History

History of Webster Hose H&L Co. #3

 

As the City of Ansonia grew in the middle and late 1800's, the ever-present problem of fire grew in proportion to the number of buildings. In order to properly understand the problems which existed at those times we must consider that most of the dwellings were of wood construction, heated by stoves and in some cases, even by fireplaces. As gas had not yet arrived in most areas and the incandescent light had not been invented, most of the houses were illuminated by kerosene lamps or candles. Thus the heating and illuminating of the buildings immediately exposed them to great hazards of fire. While the possibility of fire was greater at that time than it is today, in the days of central heating and electrical illumination, the problem of speedily extinguishing the blaze was much greater. The only fire vehicles were hand-drawn hose carts that did not carry fire pumps. The purpose of the cart was to transport the hose and a limited amount of equipment, to the fire. Therefore, until the extension of water mains that brought fire hydrants into the vicinity of the houses and commercial buildings, firemen were practically helpless even when they did reach the scene of a fire. If a blaze had a good head start it was practically impossible to save the building. Even in the areas in which fire hydrants were available. it was necessary to depend upon the pressure from the mains which often times proved inadequate, especially if several lines of hose were played on the fire. The water main system was constructed in a manner that afforded the fire officials the opportunity to close the mains in certain sections of town in order to achieve greater pressure in the main that ran by a building, which was on fire. The water main system was also equipped with auxiliary pumps which upon the sounding of the number four on the fire alarm system were placed in operation to increase water pressure in the mains.

As the members progress to the later paragraphs of this History, they should be mindful of the great collective effort put into the Webster Hose Company to make it what it is today. Their responsibility, as long as they remain members, will be to act in the best interests of the organization and its principles.

In the year 1894, certain residents of the Third Ward of the City of Ansonia grew apprehensive about the fire protection being afforded to them. Fifty-four such persons signed a petition, which was presented, to the Board of Aldermen on July 25, 1894. This petition requested that a volunteer fire company be formed and a building and Jumper provided to the locality in which they lived. The petition was referred to the Fire Committee of the Board of Common Council. At a meeting of the Board of Common Council held on the 26th day of September 1894, the Fire Committee reported on this petition, recommending that the request not be granted as the money appropriated to the Fire Department was "nearly exhausted".

In the meantime, other residents of the Ward subscribed their names to a petition, which was circulated by Third Ward Aldermen James Shortell and George W. Larkin. They offered themselves to the City of Ansonia as a volunteer fire company for such fire duty as might be assigned to them, requesting the necessary apparatus be provided to them. This second petition was signed by many persons who subsequently became members of the fire company, which was later known as The Webster Hose Company. The names of the grandparents of many present members appear on this document. The names that appear on the first petition do not appear elsewhere in the minutes or later history of the Company. In view of the fact that many of the signers of the second petition were the Charter Officers and Members of the Company, the action of these petitioners must be considered as the inception of the organization, which was later accepted by the City as a volunteer fire company. This petition was introduced to and read at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen held on September 10, 1894.

On January 16, 1895 the Board of Common Council Voted to purchase a lot on Platt Street, at a cost of not more than $500, for the purpose of constructing a fire house thereon. Thereafter, in February of 1895, the Fire Committee purchased a 40' x 100' lot located at 67 Platt Street from one C. S. Gates at a cost of $400. Prior to the purchase, Gates was the owner of the lot sold to the City and the lot and house located easterly of the present Company Quarters. On February 8, 1896, Alderman James Shortell introduced a resolution that the Fire Committee and Fire Chief be authorized to purchase a Jumper and one thousand feet of hose and such other articles as are necessary for the use of the Webster Hose Company No. 3. At a meeting of the Board of Common Council in September of 1896, it was voted to erect a hose house on the lot purchased from Gates. Plans and specifications were authorized to be prepared by an architect whose last name was O'Brien. The Board of Aldermen approved this action at its September meeting in the same year. On December 14, 1896 Alderman James Shortell introduced the resolution by which the Company was formally organized. This resolution named twenty persons and authorized those persons and such other persons up to a number of fifty who might associate with them, to be established as The Webster Hose Company for the purpose of fire-fighting duties in the City of Ansonia.

The first meeting of the Company took place on January 7, 1897 at the Temple of Honor Hall, which was located in the building now known as No. 103 Main Street. This building is on the south side of the pass-way connecting Main Street and East Main Street. City Councilman, William Driscoll of the Fire Committee, in the absence of the Chairman, called the meeting to order. The meeting adopted the Company name and number, appointed a Ball Committee, a By-Law Committee, a Charter Committee and elected as the first officers: James Shortell, Foreman; William Gaffney, First Assistant Foreman; George W. Larkin, Second Assistant Foreman; Hugh A. Burns, Secretary; John T. Kent, Treasurer; and Dr. Robert Barry, Surgeon. The twenty members authorized by the Board of Aldermen as the Charter Members were also installed. The twenty persons who became members on that evening included the Officers. Each of the original twenty persons was authorized to introduce the application of one other person. Each of such additional applications was considered and voted upon by the early meetings. Gradually the membership came to fifty. The number of members was not increased to the present seventy-five until the year 1903.

The Company took its name from that of Erwin W. Webster, who was the second Mayor of the City of Ansonia, a Democrat, who held office on the date the Board of Aldermen established this Fire Company. The Webster Homestead was located on the property immediately to the north of the old high school building. The house was then numbered 18 North State Street. Mayor Webster, with his wife and later his granddaughter, Alcine, participated in the grand march at the first few concerts and balls. His name is mentioned in the Minutes of the Company as a visitor to the Company Quarters, an honorary member and a person who sent cigars to the members each year until his death.

The Company was incorporated by Special Act No. 14h of the 1897 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly. The original Special Act designated the name as Webster Hose Company, No. Three, and the number of members as fifty. The names of the twenty original members are set forth in this Special Act. By Special Act No. 54 of the 1903 Session of the General Assembly, the name of the Company was changed to "Webster Hose Hook & Ladder Company, No. 3" and the number of members increased to seventy-five.

It will be noted that the first Company Meetings were not held at the early hose house, as the Company Quarters had not been constructed at that time. Minutes of subsequent meetings also show that, for a matter of several months, these gatherings were held at various places other than the hose house. The record of the City Meeting held on November 19, 1896 for the purpose of approving appropriations for the City, indicates an appropriation of $3,190 was made for the purpose of constructing a hose house on that date. The building was to be constructed on the lot previously purchased for that purpose on Platt Street. The contract for the work was awarded to one William A. Barnes on September 17, 1896. Construction was begun early in 1897.

The first Company ball was conducted in the Ansonia Opera House Building located at 100 Main Street on February 19, 1897. Music was furnished by Phelps' Orchestra and Professor Carey of Derby acted as prompter. The concert commenced promptly at 8:30 P.M. with the grand march taking place at 9:30 P.M. One hundred and two couples were in the grand march. The ball continued until 3:00 A.M.

Before completion of construction of the hose house, the first hose cart or Jumper as it was known, arrived in Ansonia on May 6, 1897. The hand-drawn cart weighed 550 lb. and instead of the heavy wheels usually used on such vehicles, was equipped with slim wheels, the tires being 2" wide. The wheels were 5-1/2' in diameter. The Jumper was equipped with one large hose reel on which the hose was wound when not in use. It was moved to and from the fires by members pulling on a rope attached to the front of the vehicle, thereby steering and propelling it. The Jumper was purchased in New York City and arrived in Ansonia on a railroad car. The cart sold to the City of Ansonia had been used by the manufacturer for demonstration purposes. It was necessary to have the No. 1 removed from the side and replaced with the No. 3 before the vehicle was placed in service.

The first hose house was a two and one-half story wooden structure. The building consisted of a basement, which contained a steam boiler, gas and water pipes, sewer pipes and later served as a social room. The street floor of the building housed the equipment. There was a single arched doorway that faced toward Platt Street. The door opened inwardly in two sections The building was heated by steam pipes strung parallel to the floor on each of the side walls. On the back of the first floor was a doorway by which access was gained to the bottom of the hose-drying tower. This tower was located at the back of the building. In order to dry the hose it was necessary to double each length at the center and haul the doubled length up into the tower. The floor, in addition to the rest of the building, was constructed of wood. The structure was illuminated by illuminating gas. The second floor consisted of a parlor, billiard room and shower room. The parlor was located at the front of the building and featured a bay window which overlooked Platt Street. Located in the center of the building, immediately behind the parlor, was the poolroom which was used for playing both pool and card games.

In the back of the poolroom or on the North side of the building was the Company shower room, which was equipped with a bathtub and shower. On the rear of the building, has has been previously indicated, was the top of the hose-drying tower and the bell which sounded the alarms of fire. At least one of the then modern innovations of the Company Quarters appealed to most of the members and their friends. That facility was the shower and bathroom located on the second floor to the rear of the poolroom. On many days after working hours, and especially on Saturday, it was necessary to wait in line for the privilege of using either the bathtub or the shower. This, of course, was a period when the great majority of homes in this community were not equipped with either showers or bathtubs. Hot water was furnished by a gas heater, purchased by the Company.

One of the problems which was surmounted during the course of construction, was the lack of a gas main in the vicinity by which illuminating gas could be furnished to the hose house for the purpose of providing the necessary inside light. The nearest main was at the intersection of Main and Platt Streets. On May 10, 1897, the Derby Gas Company offered to lay gas mains to the hose house at no expense to the City. The offer of the gas company was accepted and mains were run north on Elm Street to Platt, then west on Platt to the hose Company Quarters.

Before the completion of the construction of the hose house, a bell, specially purchased from the Meneely Bell Casting Company of Troy, New York, weighing 2,007 lb., arrived in Ansonia. This bell was cast with the name of the Company and the members of the Fire Committee and others. It was installed in the bell tower on the rear of the wooden hose house building and connected to the City fire alarm system. With the addition of this bell, the fire alarm system consisted of three bells; one on the Fountain Hose Company or West Ansonia Fire District as it was known; one on Farrell Foundry and Machine Company on Main Street opposite the Eagle Hose Company Quarters and the last mentioned bell installed in the tower of the Webster Hose Company.

The hose house and lot on Platt Street were turned over to the Company by the Fire Committee at a Meeting of the Company held on June 7, 1897. Mayor Erwin W. Webster presided at the meeting. The building and lot were accepted on behalf of the Company by Hugh A. Burns, Secretary.

The first by-laws were adopted at a Meeting of the Company held on June 7, 1897. On the 23rd day of June, 1897 a formal opening of the new Company Quarters was held. The public generally had the opportunity to view the new building.

The Company responded to its first fire on August 28, 1897 at 7:57 P.M. in response to the sounding of box No. 37 located at the corner of Main and Colburn Streets. The fire was in the residence of Cornelius Darigan on Factory Street. As previously related, upon the sounding of an alarm the members ran to the hose house, grabbed the rope and pulled the Jumper to the fire. The Jumper was equipped with rubber boots, coats and leather fire helmets of a type no longer employed in this City. In the hilly terrain of Ansonia, especially on Platt Street Hill, it was necessary for more members to be on the back of the Jumper, slowing or breaking it on a hill, than to be on the front pulling it. Many of the early members were injured by receiving broken arms and legs as they miscalculated the number of people necessary to slow the vehicle down, or the direction which it would take on a hill. It was common practice among the members who pulled the Jumper, to carry a small container of salt with them as they ran to answer an alarm. It was their practice after they arrived at the place of the fire, especially if it was some distance from the hose company quarters, to consume a portion of the salt and to drink water in order to replace the body fluids lost through perspiration on the run. After the early Jumper left the hose house, usually with three or four members pulling, other members of the Company met it along the way and joined in the effort of pulling it to the fire.

In 1903 the City purchased and stationed at the company quarters at 67 Platt Street, a hand drawn hose wagon which carried several tall ladders. This latter vehicle was known as the Hook & Ladder. Both the early Jumper and the later Hook & Ladder were stationed at 67 Platt Street until the old hose house was demolished in the early 30's for the purpose of constructing the present building. They were then removed from the hose company quarters and stored at the so-called "Town Farm" on the northern part of Wakelee Avenue where they deteriorated through exposure to the weather and age, and were subsequently reduced to junk.

In December of 1907 James J. McKeon, an active member of the company who conducted a saloon business at 63 Central Street purchased a horse-drawn wagon for company use. His friends and acquaintances familiarly addressed Mr. McKeon by the nickname of "Japsey". In addition to the saloon business, Mr. McKeon operated a beer distributing business and employed, for that purpose, a wagon drawn by two horses, named "Mollie" and "Dollie".

McKeon purchased the fire wagon with his own funds and he paid for the modification and equipping of the wagon for use as a fire truck, the work being done by James McKinnon, a blacksmith, under McKeon's direction. The McKeon horse-drawn fire wagon was the first horse-drawn fire vehicle in this City. In view of the fact that McKeon had purchased the vehicle and owned the horses which were stabled in a building to the rear of 63 Central Street, the Webster Hose horse-drawn wagon was also stationed at that address in a City building with the horses. McKeon lived in the building upon which be conducted his businesses, thus being near the vehicles in the event of an alarm. After some time the City purchased the hose wagon from McKeon.

The sounding of an alarm of fire soon became familiar to McKeon's brewery wagon horses and they were immediately prepared to start off at a gallop to the blaze. Older members of the company remember the horses prancing and rearing in their stalls and waiting to be put in their harnesses. No time was wasted getting the harnesses on the horses and getting under way as McKeon had constructed the device that suspended the harnesses above the heads of the horses. When the release lever was pressed, the harnesses would fall upon the backs and necks of the animals requiring only several cinches to be tightened under their chests in order to be ready to proceed to answer the alarm. It is also reported that the horses were so familiar with their duty when the bell rang, that they would back into the traces of the hose wagon without any directions being given them.

Five years later, in 1912, the old hose wagon was replaced by a new combination horse-drawn chemical and hose wagon built in Providence, Rhode Island. The arrival of the new wagon was made the occasion of a giant celebration, which included a parade from the railroad station with the new apparatus to the auxiliary fire station on Central Street.

During these early years, the Company was given a total of three Silver Parade Trumpets. Each antique trumpet is ornately engraved. The first was presented by James McLarney and Mrs. Thomas Hine "For Gallant services rendered at the Fire on September 20, 1898", which completely ravaged a large barn on Chestnut Street and threatened an entire block of buildings. The Company was only one year old at the time. The second was presented on February 8, 1906 by William Gaffney, who served as chief from 1901-1905. The last one was given as a gift on February 11, 1909 by the Storm Engine Co. No. 2 of Derby. These antiques, while highly valued possessions, are frequently carried by the officers in parades.

The Company marched in the Firemen's Parade in Winsted, Ct. on September 18,1912. They traveled by railroad car, taking along their 1912 Chemical Wagon as well as "Mollie" and "Dollie".

In 1915, McKeon's business necessitated the sale of his two horses, so a motorized apparatus was sought. The city was unable to secure the necessary funding, so McKeon and three other members took it upon themselvbes to purchase a fully equipped 1915 Locomobile fire truck, built in Bridgeport and owned by the Websters until later when it was purchased from them by the city. On August 24, 1915 the horse drawn hose wagon was replaced with the Locomobile. The Locomobile gave way in February of 1927 to a Seagrave 750 gallon motor pumper. Both of the above pieces were kept at the auxiliary station on Central Street until the opening of the brick hose house at 67 Platt Street in August of 1937. McKeon served as principal driver of the company's fire equipment during the years that it was kept on his premises.

In the early 30's, the firehouse constructed in 1897 was condemned by the Fire Committee. Plans were made by the Fire Committee to build a new hose house. While the plan for, construction of the building was challenged by some who were in favor of repairing the old building, a major furor was provoked by a plan to move the company building to one of several sites along the main street. In fact, the Board of Aldermen voted twice, once on July 8, 1935 and later in October of 1935, to purchase the so-called Gelloso and Moran lots as the location for the new building. Construction had actually begun on the Moran lot, which was located on the West Side of Main Street between the intersection of Main and Columbia and Main and Elm Streets (site of the present gas station). It was abandoned because soil tests made in the bottom of the cellar excavation indicated that the ground would not support the building planned for construction there. Construction at the Platt Street site was voted on November 18, 1935.

After it was finally decided to locate the new building at the site of the old structure, the old hose building was demolished and the foundation razed. As the new brick structure, constructed with the aid of Federal funds, was substantially larger than the old building and would not fit on the original 40 x 1001 lot, additional parcels of land on each side of the original lot were purchased from the owners. The company lot thus became an irregular-shaped piece of land.

After the new hose house was constructed the 1927 Seagrave Pumper then in use was moved to the company quarters from Central Street. The occasion of the move was the -grand opening of the new building. On August 10, 1937 at 8:00 P.M. a parade formed on Central Street to accompany the truck to its new home. Hundreds of persons lined the streets. The parade was led by the fire chiefs and Joseph Moran, then Captain of the company. All the City's apparatus and all of the fire companies, in uniform, participated in the parade. Three drum corps were also in the line of march. The fire truck of the company was driven to its new quarters by Aldermanic President James O'Brien, who was instrumental in having the new building constructed and locating it on its present site. Many City, State and United States Government officials were in the line of march. The parade marched from McKeon's on Central Street to Main Street, South on Main Street to Elm Street, East on Elm to Jewett Street, North on Jewett Street to Hodge Avenue, South on Hodge Avenue to Platt Street and then East to the company quarters. Sirens screamed and the firemen of the Webster Hose Company, in full uniform, stood in line at attention on either side of the driveway as the pumper was driven into its quarters. A reception for firemen and the City and other officials was also held on that evening after the parade. A dinner was served at Sam's Restaurant on Main Street across from the Post Office.

James McKeon maintained a log of each and every fire that occurred during his years as Chief Driver from 1907 into 1937. This log is kept in our display case and is a valuable insight into the fires and changes in the City of Ansonia. His meticulous detail is a tribute to a man that devoted much of his time and effort into making the Webster Hose Company what it is today. Of interest among the hundreds he recorded are the following four:

"1915 - July 29, Box 38 - Mike Yudkin's Coal Shed at Corner of Central and Beaver - No horses, Drawn by hand, horses sold." The new 1915 motorized truck was being placed into service and his beloved horses had been sold. Responding members had to pull the heavy 1912 chemical wagon by hand.

"1915 - September 16 - To Savings Bank to disperse crowds after the discovery of Burtin's shortage of depositors money." Having responded to its first alarm on September 12, 1915, this was the second alarm to be answered by the 1915 Locomobile, an interesting start for our first truck.

"August 10th 1937 - Seagraves Fire Truck was moved from Central St. to the New House on Platt St."

"August 13 - Box 15, First call answered from the New House - took 18 minutes to get to corner of Jewett and Central St." These are the final two entries in "Japsey's" ledger. The carriages and trucks he had lovingly cared for had been moved away from him. His feelings are shown in the comment concerning the response time.

During the Second World War, the membership rolls were frozen, even though as many as twenty-five members were on active military duty. Applicants desiring membership were able to partake in activities, but were not officially brought into the Company until hostilities ceased and the soldiers came home.

The Company received a new Mack Emergency Truck in 1946. This vehicle was equipped with pump, ladders, hose, generator, lights, rescue equipment, and air packs. Though most members were very reluctant to use the new breathing gear, several members trained extensively and the air packs became an important fire-fighting tool.

The decades of the Fifties and Sixties saw an increased fire load as a result of a housing boom, commercial expansion, and redevelopment activities. The City Fathers, having keen foresight, purchased no less than four Seagrave 1000-GPM pumpers, a 65-foot Seagrave Aerial Ladder, and the aforementioned Emergency Truck between the years 1946 and 1955.

The Webster's received their new Seagrave pumper in 1953. All of this equipment proved valuable as numerous multiple alarm fires occurred during this period. Some of the more notable calls were:

The Miglin Block - Main Street (1947) The Worcholik Hall - Broad Street (1954) The Assumption Convent - North Cliff street (1955) The Smith Building - Main Street (1959) The Ansonia Lumber Co./Kasden Fuel (1961)

In 1958, the Company replaced its 1946 Emergency Truck with a new Seagrave High Pressure Pump/Emergency Truck. This new apparatus carried 300 gallons of water and was capable of delivering a high pressure fog stream at 1000 pounds of pressure. It was also equipped with the latest Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) available.

The Company formed a truck committee in 1968 with the intention of replacing the aging, but well used, pumper. The committee chose a new Mack pumper that had many new and innovative features. It was the first cab forward/closed cab design in the City. It was the first diesel powered, air brake equipped automatic transmission vehicle in the entire lower Naugatuck Valley area. This piece served the Company well and was at almost every major fire in this City and surrounding Valley cities before being replaced with a 1988 FMC 1250 GPM pumper. The 1969 Mack was donated to Atwood, Kansas to replace equipment lost in the Midwest floods of 1993.

The 1958 Seagrave Emergency Truck was replaced in 1977 with a Saulsbury Squad Attack, which was equipped with a high pressure pump, onboard cascade system, numerous SCBA's and spare tanks that allowed the Squad to render valuable service to the City of Ansonia and neighboring cities throughout the Valley.

Currently, Webster Hose H&L Co. #3 runs a 2003 Freightliner / KMC (Squad 9) complete with pump, SCBA tank fill system, telescoping light tower and MVA extrication tools along with a 2009 Pierce 1250 gpm pumper (Engine 3).

Despite the hindrances and the handicaps, the founders and early members of the Webster Hose Company persevered, giving their time and efforts for the benefit of the people of this City. From the date it was constituted as a Volunteer Fire Company, many generations have served. They have suffered hardships and enjoyed the good times; they have grown in experience and through the acquisition of equipment into a modern, completely equipped volunteer Fire Company, trained and able to save the lives and property of the people of this City.


The foregoing History has been compiled by Joseph B. Buckley, a retired member of the Webster Hose Company, and Gene Sharkey, Company Historian, from Company records, City records, microfilmed copies of old editions of The Evening Sentinel found in the Ansonia Library and the recollections of early members of the Company.


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