARLES T. HULL
Protection Hose Company owes its present state of success largely to C. T. Hull, who is entitled to the Distinction of having been an active member of Protection Hose longer than any other citizen of the place, having joined the company Nov. 10, 1856. He was elected chief of Fire Department January 1, 1885, which office he held for seven years. He has spared no pains or expense to make the department efficient and worthy.
(Photos are scanned from poor quality photocopy)
Published On Tri-Counties Site On 6/20/2001
By Joyce M. Tice