SOMETHING like sixty-three years ago, the firm of Samuel Slater & Sons bought a small "tub," without suction, fed with pails of water, known as "Tiger No. 1". This was stationed at the South Village. Subsequently, the same firm purchased a second machine, with suction, which was stationed at the East Village and another, smaller one, which was used for the protection of North Village.
In 1845, Henry H. Stevens, well known in connection with the Stevens Linen Works, realizing the necessity of some fire organization for the town, started a movement among the citizens and headed a subscription for such organization. In this he was assisted very materially by Solomon Shumway, who gave, not only of his time but money to further the movement. These two men, more than any others, deserve the credit of originating and establishing the Fire Department of the town of Webster, which today is one of the best organized and equipped of any similar department in the state.
One of the earliest fires of which there is record occurred on the site of the present Hotel De Witt. This was in 1846. Pails of water were passed from hand to hand and thus the fire was fought. The late John F. Hines took charge on this occasion by general consent. The necessity of a good organization or department was then realized more than ever. The work which had been begun by Mr. Stevens and Mr. Shumway was vigorously pushed, public meetings were held, prominent citizens of the town subscribed liberally to a fund and the town was induced to purchase its first hand fire machine.
The "General Taylor, No, 2" was the first machine of any moment operated by the "fire boys" of Webster. A company was organized, of which Captain Stein was foreman, and the late Martin Aldrich, clerk. From that day to the present the Webster Fire Department has held a warm place in the hearts of the people of the town, and on its roster have been found many of our most distinguished as well as our most enterprising citizens.
On July 4th, 1846, the department, or fire company, as it was then called, held its first celebration, having for guests the fire company of Millbury. The whole town turned out en masse and the occasion was one long to be remembered.
When Webster Hall was destroyed by fire in 1873, much valuable property of the department was lost, including the records from 1846 to 1859. Little can be said, therefore, in relation to the history of the department during this period. It is certain, however, that the department lost nothing of its old time energy and life, and the spirit that was infused into it by the original incorporators was in no ways abated.
In an old roster of 1859, we the names of men who not only encouraged and supported by their means and service the Fire Department, but were useful and efficient servants of the people in many public capacities. Amos Bartlett, George Tracy, Horace I. Joslin, D. Wellington, Leonard Barnes, Samuel J. Leavins, Henry E. Bugbee, R. B. Eddy, Joel Goddard, C. E. Brown, Horace H. Cady, Francis Bugbee, Lucius E. Mansfield, D. A. Brown and others are found on this "roll of honor." Many of these men had been in the department years previous to this time, some from the very beginning of the department.
In the fire company organized April 4, 1859, were H. E. Bugbee, Foreman; Leonard Barnes, 2nd Foreman; D. A. Brown; 3rd Foreman; H. I. Joslin, Treasurer; S. A. Tingier, Clerk. Mr. Bugbee was foreman for many years, holding the office until 1865, when he was succeeded by Byron J. Shumway. The other members of this company also served for many years, and through their earnest and efficient labors helped to place the department in the front rank of fire fighters.
The first contest of any note, and what might be termed the first muster, in which the Webster firemen engaged, took place at Oxford, Mass., with the DeWitt Hand Fire Engine Company of the latter place, Sept. 10, 1859. On that occasion the Webster boys went to Oxford, but the reports do not say that they were particularly successful in the contest.
Later in the month, the Oxford firemen came to Webster. The result of this contest was somewhat different. The General Taylor won, "both perpendicular and horizontal." A supper was served that evening in the old Fenner Hall, now a part of the McQuaid Block. Soloman Shumway was marshall on that occasion, Capt. Amos Bartlett was chosen orator, while the late Dr. Fred D. Brown acted as toast-master. This was a grand affair for the department and the older "fire boys" living today who participated, hold it among their most pleasant recoil captions.
Henry A. Stevens, Lyman Sheldon, H, M. Dresser, Nathan Joslin, Stearns Harris, B A. Corbin, Edward Robinson, Hiram Allen, Nathan Chamberlain, R. O. Storrs, Josiah Perry, Soloman Shumway, Emory Sibley, Edward W. Mixer and Asahiel Mansfield were the committee of citizens who co-operated with the firemen to make the above affair a success. It will be seen that the most prominent men of the town in that day were' interested in the fire department. Such has been the case throughout its history.
The old "General Taylor" had a long and honorable career. It was sold in 1873 to a New Hampshire manufacturing concern for the protection of its property. Besides those mentioned who saw service with this machine, it is only proper and fitting to mention others whose names occur on the roster.
As has been stated, Byron J. Shumway succeeded H. E. Bugbee as foreman. Thomas McQuaid was 2nd Foreman and L. E. Mansfield 3rd Foreman, associated with Mr. Shumway. The latter was presented by his company with a handsome sliver trumpet, of which to-day he is properly proud.
In 1867, Horace I. Joslin was elected Foreman of the General Taylor, No. 2 Company and was afterwards re-elected to the same position. Among those who served with Mr. Joslin may be mentioned the following: Eben S. Stevens, as 2nd Foreman; Marcus Allard as 3rd Foreman; Francis Bugbee, as Clerk. Among the honorary members of the department during this period, were, H. H. Stevens, Cyrus Spaulding, George Tracy and O. F. Chase. Mr. Tracy had formerly been an active member of the department.
During the time the old "General Taylor" was in service, up to its sale in 1873. many men, prominent in town affairs, were associated with the various companies which bore its name. Among these, mention of the following is certainly of interest: E. P. Morton, Chester C. Corbin, who was foreman in 1872, Elmoine D, Clemens, H. H. Shumway, Charles F. Barnes, Erastus Alton, Nash Spaulding, Jerome Marsh, Richard Thompson, George D. Bates, Patrick Brogan.
Preceding the organization of the Board of Engineers, the management of the department was in the hands of Fire Wardens appointed by the Selectmen. The Board of Engineers was first organized in 1870. Soloman Shumway was elected Chief and James H. Marshall Clerk.
The first fire handled by the new Board of Engineers was at the shoe shop of the late Henry E. Bugbee, on the land now occupied by the Tracy Block. At that time the department was obliged to wait for the water pipes to be filled from the South Village and some delay was experienced before the necessary supply could be had.
In 1868 and 1869 the town expended $10,143.54 for fire improvements, putting in a system of water supply furnished by the Slater Woolen Company, including hydrants and the laying of 5638 feet of pipe.
Since that time, however, many improvements have been made. An independent water system has been adopted by the town, and the supply is ample, not only for family and other uses, but furnishes the department whenever necessary with a quantity and force sufficient for all demands. There are now 110 hydrants and the pressure is about 95 lbs. to the square inch.
In 1868, the Steamer "Webster No. 1," was purchased for $3,700.00, Cole Brothers, makers, Pawtucket, R. I. This steamer has done excellent work, although for small conflagrations it is seldom called out as the water supply and force from the hydrants is usually sufficient and the four hose companies can meet almost any exigency. A force of men are held in reserve at the engine house, and whenever needed, and the call is sounded, "Webster No. 1" is ready to perform her part.
After the sale of the General Taylor, it was thought necessary to have another hand fire machine and so, in 1874, the "Clipper" was purchased. Albert Childs was the first foreman of the Clipper Company, organized in this year. Henry Brandes, now Selectman, was made 2nd foreman.
The next year, 1875, Mr. Brandes was made foreman and James McGeary was made 2nd foreman, with the usual efficient complement of men constituting the company.
In 1868, the James H. Marshall Hose Carriage No 1 was bought, at a cost of $425.00. Later, the Franklin Hook and Ladder Truck was purchased, and the department began to assume its present proportions and strength.
On January 1, 1884, the fire code of alarm was adopted and nine fire districts were established as follows:
District No. 2.—Depot Village.
District No. 3.—Fenner Hall.
District No. 4.—Lake Street and Vicinity.
District No- 5.—South Village.
District No. 6.—North Village.
District No. 7.—East Village.
District No. 8.—Chase Village, Dudley
District No. 9.—Merino Village, Dudley
District No, 11.—Jerico Village, Dudley
These alarms were rung in if the fire occurred during the day by some citizen, if in the night by a night watchman, and were struck on the bells of the Universalist and Methodist Churches. The districts were denoted as follows: ten rapid strokes, then a pause; then slowly striking the number of the district locating the fire, and repeat.
To-day a most complete electric system of alarm is in operation, represented by some 20 boxes, rung from the Universalist Church bell, and a steam whistle on the Stevens Linen Works.
This electric box alarm was adopted in 1893. In 1886 there were but 27 hydrants—to-day there are something like 110.
Additional pipe has been put in from year to year and many other improvements made. The water supply is one of the best in the state, not only for fire purposes, but for every use required by the citizens.
Since the Board of Engineers was organized in 1870,the department has been much improved and perfected, until to-day it is the equal of any fire force to be found in the larger towns of the state. To this Board of Engineers, is due perhaps more than any other agency, the excellency and efficiency that has been attained. The character and standing of the citizens who have been chosen engineers have been a guarantee of this result.
Solomon Shumway was the first chief, elected in 1870. Horace I. Joslin succeeded him in 1872. Associated with the latter on the board were, Edward S. Bradford, William S. Slater, Amos BaKlett and John F. Hines. In 1873, Hiram Allen was chosen chief and in this year Leonard Barnes first became a member of the board. Mr. Barnes was elected chief the following year, 1874, and was re-elected in 1875. Thomas K. Bates, Samuel J. Leavins and Patrick Brogan were the new men elected to the board during this period.
In 1876, Horace I. Joslin was again made chief and was re-elected each year until 1881, thus serving, with his former term of office, six years at the head of the department. John Flint, Chester C. Corbin and Lyman R. Eddy were on the board during Mr. Joslin's latter term.
John F. Hines was elected chief in 18S1 and held the position for seven years, being re-elected each year until 1888. Elmoine D. Clemens was first appointed to the board in the former year and was made clerk, which position he has held continuously ever since. Lyman R. Eddy, Samuel J. Leavins and Patrick Brogan constituted the remainder of the board during Mr. Hines' long term of service as chief.
In 1888, the present chief, Louis E. Pattison was elected. The other members of the board were, Patrick Brogan, E. D. Clemens, Joseph C. Spaulding and Joseph P. Love. The per sonnel of the board remained practically the same until 1893, with the exception of Mr. Spaulding, who died after two terms of service. In 1893, August Warnke came on the board. Mr. Brogan withdrew in 1896, having given many years of his life to honorable and efficient service to the department. In 1896, James Newman and Etienne Fornier were appointed to the board. The latter served two years and was succeeded in 1898 by Thomas L. Gray. The board to-day stands as follows: L. E. Pattison, Chief, E. D. Clemens, Clerk, August Warnke, James Newman, Thomas L. Gray.
The engineers, present and past of the Fire Department of the town of Webster, have been among her foremost citizens, many of them having served the town in public positions and others having been chosen to represent the town in the higher legislative bodies of the State.
One, the Hon. Edward S. Bradford, formerly a resident of the town but now of Springfield, Mass., has been Mayor of the latter city, and State Senator. The Hon. C. C. Corbin has also been in the Massachusetts Senate. Many other former members of the board have been in the State House of Representatives. Mr. Joseph P. Love is the present representative from this district in the lower house.
Not only has the Board of Engineers been represented largely in Town and State legislative affairs, but various foremen and members of the different companies have held important official positions. Henry Brandes who served as foremen of the Clipper Company, has been the Representative from this district. The Hon. Charles Haggerty, one of the "leading hose men," in 1875, of the Clipper Company, has been in the Massachusetts Senate.
Under the able leadership of the present chief, L. E. Pattison, who has held the position since 1888 the Fire Department of Webster has made rapid progress. The force is better organized.
Perfect discipline prevails and every modern improvement for fire fighting has been adopted. Each man knows his duty and it is done with promptness and efficiency.
The oldest man in point of service in the department today is Elmoine D. Clemens, who joined the department, August 12, 1859. Since 1881, Mr. Clemens has been on the Board of Engineers, and Clerk of the Department. The records of the department have been in good hands, as Mr. Clemens has been most particular and painstaking. The data and history of this sketch have been compiled from his books, and the accuracy of the same cannot be questioned. Thomas L. Gray, engineer, joined the department in 1871 and has been a most valuable member. Martin O'Donnell became a member in 1876 and has been a hard and conscientious worker. So also has Jacob Hayman done good service, having joined the department in 1879. Honorable mention might to be made of many other members of the department who have helped to make history and added to the success of the organization but our limited space will not permit extended mention. Altogether the Town of Webster has a fire department of which she can be, and is, justly proud.
1. "History," Souvenir of the Webster Fire Department, Webster, Massachusetts, 1899, pages 9-63.