Firefighting in the Tonawandas

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Firefighting in the Tonawandas


Gratwick Hose No.6, Felton Street, c.1929Gratwick Hose No.6, Felton Street, c.1929
The greatest enemy the lumbermen had was fire. Annually it destroyed millions of dollars of lumber and cost many lives. A step forward came on May 7, 1876, when twenty of the most prominent residents of the Village of North Tonawanda gathered together in the school house at the corner of Main and Tremont Streets and formed themselves into a Company for the protection of property against the ravages of fire.  The newly formed Company petitioned the Village Board and in special session on May 15, 1876, the board approved and appointed them firemen of the Village and their company was called the North Tonawanda Bucket Company, later to be called the Columbia Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.

North Tonawanda depended heavily on Volunteer Firemen and quickly grew to seven companies located at important places around the city.
- Sarah E. Walter's thesis ( Allan Herschell "helped to organize the first fire company of North Tonawanda" (Biographical and portrait cyclopedia of Niagara County, New York, p.361).

Started Name Notes
May 7, 1876 North Tonawanda Bucket Company / Columbia Hook and Ladder Company No.1 Thompson in 1893 directory
March 1, 1886 Active Hose Company No.2 "Ironton Boys", Robinson south of Marion in 1893
1886-1909 Hydrant Hose Company No.3 Sweeney and Main at bridge
April 1887 Live Active Hose Co. No.4  Thompson St (1893), now Goundry and Vandervoort
January 26, 1891 Rescue Fire Company No.5  
1886? Gratwick Hose Company No.6 Felton until 1962.
1894 Sweeney Hose No.7  
Of Hydrant Hose Co. No. 3, it was said somewhere:
The fighting crew of the old Hydrant Hose Company liked to fight fires so much, they would first fight the men of any other fire company who raced to a North Tonawanda fire to see who got the pleasure of conquering the flames. Often the flames ended up as the victor as the firefighters spent their energies in a brawl rather than on the element of nature.
According to Harry Dorn in an article in this set,
The Tonawanda Fire Dept. was organized in the early 1860s when the Village of Tonawanda had a population of 2,000...One of the frst companies was the Shepard Hose Company which after several years was known as the DeGraff Hose, Hydrant Hose Company and thewn on Aug 25, 1898 became National Hose No.1 [Ed. Hydrant Hose appears in newspaper record until at least early 1900s].

Columbia Hook & Ladder in The Tonawanda News, May 9, 1896:
Monday, June 15, has been selected as the date of the Firemen's Annual Parade. It is expected that it will prove of more than ordinary interest as unusual efforts will be put forth this year to make it an enjoyable spectacular affair.

In this connection it is interesting to note that Thursday of this week was the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the first fire company In North Tonawanda. Previous to this date North Tonawanda had paid Tonawanda $300 a year for the fire protection that the Tonawanda companies afforded.

The parent company of North Tonawanda was the Columbia Hook and Ladder Company; it is still in existence, but is now one of eight splendid companies of which North Tonawanda can boast. As before stated it was organized May 7, 1876, and its first president was Frank Fellows. It was organized under a famous old hickory tree which stood on the ground now occupied by the parsonage of the First Methodist Church. Nicholas Beckrich was the first foreman of this company and other members of this crack organization were John E. Oelkers, Frank Batt, H. U. Berger, M. J. Wattengel, W. P. Hayes, Jno. Spillman, Aug. Duckwitz, Fred Schultz, Isaac Gardei, Geo. Miller, John Haas, Julius Miller and others. A number of these early firemen are numbered among the most prominent residents of North Tonawanda but it is with considerable pleasure that they recall the days of their early triumphs.


Fire engine house, Hydrant Hose Co., Sweeney and Main, map detail (1893).jpg

Fire engine house, Sweeney and Main, map detail (1893).jpg

Although generically named on the map, the 1893 city directory identifies this location as "Hydrant Hose Company."

Hydrant Hose Company, Sweeney and Main, photo (c1910).jpg

Columbia Hook & Ladder near Erie bridge, photo (c1910).jpg

Identified as "Columbia Hook & Ladder" when collected, though from location and banner looks like Hydrant Hose to me.

Parade on Sweeney Street, featuring fire departments, four photos (1961).jpg

Fire Dept Parade on Sweeney Street, Bill Bailey's Band, photo (1961).jpg

These four color photos from a parade on Sweeney Street take us back to a summer day beside the canal in 1961. They feature a brass band looking sharp…