The Days Before the First “Fireward”
Perhaps the most feared disasters in the early days of our villages were those caused by fire. After a particularly bad fire had occurred in Boston in March, 1631, official action was taken by other villages and laws were established to help prevent similar catastrophes. One such law was established at a Cambridge town meeting held October 3, 1636 when it was ordered:
“That no child under the age of ten years shall carry any fire from one house to another, nor any other person unless it be covered up on forfeiture of twelve pence a time for every such fault the one half to the person that sees, the other to the constable.”
It should be noted that carrying fire (coals) from one house to another was necessary in those days when the fire on the hearth went out.
Before the day of the manual fire engines, almost every dwelling house possessed two leather fire buckets with the owner’s name and number painted on them, which were kept in a conspicuous place near the door ready for immediate use. Neighbors would rush to fight a fire, and two lines of bucket passers would form from the nearest water supply to the fire, one line passing full buckets and the other passing back the empties. After the fire, the buckets were placed together and each person picked out his own. A bed-key to take bolts from the old-fashioned rope bedsteads and clothes bags to carry clothing from burning buildings were also “first aids” in fire salvage work. One of the earliest uses of the bucket brigade in Upper Falls must have been at this fire, among the earliest recorded: “1729. March 18, William Clark’s house, Upper Falls”. William Clark was the son of the original sawmill owner, John Clark.
The First “Fireward”
Because it was a sparsely settled farming community in the early days, Newton as a town did not take any action for the prevention or fighting of fires until l818 when it appointed Solomon Curtis as fireward at Lower Falls. Newton’s first fire apparatus was located in that village. Residents on both sides of the river, in Newton and Needham (now Wellesley), purchased it some time prior to 1812. This pioneer fire department was approved by an act of the Legislature that authorized both towns to nominate and appoint ten men each to take charge of the apparatus, provided these men did not reside more than a half mile from where the equipment was housed.
Mr. Easterbrook, in his history of the Newton Fire Department, records that at least one of our Upper Falls residents was involved in the development of this first fire department. He was General Simon Elliot who had inherited his father’s snuff mills and other properties at Upper Falls. From the following account we find that General Elliot also had business interests in Lower Falls and had purchased shares to cover the cost of the new fire engine in that village:
“All the stockholders were not residents of the Lower Falls. General Simon Elliot was a resident of the Upper Falls, where he owned snuff and other mills on the site of the present silk-mills, on Elliot Street, which was named in his honor. He also owned a snuff-mill and an interest in a paper-mill at the Lower Falls. He formerly resided in Boston, where he was a fireward …”
Engine Society No. 2
The second company was organized at Newton Upper Falls November 8, 1820 and was known as the Newton Engine Society No. 2. Its engine was owned by the Rufus Ellis Iron Works, located at the Boylston Street bridge, and was best known as the Ellis engine. In 1824 the iron works, then known as the Newton Factories, purchased of Hunneman & Company of Roxbury, Massachusetts another and better engine with a suction hose. This was the first and, until 1842, the only suction engine in town.
The first record of a meeting by this organization (also known as Washington Engine No. 2) was one held at Wiswall’s Tavern on November 8, 1820. On May 2, 1821 the society completed its organization as follows:
Elijah F. Woodward
Charles F. Pettee
William Eaton, Jr.
This list includes the names of Needham men. From ten to twenty were appointed and paid for by that town for the Upper and Lower Falls companies until 1881 when Wellesley became independent. Usually the men from Needham were selected by the company, subject to the approval of the selectmen. The reason for the combined companies, of course, was the inability of the Needham companies to reach a fire quickly in the Newton Upper Falls section of Needham (across the river from this village) and similarly to the Newton Lower Falls section of Needham (opposite that village). Even today these two sections, now known as East Needham and Wellesley Lower Falls, receive mutual aid fire protection from the Newton companies.
It is interesting to note that when the combined company of Upper Falls and Needham Upper Falls (now East Needham) men was dropped in 1881, the Needham section people were concerned about their fire protection since they were so far away from the Needham fire stations and therefore they organized their own company. This was indicated by a news item appearing in the Newton Journal of May 30, 1885 stating that a company called the Niagara Engine No. 1 had been organized at Needham Upper Falls with 30 members. The officers were; H. H. Easterbrook, M.F. McDonald, George A. Billings, E.F. Gay and T.J. Daley. (The writer, who lived in that area when a boy, can recall the old hose wagon which was kept in a barn behind McDonald’s store on Reservoir Street. When a local fire occurred it was always necessary to look for Pete Proctor and his horses in whatever field he might have been plowing at the time and get him down to the fire barn to haul the wagon). The constitution of the Upper Falls Newton Engine Society No. 2 Company is so interesting and amusing that it is included here in its entirety. The meaning of the word “Catoos,” which represented a position held by some of the men on the above list and is included in the constitution, is not clear:
|ARTICLE 1. We, the subscribers, members of Newton Engine Society No. 2, hold it our unalienable right to admit members into said society and dismiss such as shall be disagreeable to us.|
|ARTICLE 2. We also hold it as our right to elect our own officers, which shall be first, second and third captain, and a clerk. The first captain present at any meeting shall be leader and moderator of said meeting, whose reasonable orders we will obey, and render him that respect which is his due. Said officers shall always be chosen by ballot.|
|ARTICLE 3. No person shall be admitted into this society without a written vote from the majority of its members.|
|ARTICLE 4. The society shall meet to work the engine and transact any other business belonging to them, on the first Wednesday in April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November, all of which meetings shall be at sunset except the annual meeting, which shall be at 6 o’clock, P.M. The roll shall be called at the times of meeting above named, and after the engine shall be worked and returned to its place, and if any member be absent at either roll-call he shall be fined twenty-five cents.|
|ARTICLE 5. The annual meeting of the society shall be on the first Wednesday in May, when the officers for the ensuing year shall be chosen, and also catoos shall be appointed to take the immediate care of the engine until the next annual meeting.|
|ARTICLE 6. If the engine be carried to a fire, and it be found frozen and so rendered useless for that time, each person having the immediate care of the engine shall forfeit and pay five dollars for such neglect.|
|ARTICLE 7. If the members of this society shall be alarmed by cry of fire from a neighboring town and the engine be carried to it, any member neglecting to return with the engine shall forfeit and pay fifty cents.|
|ARTICLE 8. For neglect to attend at any fire where the engine may be carried, any member knowing of the fire shall forfeit and pay three dollars.|
|ARTICLE 9. If any member in time of fire absent himself from the engine, without the consent of the captain, except his own house be on fire, he shall be fined one dollar.|
|ARTICLE 10. If any member be absent from any meeting of the society when business is done, he shall be liable to pay his average proportion of the expenses arising at said meeting.|
|ARTICLE 11. Each member admitted into this society after the date of these articles shall pay four dollars on admission.|
|ARTICLE 12. At our meetings notice shall be given when the reckoning is called for, and if any member shall presume to call for anything after the reckoning is brought in, until the clerk has settled the same, he shall be fined fifty cents and pay for what he calls for.|
|ARTICLE 13. Every member shall pay his proportionable part of the expenses which arise at our monthly meetings, whether present or absent.|
|ARTICLE 14. If either of the catoos be absent when their business is to be done, he shall be liable to a fine of fifty cents.|
|ARTICLE 15. Every member who does not pay his fine in three months after he is asked for it shall be dismissed from the society, provided he is in town during that time.|
|ARTICLE 16. When the moderator at any meeting of the society shall have called for order, any member presuming to speak shall forfeit twenty cents.|
|ARTICLE 17. The foregoing articles shall be read at each annual meeting, and at the admission of members, who must sign them when admitted.|
|ARTICLE 18. This constitution shall not be altered without the consent of two thirds of its members.|
|ARTICLE 19. Any member leaving the society shall relinquish and leave all his right in funds or any other property belonging to the society.|
|ARTICLE 20. All funds belonging to this society shall be expended for their benefit in such manner as they shall determine.|
This society, like most of the early fire companies, was a convivial body and its meetings were festive occasions, as its constitution indicates. It was an independent organization and paid its own expenses. In 1824 it provided a pair of shafts and harness for a horse to draw the engine to and from fires for which it paid seventeen cents per mile for a single horse and for two horses twelve and a half cents each per mile.
Money was really “funny” in those days. Mr. Easterbrook relates that at the annual meeting in May, 1826 the society found itself the possessor of a five dollar bill of the Eagle Bank of New Haven. They authorized it be exchanged for other money on the best terms possible. After six months of fruitless efforts to exchange it, it was sold at auction to a member for fifty cents.
The engine, a picture of which appears in Easterbrook’s history, was kept in a small building just large enough to admit it, located on the south side of Boylston Street between Chestnut and Ellis streets. The old building (built in 1823) was sold in 1855 for $13.50 and was moved to 49 Rockland Place. As late as 1924 it was still in about the same condition as when abandoned as a fire station nearly 75 years before. Perhaps some of our readers may remember when it succumbed to time. When three new, and supposedly more powerful, engines were purchased by the town in 1835 they were given a public exhibition test at the Boylston Street bridge in Upper Falls. The old Ellis or No. 2 engine of 1820 vintage competed with them and a resident of Upper Falls was later heard to comment regarding the test:
“I well remember how jubilant the nail factory (Ellis Iron Works ) boys were when they threw up a taller stream of water, and more of it, with the ‘old squirt gun,’ as they called the Ellis engine, than could be done with the new machines.”
These engines were virtually nothing more than tubs on wheels which were drawn to a fire by men hauling them on drag-ropes. Equipment was limited, there being no cotton hose available until about the 1860s. Early firemen had to rely on leather hose which was difficult to handle, particularly in cold weather. In the winter season they would have to be greased after each use in order to maintain some degree of flexibility. The first engine tubs were filled by bucket-brigade and later by suction hose laid to brooks or other sources of water. The long pump handles on each side of the engine (for some reason called brakes) were pumped manually up and down, operating in turn an ordinary piston pump which forced the water through a nozzle directed at the fire.
Musters, which were usually firemen’s picnics or field days, featured engines from surrounding towns competing not only to produce the longest stream but also to sustain it for a record time. Later, in some contests, suction hand engines were connected “tub-and-tub,” the first engine drawing from a brook or stream and then pumping the water through a hose to the next engine, through that to succeeding engines and finally through the last one and onto the ground A tub which overflowed would disqualify that particular engine. A firemen’s collation of crackers, cheese and coffee was usually served after the early musters but it is said that at later ones the liquid refreshments were often a bit stronger.
A new Hunneman engine was purchased by the town in 1842 for Newton Upper Falls, but instead of taking the name and number of the engine it was to succeed (Washington No. 2), as was the custom at that time, it was numbered 4 and named “Upper Falls.” Also, an entire new company was organized to operate it. They adopted a very resolute motto for themselves; “Veni, Vedi, Vici” which means “I came, I saw, I conquered ” This new Upper Falls No. 4 went into service July 2, 1842 in a new station on High Street, now a dwelling-house at 54 High.
This company, similar to all previous fire companies of the village, always had a full complement of men with a large number on the waiting list. It is said that:
“…no engine in town would turn out more men, members and volunteers, at fires than would No. 4; and it always went with a full drag-rope, which frequently was not long enough to accommodate all that went with it. It used to often be said that the head of the rope turned the corner several minutes before the engine did, so long was the line of men drawing it. No company made quicker time or worked their engine longer or better with their own men than did No. 4. It seldom stopped or lagged for want of men, which was a common occurrence with the other companies.”
No reason was found as to why the previous company was disbanded in 1842 with arrival of the new engine. A volunteer company of young men, not old enough to become members of the new No. 4 company, was organized and for a number of years did considerable service with the old engine in this and other villages. One commendable job performed by this group is noted in a news item appearing later in this chapter.
However, at its last fire, a barn on the Ellis estate at the corner of Chestnut and Boylston Streets on July 17, 1854, these young volunteers displeased the local engineer and he had the engine taken to the stone building near the stone barn, where it remained until sold to Otis Pettee & Co. in 1856 for $17.50. It was later demolished and the wheels saw service for many years on a vehicle used about the premises. Perhaps the boys who formerly handled the old engine agreed with this lament which in later years appeared in a local news item:
When fire is cried and danger is nigh,
God and the firemen, is the people’s cry.
But when the fire is out and all things righted,
God is forgot and the firemen slighted.
Another early hand fire engine, used by the second company in the town, was owned by the Elliot Manufacturing Company of Upper Falls which purchased it for the protection of their property on Elliot Street. On March 9, 1824 the selectmen appointed a company to operate it. It was officially known as Engine Company No. 4 but was generally called the Elliot engine, and was located in a court off Elliot Street nearly opposite the old silk mill gates, since demolished .
In 1856 the name of the engine housed on High Street was changed from “Upper Falls” to “Mechanic” as the name represented the occupation of most of the members of the company at that time.
On February 1, l878 Hose Company No. 7 went into service and took possession of the hose-cart and house on High Street.
Clockwise from Upper Left:
Foreman J.W.C. Easterbrook,
Assistant Foreman. J.T. Thomason
Driver Stephen Morgan
In 1879 the old engine was taken by a New York concern in part payment for hook-and-ladder truck No. 1 (later renumbered No. 2) and was eventually sold to Lake Charles, Louisiana where it returned to active service.
The End of the “Old Hand Engine Companies”
The days of the old hand engine companies were coming to a close. The old companies had a colorful history and the members enjoyed their association with them through their musters, picnics and other functions. One of these latter events is recorded as being held on June 17, 1877 in “Richardson’s grove, on the banks of the Charles, just above the pumping-station” – which must be the grove later known as Coldspring Grove. The program for the day listed sports, music, a fish chowder and after-dinner speeches together with other activities.
As previously indicated, Hose Company No. 7 succeeded Mechanic No. 4 hand engine company and was organized on January 25, 1878. It occupied the old house on High Street until January 27, 1879 when it moved to its new building on Pettee Street. It used a horse pung at first but changed to a hose-carriage at a later date.
Its first horse was called “Old Harvey” and it is described by our historian as being “one of the wonders of the department”. The writer goes on to say:
“It was a tip-cart horse belonging to the highway department, which for slowness of gait never had an equal in this or any other fire department. The first alarm the company responded to was from Box 52, at 4:05 P.M. March 25th. Every schoolboy, and every one else who went faster than a walk, passed the company enroute to the fire. By persistent persuasion, the noble animal succeeded in reaching the spot where the fire had been, but not until it was extinguished.”
However, as we acknowledge the frailties of life, even among horses, we are saddened to record the following news from an item dated October 8, 1881:
“‘Old Harvey’, one of the best known horses in the vicinity, formerly belonging to the city and used for Hose No. 7, (at which time, our correspondent remarks, the smallest urchin could pass him when en route to a fire), died recently at a very ripe old age.”
Hose Company No. 7 was the first company in Newton to receive a hose-wagon (January 31, 1893) built by the Abbott-Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire.
Fires and Firewards
The records of early fires in the village covered by the various engine companies are interesting. Those included here mainly refer to early business enterprises and residents:
|March 18, 1729||William Clark’s house, Upper Falls.|
|July 30, 1838||Moses Crafts house, Boylston by Woodward Streets.|
|November 25, 1839||Otis Pettee’s machine shop, Upper Falls.|
|July 25, 1843||Dr. S.H. Spaulding’s & Jos. Davenport’s houses. Chestnut Street, Upper Falls (A copy of a news item appears later in this section referring to this fire).|
|May 7, 1844||Otis Pettee’s “pond shop”, Upper Falls.|
|January 11, 1849||House occupied by Dr. Augustus Wentworth, Chestnut Street, Upper Falls.|
|March 13 1850||Otis Pettee’s “upper shop”, Upper Falls.|
|May 8, 1850||Ellis cotton factory, Boylston Street. Upper Falls (on Needham (Wellesley) side of river–destroyed but rebuilt);|
|March 18, l851||Otis Pettee’s dry-sheds (slight), Upper Falls|
|January 9, 1853||J.N. Bacon’s barn, Woodward Street, Upper Falls.|
|January 11, 1853||House occupied by Edward Taylor, Ellis Street, Upper Falls.|
|May 1, 1853||Big brush fire, one thousand acres, Upper Falls.|
|September 4, 1853||N. Lothrop’s stable, Elliot Street, Upper Falls.|
|June 17, 1854||Ellis heir’s barn, Upper Falls.|
|July 17, 1854||E.C. Dudley’s house (Needham) Upper Falls.|
|August 7, 1857||Old slaughter house, Oak Street, Upper Falls.|
|April 9, 1859||Peregrine Bartlett’s house (present Waban section) U.F.|
|April l4, 1859||E.C. Dudley’s old house (Needham) Upper Falls.|
|November 7, 1861||J.N. Bacon’s barn, Woodward Street, Upper Falls.|
|March 2g, 1864||Florence Crowley’s house (Needham) Upper Falls.|
|August 19, 1865||Otis Pettee & Co’s. blacksmith shop and other buildings.|
|December 7, 1868||Cady & Hanford’s straw shop, Oak Street, Upper Falls|
|June 5, 1869||Newton Mills stockhouse, Upper Falls.|
|July 31, 1869||Collin Cady’s old tin shop, High Street, Upper Falls|
|May 30, 1870||E.C. Dudley’s barn (Needham) Upper Falls.|
|August 27, 1870||N.C. Munson’s (Cargill) barn (Needham) Upper Falls.|
|March 5, 1872||William Garrett’s barn, Woodward Street, Upper Falls.|
|October 7, 1873||Webber & Cargill’s planing and moulding mill, U.F. (Note – this building was located on the north side of Boylston St., Needham [Wellesley] side of river. The building, the second on the site, was completely destroyed and never rebuilt.)|
|April 20, 1876||Tin Bridge (railroad), Upper Falls.|
|November 4, 1884||Wardwell & Clark’s paper mill, Upper Falls (a detailed account of this fire is contained in a news item reported later in this section).|
|July 31, 1886||Willard Marcy’s barn, Upper Falls.|
The most famous fire, that of the Pettee Works on November 25, 1839, is recorded in the section covering our early industries
The above fire record notes many costly fires in the early shops and factories of the village. Newton became very concerned about this destruction of valuable industrial property with the consequent loss of taxes and employment. This resulted in the election of firewards, or local chiefs, to have charge of fire protection for the town. Many of the fires in those early days were evidently thought to be the work of arsonists as indicated by a vote that was passed in 1824 offering a reward of $300 to any person aiding the town to detect and convict any one accused of incendiarism.
Historians record that on March 7, 1825 four firewards were chosen for each of the engines; No. 1, Lower Falls; No. 2, Newton Centre and Upper Falls; No. 3, West Newton and Elliot Factory Engine, Upper Falls. Prior to this time (in 1823) it was decided by vote “that it be left to the discretion of the Selectmen to build Engine-houses when and where they deem them necessary. Provided, that the proprietors of the Engine or Engines will provide land at their own expense to build said houses upon.” However, in 1835 the town voted to expend one thousand dollars to put the fire engines in good repair to purchase new ones together with hose.
It would appear from the foregoing that the first firewards in the town were appointed in 1825, but Mr. Easterbrook’s record indicates otherwise. As previously mentioned, Mr. Solomon Curtis of Lower Falls was the first one, having been appointed in 1818. The record shows a considerable number of men from several villages serving in the capacity of fireward from the year l818 to 1825.
In March, 1826 it was voted “that in the future the several firewards in the town provide refreshments for the engine men and others, who may come from neighboring towns to aid in extinguishing fires, and present bills of the same to the Selectmen for allowance.” Appropriations for fire protection, however, were hard to come by in those early days, although in 1842 the town did appropriate $600 for fire purposes to each of the villages of Newton Upper Falls, West Newton, Newton Centre and Newton Corner, provided that each of these villages should add $200 more. This action was the result of the disastrous fire that destroyed the Pettee Works at Upper Falls in 1839.
The fire department of Newton was not completely organized until 1843 when the residents of Newton Upper Falls sent the following petition to the state legislature which was enacted into law:
To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts assembled, we the subscribers of Newton humbly petition your Honorable body that the authorities of Newton be empowered to organize a fire department agreeably to an act of the revised statutes passed April 9, 1839, to regulate fire departments according to the law in such cases provided, as in duty bound will ever pray.
It was signed by the following:
William E. Clarke
Joseph C. Everett
Joseph M. Gay
John A. Whitney
Martin P. Sturtevant
Samuel B. Everett
Edward J. Collins
Chas. F. Pettee
However, the complete expense of the entire department of the town of Newton in 1807 was only just over a thousand dollars. Engine No. 4 of Newton Upper Falls received $106.20 of this amount. Included in the newly organized department were twelve engineers.
Of course, it was not until the gasoline engine came into use that the department became really effective. Bakery cart, milk wagon and farm horses were sometimes pressed into service to pull the engines in those early days and, as late as 1882 Hose No. 7 was having trouble with its horses as indicated by this local news item of May 20, 1882:
“Hose Co. No. 7, in responding to alarms of fire from boxes 9 and 71 this past week, were greatly delayed by a balky horse, which stopped several times and refused to go; and, had service been required, there is no telling what loss might have resulted by this unfortunate habit. It is claimed that a permanent man ought to be employed to drive the hose carriage and look after the stable. This stable contains more horses than any in the city, where there is no one permanently employed, and, as so far this year this company has answered more alarms than any other (except the truck) it would seem advisable to have a permanent man there, paid jointly by the fire and highway departments.”
Rivalries were intense between the villages and towns, and many a fist fight broke out at the musters. At one time the West Newton engine house burned down while the members of the company were at a circus in Waltham although the townspeople saved the engine.
Another incident where our local boys got “carried away” is recalled in this news item that appeared in the Newton Journal on May 28, 1870:
“ALARM AT FIRE EXTRAORDINARY” – Our Newton Upper Falls correspondent sends us the following under the date of May 23rd.
About two o’clock this morning, a young man from Watertown, mounted upon a powerful horse, came rapidly into the village crying fire with a most desperate energy. He repeatedly declared that the village of Newton was on fire. The church bell was quickly ringing, and the fire men were soon hurrying toward the engine. But no light of fire could he seen or sound of bells heard from any other part of town. Some said there was no fire, while others thought the horseman could not be earnest unless such was the fact. He finally became so enthusiastic as to borrow a harness and attach his horse to the engine, and away went horse, rider, engine and down nearly to the Corner, before the mad race could be stopped. The Upper Falls Engineers continued on to the Steamer’s House, and ascertained that a barn in Watertown had that morning been burned, which was the probable cause of the excitement on the young man’s brain. The above facts strongly suggest the query, is the prohibitory law in full force in Watertown?’Newton Journal on May 28, 1870
In 1867 the fire department of Newton had six hand engines, well furnished with apparatus and in good working order. The first steam fire engine was placed at Newton Corner in the autumn of 1868.
In 1879 the valuation of the fire engine house, engine, land and miscellaneous items at Upper Falls was $2,000. The total valuation of all the equipment in the city was $141,000 a sharp contrast with the valuation in 1847 of about $1,000. In 1955 a new fire station combining the Upper Falls and Newton Highlands departments was built on Elliot Street opposite Circuit Avenue, and Upper Falls Engine 7, after a temporary move to Newton Highlands for a period 1950 to 1955 was moved to this new location. The old engine house on Pettee Street was razed to make way for an enlarged Emerson School playground
We conclude this history of our local fire companies with some graphic newspaper accounts of a few major fires in the village. Of dramatic value as well as important historical content is this newspaper account taken from the Newton Journal of August 3, 1883. It covers the fortieth anniversary celebration of Mr. and Mrs. Horace Bacon whose home was on the crest of the Boylston Street hill. It follows in part:
“Mr. Bacon has for many years been a resident of this village, and carried on very successfully the meat and provision business until within a few years, when his son-in-law, Mr. C.M. Randall, succeeded him. He was for two years a member of the Common Council from Ward 5. An incident connected with his early life, which on this occasion it is very appropriate to mention, will be remembered by many of the older ones in this village.
Previous to August 1, 1843, where the residence of William Lowe now stands (969-971 Chestnut Street), stood a dwelling house owned by one Joseph Davenport, and here Mr. Bacon in a few days intended to bring his bride. He had partially furnished it, and was en route to Dedham with a load of furniture on this, to him, the memorable, August 1st, when the dwelling fell a victim to the enemy which is ever lurking in our midst and devoured his future residence and part of his then probably scanty earthy possessions. He saw the light of the fire when some miles distance, but he little thought it was his intended future, and in a certain sense, first home.”Newton Journal of August 3, 1883
The fire described above also destroyed the residence of Dr. Spaulding, which stood where the late Myra Mills resided. The house now occupied by Mr. de Rosier was then occupied as a tavern kept by one Capt. Harding, which building was saved from being also burnt by the young boys who then worked the abandoned engine, formerly used here; and for this successful effort Capt. Harding presented them with a bell, which is now in possession of Hose Company 7.”
Research indicates that Dr. Spaulding’s house stood where the house at 975 Chestnut Street now stands and that Captain Harding’s Tavern was located at 981 Chestnut
An industrial fire that caused extensive damage occurred at the Wardwell & Clark Paper Mill located on both sides of Boylston Street at the foot of the hill. This happened in November, 1884 and portions of a newspaper account of the fire follows:
“About seven o’clock Saturday morning one of the employees in Wardwell & Clark’s Paper Mill discovered the interior of the sizing-room to be on fire. He immediately gave an alarm, and the fire department quickly responded. The fire spread with great rapidity, and before it could be got under control, the building was completely gutted. Two lines of hose from No. 7 poured volumes of water into the west wing and the machine room; it was almost impossible to reach the fire in the north wing because of the dense smoke and the difficulty of carrying the hose over and through the machinery. At the same time the roof directly over their heads was burning furiously, placing the firemen in great danger, but bravely did they remain at their post of duty with fearless determination which has ever characterized an Upper Falls fireman. With Chief Bixby at their head they fearlessly worked inch by inch into the very heart of the fire, which fact leaves today standing, and but little damaged, the main portion of the mill known as the engine room….
The loss of the building is set at $1500, on which there is no insurance, the lessees being contracted to keep the buildings in repair. Loss of stock, $1000, insured. Loss on shafting, $500. There is little or no damage to engines or machinery. The building is valued at $4500 by’ the assessors. The total loss will not exceed $8000, and at a total risk of $11,000, it is a positive proof of an ably managed fire with which every one is satisfied, considering the progress the fire had made when discovered and its stubbornness in burning as well as the difficulty of reaching the flames….
The firm occupied two mills in the manufacture of manila paper, and the one burned was the larger of the two. It was constructed of wood and stone, and was two stories high…
There was fifteen hands employed in the mill, who will be thrown out of work for the present. The mill burned was the best of the two. In all probabilities the building will be rebuilt.”
The records show that after the building was rebuilt, Wardwell & Clark continued business for only two more years before selling their interests to the Superior Wax Paper Company. This company never went into business, however, and subsequent owners were E.J. Hickey Paper Company and Rice Kendall Company. It is believed that the property was acquired by the Metropolitan Park (District) Commission mission which razed the building sometime in the early 1900s. (See “Industry“)
Among the numerous fires that have destroyed industries in Upper Falls with huge losses to the owners was one that threatened to wipe out; the whole village. It is recorded in detail in a four column news story in the Boston Globe on Friday, November 15, 1907.
The headline and story follow:
HARD BATTLE WITH FIRE AT NEWTON UPPER FALLS
Factory of Leather Tire Goods and Acme Broom Works, With residence of C. Frank Osborne Destroyed While Other Houses are Threatened. Loss $45,000.
(Following were pictures of the ruins, a diagram of the vicinity of the burned mill and one showing Mrs. H. H. Smith and Mrs. Wm. Easterbrook serving the firemen hot coffee and doughnuts)
Newton, Nov.. 14 What proved the worst fire with which the department here has had to battle in recent years started today at noon in the factory of the Leather Tire Goods Company and the Acme Broom Works at Newton Upper Falls, entailing a loss estimated at $45,000.
A strong westerly wind carried the flames to many dwellings in the vicinity. Although 13 other structures were ignited only one, the house of C. Frank Osborne on High Street, was badly damaged
Although the cause of the fire is not known, it is believed by the concerns using the factory, and also by the firemen, that it started from sparks from under the boiler in the broom works. The engineer was burning rubbish about this time, and soon after flames broke out in the rear of the first floor. The building was a 2 1/2-story wooden structure and was one of the landmarks of Newton Upper Falls. The original structure was built in 1825. (Ed. Note: not correct1) For many years it was used as a rubber mill. About a dozen years ago it was rebuilt. Less than two years ago the Leather Tire Goods Company, owned by Charles B. Woodworth and Desmond Woodworth of Newton Highlands, was established and began the manufacture of automobile tires. Later part of the old mill was leased by the Acme Broom Works.
The employees of both concerns were about to leave the mill for dinner when the fire was discovered. An alarm was sounded from Box 617, and many of the employees and residents of the vicinity immediately began to fight the flames with buckets.
The mill burned like tinder and Fire Chief Walter B. Randlett, who was among the first to arrive, had a general alarm sounded. This brought almost all the apparatus.
The firemen soon realized that it would be impossible to confine the flames to the mill, and they were forced to give much attention to dwellings in the neighborhood. The high wind carried sparks and embers a long distance, and, although more than a dozen houses caught fire, the Department, by hard work, saved every dwelling except that of Mr. Osborne. An L and the rear part of his dwelling was gutted, causing a loss of $1500. The family lost considerable clothing and furniture.
Some of the contents of the mill was saved at great risk by the firemen. The loss to the Leather Tire Goods Company was estimated at $20,000, that of the Acme Broom Works at $5000, and the loss on the building itself at $20,000. It is stated that the loss is partly covered by insurance.
Besides the house of Mr. Osborne on High Street, flames ignited the dwellings of Henry Tibbetts, l09 High St.; Richard H. Adams, 132 High St.; John A. McKenzie, 103 High St., and then caught the houses of Thomas Furdon, 1304 Boylston St.; Mrs. John Hill, 1305 Boylston St.; William H. Kerrivan, 1284 Boylston St.; a dwelling owned by Walter Chesley on the same thoroughfare, and the Church of Yahweh, 1276 Boylston St. The church quarters are in the second floor of a 2-story wooden building, and Rev. N.L. Cunningham is the pastor. The parish is of the Second Adventist faith.
Running along Chestnut St. the flames caught the upper part of the houses of Mrs. Mary Leach, 954 Chestnut St.; Thomas F. Shaughnessy, 966 Chestnut St., and Samuel A. Piper, 937 Chestnut St. corner of Boylston St.
By drenching these buildings the firemen, assisted by a large crew of volunteers, extinguished the fires with only comparatively slight damage resulting except the Osborne house. Some idea of the fierceness of the wind may be gained by the fact that sparks and embers were blown to the premises of Fred W. Cobb, 49 Rockland Place, fully a third of a mile away from the mill. Mr. Cobb’s dwelling was not damaged, but a henhouse on the premises caught fire and burned flat. Mr. Cobb is a son of Darius Cobb, the well-known artist.
The firemen fought the flames in the mill ruins all through the afternoon. For a time it looked as though every house in the vicinity was doomed Along Boylston, Chestnut and High Streets many of’ the families moved out their household effects and prepared for a hasty flight:
While about every resident of the vicinity came to the assistance of’ the firemen in every way possible, the women of the village, headed by Mrs. W.C. Easterbrook and Mrs. H.A. Smith, offered large quantities of sandwiches and coffee. Mrs. Easterbrook and Mrs. Smith set up a commissary department in the lee of the fire between the mill ruins and the bank of the Charles River.
Besides being strong enough to carry the sparks a long distance the wind was biting cold. Whenever the firemen stopped work for a few minutes rest they suffered from the cold. Police Chief Ryan and Sergeant Clay were on hand with a large detail of police, who rendered assistance to many families.
The old mill was one of the landmarks of Newton Upper Falls. It was situated at what was known in olden days as the “lower place” at the end of Boylston St., beside the Charles River, a few hundred yards from the famous Echo Bridge.
The burning of the mill will throw many workmen out of employment. It is stated that both concerns which occupied the structure will find quarters as soon as possible, but it is said that it is not likely that the mill will be rebuilt.”Boston Globe on Friday, November 15, 1907
As an addendum to this section of the Upper Falls fire department record, for genealogical purposes we are including the names of those who served in the old companies. As previously stated, a certain number of these men were required to be residents of Needham and are included in these lists. However, in compliance with the rule that all members must live within a half mile of the fire station we can presume that most of these Needham men resided in the Newton Upper Falls section just across the river from the village.
The names of those who served with the first organized company, Newton Engine Society #2 or Washington Engine #2 (organized May 2, 1821) have been given earlier. Following are those who served in this Newton Factories company from 1821 to 1841:
Baker, Joseph V.
Cass, John A.
Carter, Josiah H.
Cheney, Samuel B.
Ellis, William H.
Graves, Moses J
Hersey, Elijah Jr.
Harper, James C.
Keyes, George W.
Keyes, Francis P.
Lincoln, Carter H.
Newell, Artemas Jr.
Raymond, Luther S.
Richards, George P.
Skinner, John L.
Seavy, Peter C.
Sturtevant, Martin P
Sturdevant, M. P.Jr.
Wetherell, J. B.
Young, L. S.
Another company owned and organized March 9, 1824 by the Elliot Mfg. Co., was known as Engine Company No. 4 or the Elliot Engine. Although operated for but a short time the names of the men who manned the engine are given here:
Briggs, James P.
Everett, Joseph C.
Hawes, Rufus M.
Kent, Joseph D.
Sherman, John Jr .
Sherman, James M.
White, Barney L.
The following served in the new company organized July 2, 1842. It was called the Upper Falls No.4 Engine Company, later changed in 1856 to Mechanic #4 Engine Company. It was located in a new station erected for it on High Street; (now a dwelling house) . This list covers a period from 1842 to 1879:
Aiken, C. T.
Barney, Enos D.
Brown, C. H.
Batchelder, J. H.
Bosworth, J. I.
Butman, Charles F.
Barnard , J. H.
Bancroft, W. H.
Billings, J. E.
Clarke, William E.
Clarke, Horace A.
Clapp, E. M.
Everett, Samuel B.
Everett, Otis M.
Everett, Lewis P.
Edson, John M.
Easterbrook, A. E.
Fuller, Rodney G
Freeman, C. W.
Firth, J. W.
Fales, W. A.
Fish, George W.
Fenner, Wallace G.
Fuller, A. M.
Flagg, D. Warren
Grover, A. J.
Gould, John A. Jr.
Gould, G. Fred
Gould, John A.
Gould, M. W.
Green, Philip A.
Howard , W. S.
Harris, John Jr.
Hawes, G. B.
Hews, S. P.
Hayward , C. B.
Hewett, J. G.
Hurd , E. G.
Hood, James B.
Holmes, J. W.
Holmes, E. H.
Hall, J. T.
Howe, John W.
Hurd George W.
Josselyn, H. S.
Johnson, C. H.
Keyes, George W.
Kahurl, Elbridge L.
Kerrivan, E. S.
Kerrivan, Thomas A.
Langdon, W. T.
Marshall, Caleb C.
Mitchell, J. N.
Morey, W. M.
Noyes, C. H.
Pettee, Otis Jr.
Potter, S. H.
Raymond, Luther S.
Reed, George K.
Richardson, T. J.
Richardson, H. B.
Ray, James A.
Randall, J. L.
Ray, Frank A.
Randall, George B.
Smith, W. H.
Sturtevant, N. B.
Scott, D. B.
Sherman, J. M.
Sherman, George C.
Smith, Isaac, Jr.
Staples, David J.
Sterling, J. L.
Sullivan, D. J.
Smith, Alson A
Smith, W. H.
Smith, S. M.
Trusdell, D. B.
Thompson, G. M.
Veno, James E.
Williston, John T.
Warren, Royal S.
Willard, W. A.
Wetherell, Jacob B.
Winslow, E. R.
Wood, James W.
White, W. S. S.
Ward, J. M.
White, R. H.
Webster, J. F.
The following, in addition with others listed above, were members of Hose #7 Company, organized January 25, 1878 and housed in a new station on Pettee Street, since demolished
Cargill, William S.
Easterbrook, Horace H.
Easterbrook, J. W. C.
Hodgson, Robert H.
Osborne, George H.
Randall, Charles W.
Richards, E. L.
Thomason, J. T.
Containing a very small population in 1688 when New Cambridge (Newton) officially became a town, it was financially impossible for the new town to supply any fire or police protection for its six villages. Fire protection was provided by fire bucket brigades organized in each village. The first village to acquire any fire fighting equipment was Newton Lower Falls when the residents purchased a fire engine in 1812. The growth of the early fire companies in Newton was well documented in 1897 by H. H. Easterbrook in his HISTORY OF THE FIRE DEPARTMENT OF NEWTON, MASS.
Unfortunately no similar publication has been written by any historian regarding the organization and growth of the Newton Police department. In the first Newton Town directory, appearing in 1869, under Newton’s town officers is the heading NIGHT POLICE which lists but one name, that of John M. Fisk. He was located in an office in Hyde’s Block at Newton Corner and he was paid a salary of $75 per month. Under CONSTABLES the names of seven men are listed, including our Newton Upper Falls constable, Hosea C. Hoyt. Also listed are the names of three men serving as Truant Officers. The title, “Police” is not listed in the index of S.F. Smith’s HISTORY OF NEWTON, published in 1880. However, he does describe the duties of our early constables and his description of them is humorous enough to be worth noting:
“The Record of the town at this time shows how onerous was the duty of a constable of Newton, on whom was laid, for many years, the burden of collecting the annual taxes; and a citizen elected to that office, if he did not submit to accept, was compelled to pay a pecuniary mulct (fine). At a meeting in March, 1728, Mr. Joseph Jackson was chosen constable, but declined the office, and ‘did immediately pay his fine as the law requires.’ Another record shows that the amount of the fine was five pounds.”S.F. Smith’s HISTORY OF NEWTON, published in 1880
Included in the list of city offices when Newton was organized as a city in 1874 were only 10 men listed as police officers, two each assigned to Wards 1,2,3 and 4 with two each to Wards 5 and 6.
Henry K. Rove in his book TERCENTENARY HISTORY OF NEWTON records this undated account regarding police duties;
“The chief marshall was in charge and remained on duty in city hall during the day, assisted in the afternoon and evening by another officer. One man was on duty during the day in the village of Newton. At night, when it might be supposed that more crime would be committed, the Corner was protected by two patrolmen while one kept guard at Newtonville, West Newton, Auburndale, Lower Falls, Upper Falls, Newton Highlands and Newton Centre. A single mounted policeman was on general call. When one recalls that there were at that time more than 140 miles of streets, it is clear that the agents of the law presented no problems to the lawbreakers. One year’s record shows that the police arrested 339 persons, 80 for drunkenness, 80 for disorderliness, 53 for assault and battery, 52 for disturbing the peace, 44 for larceny and the remainder for miscellaneous offenses.”TERCENTENARY HISTORY OF NEWTON, Henry K. Rove
The word “jail” does not appear in the index of either Smith’s or Rowe’s histories so it is not known when one was established in Newton. Under the word “lock-up” we do find this item in S.F. Smith’s book;
“March, 1865, the town voted the sum of six hundred dollars to provide a suitable lock-up at Newton Corner.”HISTORY OF NEWTON
The only other form of incarceration we noted was the village stocks, strangely enough located on the meeting house lawn. Perhaps not so strange however, when we recall the early church was also the town hall. This is the way historian S. Smith viewed it;
“There was another institution connected with the meeting-house, which it is curious, at this distance of time, to contemplate. We refer to the stocks. How early the stocks were erected in Newton, we do not know. We are sure, however, that the fathers of the town were not without this necessary appendage to the place of punishment. Not only was it a law of the colony that all towns should be provided with stocks, but we find in the Town Records as late as 1773, that a ‘committee was chosen to examine the church stocks.’”HISTORY OF NEWTON
Smith then quotes from some other source how the stocks were constructed:
“They rested upon the solid earth, about ten rods from the church, and were made of two pieces of white-oak timber, about eight feet long, clamped together with bar-iron at each end, through which holes were made of various sizes, to fit human legs, for misbehavior during divine service. Disorderly persons were liable to have their legs made fast between that oak and iron, by way of punishment….”HISTORY OF NEWTON
Smith concludes with one more word regarding stocks:
“,..The stocks were in use in England as early as the year 1472, under the mayoralty of Sir William Hampton in London; for it is recorded that in that year he caused stocks to be erected in every ward in London, for the more effectual punishment of strollers….”HISTORY OF NEWTON
Leaving us wondering what crime a “stroller” might have committed. There is one definition of the word that indicates a stroller could be called a tramp.
In 1881 Edwin C. Hurd replaced Hosea C. Hoyt as the village police officer in Upper Falls who, in turn, was later replaced by John Purcell who was the grandfather of the late Chief of Police, Philip Purcell. In 1882 Ambrose M. Fuller was a special officer here and in June, 1893 was made a day officer. Milo Crowley may be remembered as a special police officer at the old movie house in the Wade School in the 1920s, wearing the old English “Bobby” helmet.
Now on the lighter side we report that the hazards of duty for our one-time village officer Purcell may be found in this news item that appeared September 19, 1885:
“One Friday night recently hen thieves were at work in this village, but so prompt and decisive was the action taken by Officer Purcell that it is doubtful that they will reappear. One was at work under Spear’s stables, and as Officer Purcell started off in that direction he dropped his hat and bag in effecting an escape, and as he slunk away in the inky darkness, the officer rushed in Pursuit and fired three times in the hope to bring him down, but in vain, – he had placed too great a distance between himself and the stern arm of the law.”
Another little matter of a more modern nature is contained in this news item of September 9, 1882:
“LOCAL MATTERS – The crowd that every Sunday congregates on the post office steps and in the vicinity of the Baptist Church have been informed that they must discontinue the practice, as many complaints have been made regarding the same.”
Not only because of the humor in the piece but also as an example of the leeway given the local correspondent in reporting, we add the following which was written in August 1883:
“At the lawn party given on the grounds of Willard Marcy, under the auspices of the M. E. Church last week, four uniformed guardians of the peace were by request detailed by Acting City Marshall Richardson to preserve order and prevent crime; but in the latter they were not wholly successful, for when these helmeted heroes were (all at one time) indulging in a most bountiful repast provided by the host, some one of a hilarious turn of mind, captured the ice cream merchant’s wagon, and ran it down into the field near by. When discovered there was a great furor in the camp of the disciples of John Wesley, and these bluecoated protectors were summoned to leave their feast and to search the country far and wide for the deep-dyed villain or villains who were so far degraded as to commit such an act on such an occasion. The wagon was early found all right, and one of this band of brass buttoned brotherhood was stationed to guard the same, while the other three took to the railroad track to lie in wait for the return of those villains, who had, as was stated by some, gone over the railroad bridge to Needham, where it was thought they would secret themselves and later return. Behind a pile of sleepers (which was subsequently burned) these three knights of the club hid themselves, waiting for their victims. Two young men of this village were at Needham on the same evening, and as the evening was enriched by a beautiful moonlight it was not at all unlikely that their ‘best girls’ were the cause of the visit to that town. They came home via the railroad while the disappointed feasters were concealed behind those sleepers, and when directly opposite – presto change-o – they were in the arms of the law. Imagine if you can those innocent young men’s thoughts. They were brought before the proprietor of the grounds and pronounced by him as not the guilty parties, and up to date the deservers of Concord’s hospitalities are still at large.”
And finally, without comment, we add the following from a news item appearing on January 23, 1883:
“The police of Newton have petitioned for an advance in salaries. They now receive $900 per annum and have asked for $1000, which latter sum is what was received by them several years ago. The members of the police, a hardworking, faithful corps of officials, are entitled to the liberal consideration of our citizens, but the management of the department we are not able to endorse, and hope some attention will be paid by the members of the City Council to this matter. Newton needs and is entitled to one of the best and most effective police departments in the State, and our department can easily be made as creditable as the one of which Mr. Bixby is Chief.
* Grant the policemen’s petition, but see to it that the management of the force is improved!”
* Fire department…Ed
- This information is incorrect. Our atlas of 1907 shows only one the building on this site and the owner is shown as the International Auto Vehicle Tire Co., successor to the Newton Rubber Company which had constructed the building in 1888. Actually, this was the newest building of the industrial buildings in the area and was, in fact, the only building remaining of the old manufacturing complex prior to the fire described above. By this date, the MDC acquired most of the land in the area. ↩︎