HISTORY OF THE VOLUNTEER FIRE SERVICE OF WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y.
\The beginnings of organized volunteer fire fighting are shrouded in t~e mists of time, but we may be sure that flames have gotten out of control and destroyed man's handywork ever since he began to use it to heat his home and cook his food. In the good old days when the neighboring buildings were new, it was simple, everyone had a bucket, well, cistern or rain barrel and at the cry of "Fire", which could be heard anywhere, for Williams Mills (Williamsville) was a tiny hamlet – you grabbed your leather bucket and ran to help.
In three and a half decades, Williams Mills had grown and prospered, but each new building meant new food for fire and, at last, on January 15, 1835, the residents of the hamlet met and decided to raise money for a fire engine. Each citizen agreed to share the cost in the ratio of his taxes for the year of 1834. The amount raised was $228.00 and the engine it purchased was a Box (lead lined) on wooden wagon wheels which contained a pump driven by rocker arms attached to poles which ran the length of the box on either side. (Note: this sounds like a Newsham Engine first brought into this country in 1736, manufactured by the Newsham Button Works of London, England.)
At any rate, you would have found names very familiar among the Smoke Eaters of 1835. A few of the names were: Hershey, Zent, Hopkins, Miller, Long, Hutchinson, Grove, Evans, Blocher, Eggert, and Horner.
The first captain was Jairus S. Tefft in 1835, followed in order by T.A. Hopkins, 1836; Emanuel Frick, 1837; S.L. Vestow, 1838; Jacob Hershey, 1839; Israil B. Colborn, 1840-1841; S.W. Shringer, 1842; Thomas B. Richardson, 1843-1844; Philip J. Zent, 1845; William White, 1846-1847; and John Blocher, 1848-1849-1850. In 1850, a meeting wascalled regarding the purchase of a new engine of larger size, and in 1855, it was purchased with a hose cart.
It was nearly sixteen years later, on November 4, 1850, that Williams Mills was incorporated as a village to be known as Williamsville. On February 16, 1856, the first formal organized volunteer fire company in Williamsville was organized and titled "ROUGH AND READY FIRE ENGINE COMPANY NUMBER ONE". The following is a list of names presented as a petition for membership in the engine company and accepted by the trustees of Williamsville: John Lehn, William Haskill, John Blocher, Michael Windnagle, Levi S. Crocker, John Salsman, P.P. Hill, Joseph F. Ager, Fredrich Haines, Jacob Keifer, George Smith, John Hoffman, Oscar Black, C.E. Smith, Konrad Diehl, Jacob Shassel, Daniel Neff Jr., D. Wahrleg, Shaver Rickard, Benj Ream, William Burt, Joseph Rickert Jacob Rook, C.C. Grove, P.J. Zent, J.S. Coe, S.L. Bestow, J.D Colborn, A. Bordner, James Rombold, Christian Cassel, T.P. Lamphere, George Zent, Thadius Prentice, James W. Taylor, Fredrick Neidheart, E.A. Brown, Jacob Bafsler, D.C. Kimbal, Pourier, John S. Long, George Shofner, Moses Stanhope, J.S. Woodward, Charles Black, Lewis Lamphear, Abram Stever, Joseph Zent and Michael Harman. These forty-nine men were give their time and effort to protect their fellow man in time of need.
On February 29, 1856, the following men were the first elected officers of the "ROUGH AND READY FIRE CO. #1". Foreman - C.E. Smith, Assistant Foreman - J.S. Coe, Secretary - C.C. Grove, Treasurer -Jacob Shassel. A committee of P.P. Hill, James Rombold and Jacob Rook were appointed to put the new engine (cost - $800.00) in working order. A hose cart was also purchased for $75.00. The first uniform was also voted on at the meeting of February 1856. It consisted of blue cloth cap with a band of quilted lace, red flannel shirt with a wide black collar, a patent leather belt with a #1 gilded on each belt. All of the meetings of the fire company were held during daylight hours, usually between the hours of 3:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. A contract of snow removal was awarded to Joe Rombold at the cost of $23.00 per year to keep the engine house doors clear of snow. On July 4th, 1856, the engine was taken from the house and the company marched to the grove. Speeches, sentiments, toasts, and goodies for the stomach complimented the anniversary. After these festivities, the fire company formed a procession and marched to the reservoir where a contest was held. The truck was washed and returned to the engine room. The building at 14 North Cayuga St. which housed the engine was also the village jail.
The alarms of fire were, of course, limited to the sounding of a bell or gong, often a large iron wagon tire which covered the outside of the wheel. In Williamsville, the bells of different churches were rung, sounding the alarms of fire. This practice continued for many years. Members were fined twenty-five cents for failure to answer an alarm unless the hose remained dry, and no water passed through the pipe (nozzle).
Water supply, by this time, was not limited to Ellicott Creek, wells, or rain barrels. On Main Street, in front of the old Hopkins residence (across from Station #1), there was a cistern fed from the creek, by a pipe and hollowed out logs providing an ever-ready water supply for the center of the village.
In 1876, the ROUGH AND READY adopted new constitution and by-laws from the minutes of the meeting of May 6, 1876. These are excerpts of some of the new by- laws:
1) Initiation fee will be ten cents.
2) The first and second member arriving at the engine house in time for an alarm of fire, shall be entitled to the "pipe" and "butt" and any member attempting to deprive them of either, unless commanded by the foreman , shall be fined fifty cents for such offense.
3) If any member shall refuse to sit down when told to, he shall be fined twenty-five cents.
4) Any member who shall behave improperly, use profane language, - or smoke, during a meeting shall be fined twenty-five cents for the first offense and expelled for the second.
5) Every member must appear in full uniform at every regular meeting from the first Saturday in May until the first Saturday in October.
6) In case there should be no officer of the company on hand at any fire, or alarm of fire, member arriving at the engine hall shall be entitled to the trumpet attached to the engine, and the company shall abide by his commands until an officer shall arrive.
There were many spectacular fires in our village twenty years prior to the 1896 organization of ROUGH AND READY FIRE ENGINE COMPANY #1. One of these was The Old Dodge Mill whose crumbling foundations may still be seen from the foot of the Glen Falls. The owner, himself a volunteer fireman, was trapped in the blazing structure and perished. Because of the blowing winds, the neighboring structures were in jeopardy and to protect them, old rugs, carpets and burlap bags were soaked with water to cover the roofs and sides of the homes.
About one year and six months after the Dodge's Mill fire , the ROUGH AND READIES said good-bye to theold hand pumper and celebrated the acquisition of a new hose reel and fixtures. Running water had come to Williamsville! There were hydrants. There was water pressure. The Village Board was supposed to approve the new water system on December 14, 1895. On Friday the 13th, December 1895, fire broke out in the "Mansion House" barns. Detmer Wehrle, the person in charge of the water system, rose toan emergency and shouting "To blazes with the Board." Turned on the water. The ROUGH AND READY, on the scene, hooked up to the hydrant with its new hose reel and quickly had water on the blaze. His quick action and the firemen 's response saved the "Mansion House" proper and provided an exciting, though somewhat informal inauguration of the new water system.
On December 26, 1895 twenty-four men met at 8:30 PM. This meeting was called by Chief Engineer S.A. Westland for the purpose of organizing a new company and a second company. A by-laws committee was appointed consisting of six members. The chief Engineer called for the first regular meeting to be held on January 4, 1896. The name was changed to the AMHERST HOSE CO. #2. The by-laws were accepted and Mr. James Chalmers, Jr. was elected President, John Wehrle - Vice President, William J . Fisher - Foreman, William Zent - 1st Asst. Foreman, Leo O. Daniel - 2nd Asst. Foreman. At the same meeting. a committee was appointed to appear before the Village Board in regard to purchasing rubber coats and boots. At the meeting of January 14, 1896, it was voted to change the name to the WILLIAMSVILLE HOSE CO. New constitution and by-laws were accepted at the meeting of January 21, 1896. The ROUGH AND READY FIRE ENGINE COMPANY #1 ceased to exist after forty years of faithful service.
The WILLIAMSVILLE HOSE COMPANY lasted twelve years to the day. Williamsville, growing all the while, had acquired stature as the seat of the Town of Amherst and in keeping with this added dignity, erected a new Village Hall. The land for the structure was donated by E.H. Hutchinson, and quarters for the hose company were included in the plans. In honor of Hutchinson's gift the WILLIAMSVILLE HOSE COMPANY on January 14, 1908 changed its name to THE HUTCHINSON HOSE COMPANY of Williamsville N.Y. On the same day, Mr. E.H Hutchinson was made an honorary member. The newly elected officers of the HUTCHINSON HOSE COMPANY were LK Rentz - President, F.A. Measer - Vice President, N. Dehlinger - Foreman, G. Batt - 1st Asst. Foreman, W. Klute - 2nd Asst. Foreman, A.A. Klein – Recording Secretary, Joe Reisch Jr. - Financial Secretary, A. Beach - Treasurer, W. Magel, G. Starns, F.A. Measer, J. Blocker, George Batt were the Trustees.
On July 12, 1904 they joined the Western New York Volunteer Firemen's Association. The following are members of the HUTCHINSON HOSE COMPANY INC. who have been President of The Western New York Volunteer Firemen's Association: John Wehrle -1924, (former Mayor of Williamsville) Albert Herman, Jr. - 1957, (former Supervisor Town of Amherst) Lew Sigel – 1943, Harland Pope - 1952, William Barndollar - 1966, Michael Wutz - 1977.
The first meeting of the fire company held in the new village hall was January 11, 1910. The total cost of the furnishings for the fire company room was $710.00. The first fire alarm system was accepted by the fire department February 11, 1913. The whistle blasts were as follows: one long whistle – Main St. east of the village hall, one long whistle and one short -Main St. west of the Village Hall, one long and two short - south side of East Main St., one long and three short - Eagle St., one long and four short - Mill St., one long and five short -Cayuga St., one long and six short -Glen Ave. On April 12, 1921 the Village Board approved $500.00 for the installation of the first siren which was to be located in the tower of the old Village Hall. The system of two fire drills (hose practices) a month was invoked to conform to a fire underwriters ruling. The new system had one-half of the of the active roster reporting for drills the first Monday of the month and the other half of the roster to report the third Monday of the month. Any member could alternate but must attend one practice per month.
Many attempts were made to purchase property for a fire hall to be owned by HUTCHINSON HOSE CO. This came to pass in January 1972 when the HUTCHINSON HOSE COMPANY, INC. completed the new installation at 5005 Sheridan Drive.
The Williamsville Exempt Firemen's Association was formed in 1927 and the corporation papers were filed in March of 1927. The officers of the newly formed Exempt Association were: D.P Abrogast - President, Benjamin Miller - Vice President, Al F. Beiter (former U.S. Senator) - Secretary, Albert Herman Jr. (former Supervisor Town of Amherst) - Treasurer, John Blocher, Joseph J. Morgott, Louis Lorich, Albert Brown, Clarence Metz, Lawrence Dehlinger, F.E. Senf were Directors. E.H. Hutchinson and Col. Wm. F. Schohl were elected Honorary Members.
Many changes were taking place as the years progressed and firefighting, legislation, and new state of the art kept demanding more time of the volunteers. The Fire Police were organized on October 12, 1927. Appointed by the Chief April 1931, the fire company sent two delegates to the newly formed Erie County Volunteer Firemen's Association. February 9, 1937 was the beginning of the First Aid Squad which answered calls and trained volunteer firemen in the Town of Amherst. As time progressed, fire sirens were mounted in strategic places throughout the Village.
After World War II, firefighting techniques advanced rapidly and the volunteer firemen of Williamsville progressed with the changes which had to be made to keep the fire department abreast of the times.
The Ladies' Auxiliary of the HUTCHINSON HOSE CO, INC. was formed in 1949 and the parade in Welland, Ontario, Canada was an historic event; they won the Best Appearing Ladies Auxiliary. Through the years, they worked very diligently with the firemen.
And so today we, the HUTCHINSON HOSE COMPANY, INC. of Williamsville, New York, one hundred percent volunteer , stand on the threshold of a new era, houses in two buildings, equipped with every necessity for efficient operation, located for the speediest action in answering calls, geared to provide the finest fire protection ever known in Williamsville, its fire protection districts and with adequate allowance for future improvements.
As we look to the future, we must again look to the past for inspiration of the valiant volunteers who have come before us to fight and conquer the hungry flames. We can do no more than to follow their example.
William A. Wutz, Jr. 1981
Historian, Hutchinson Hose Company
EDWARD H. HUTCHINSON
Edward H. Hutchinson, a distinguished civic figure and philanthropist, was a man of many interests. His life is the history of Buffalo itself. Although not a resident of Williamsville or Amherst, his life was wrapped up in the old village where he had spent many happy days. His grandfather, John Hutchinson, was the first chief of the department in Williamsville, while his father John M. Hutchinson was one of the first fire commissioners of the paid fire department in Buffalo.
In 1907, Mr. Hutchinson donated a portion of the family homesite as a site for Williamsville's first Village Hall and Hose House. In addition, his cash contribution approximated 1/3 the building cost.
At its annual election in January of 1908, the Williamsville Hose Co. unanimously approved a motion to change its name to Hutchinson Hose Company and Mr. Hutchinson was elected an honorary member of the company.
Edward H. Hutchinson was one of Buffalo's most popular citizens. Not only was he popular and generous, but enterprising and progressive. His contributions and active part in aiding to raise funds for the relief of families of dead firemen was praised by the "News".
Mr. Hutchinson was appointed a Fire Commissioner for the City of Buffalo in June 1891 to fill the position vacated by Mr. N.K. Hopkins. Mr. Hopkins, a' member of the original board, was later appointed to fill a vacancy occasioned by the death of John M. Hutchinson, the father of Edward H. Hutchinson.
While a member of the board of Commissioners, Mr Hutchinson was successful in introducing many new procedures, rules and equipment to the Buffalo Fire Department.
In May 1893 a new Fire-boat "John M. Hutchinson" named after his father was added to do duty with the old firetug, the "George R. Potter".
Mr. Hutchinson retired from the Fire Commission in October 1893 and was credited with re-establishing cordial relations between the Department and the public. He purged the Fire Department and placed it above suspicion.
At the time of his donations to the Village of Williamsville, it was reported in the Amherst Bee that the name of E.H. Hutchinson will go down on the pages of the history of Williamsville as one who, out of love and reverence for his lathers' birthplace and personal happy memories bestows a munificent gift on our village. In the years to follow his commendable deeds shall act as an inspiration to the coming generations.