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. Members pulling on a rope
attached to the front of the vehicle, thereby steering and propelling it, moved
it to and from the fires. 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 pool and cards. In the back of the poolroom 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, as 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, 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. A gas heater purchased by the
Company furnished hot water.
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, 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. Hugh A.
Burns, Secretary, accepted the building and lot on behalf of the Company.
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 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".
On August 24, 1915 the horse drawn hose wagon
was replaced with a Locomobile, combination hose and chemical motor apparatus.
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 that 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 was 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. 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, it 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
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
"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
"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
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 in 1989 by the present 1250 GPM pumper. The 1969 Mack was donated to
Atwood, Kansas to replace equipment lost in the Midwest floods of 1993.
Our other present apparatus is a 1977
Saulsbury Squad that replaced the Emergency Truck. The Squad is also equipped
with a high pressure pump. The onboard cascade system, numerous SCBA's and spare
tanks have allowed the Squad to render valuable service to the City of Ansonia
and neighboring cities throughout the Valley.
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.