Firefighting in the Mercersburg Area from Its Beginnings Through the Formation of the Eclipse Fire Company and the Formation of the Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters, and Warren Volunteer Fire Company Inc.
A Chronology by C. Edgar Snyder
1700s - 1800s - Long ago residents hung leather buckets (three gallons) on the wall for use in case of fire. If unsuccessful, nearby structures were pulled down to stave off a potential conflagration.
1850s - A transition period for fire pumps actuated by hand - The water pump mounted on a 4-wheeled chassis had a open box type water reservoir to be filled by a bucket brigade at the scene as water under pressure was delivered onto the fire through hose or a rotary nozzle mounted on the pump. The water pressure was dependant on the human effort expended to supply water and to actuate alternating grab rails connected to the water pressure pump similar to the old hand pumps for domestic use. Pumper fire engines were pulled by available manpower to the scene. The Borough had two pumper engines possibly into the 1860s.
1858 - Fire engine house with tower to hang and dry fire hose was completed and located on lot of Mercersburg Town Hall.
1862 - “How about a Fire Engine - Fire! Fire! Fire! A fearful cry going to a midnight fire where only buckets and hands can be brought to bear upon the spreading flames. The fire spreads, the rich are made poor, and the poor are made homeless. Can anything else be expected where there is no fire engine?”
1868 - “An experienced mechanic has been engaged in repairing our Fire Engine.” Town Council was reminded to see that “Our Fire Engines - such as they are - are in condition for use at a moment’s notice. Forewarned is forearmed.”
1869 - Our Fire Engine - “During the prevalence of the fire on Tuesday night, our engine was brought into use, and contrary to general expectations, performed an active part in staying the progress of the flames”
There is considerable talk among our citizens regarding the formation of a Fire Company” and “Since we have this engine in our possession and must depend principally upon it in case of fire, could not Town Council be prevailed upon to procure one or two hundred feet of hose.”
The preceding suggests the town’s demise of hand-operated pumpers possibly replaced by a IRE steamer fire engine pumper with a Sylvia water pump remounted onto a Cadillac chassis fifty-six years later by C. Edgar Fallon, Fire Chief.
1870 - 1874 Newspaper accounts report three incendiary and four mountain fires respectively.
1. One building on land believed purchased by the Greencastle and Mercersburg Turnpike Co. for purpose of a tollgate at the foot of the mountain eight miles northeast of here
2. Town Council offers a fifty dollar reward for apprehension of the fire setter(s) who burned the shop of James P. Starliper
3. A stable was burned to the rear office belonging to George Ludwig.
4. Mountain fire on Parnell Knob and Casey’s Knob consumed 6000 - 8000 cords of wood for Franklin Furnace and young chestnut timber rails of Mr. Trumpower, a $600 loss.
5. Remaining mountain fires - one north and one northwest of Mercers burg
1873 - “Almost a fire, showers of sparks from burning chimney sent sparks over stable connected to hotel property of C. G. Lowe, no serious consequences. Keep your stovepipes in good order.”
1873 - “Burning of Seth Dickey’s mill or saw and gristmill operated on road to Fort Loudon (2 miles) was discovered on fire - 3000 dollars, covered by insurance.”
December 24, 1873 - “Our Fire Apparatus” - Borough authorities are requested to see that everything is in working order pending a loss from inefficient and dilapidated apparatus
1874 - “Chimney fire extinguished on Fayette Street; snow on roof doubtless saved the building of George W. Ely”
1885 - Constitution and by-laws of the Eclipse Fire Company Mercersburg, Pa - organized December 21, 1885, printed by the Public Opinion Job Printing Office Chambersburg, Pa 1887
There were 37 articles, 17 rules of order, and 39 members on the roll including 17 orders of business within the 20 paged dark brown 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches by 0.125 hard back cover. The constitution and by-laws contained the following: Equipment shall be maintained in proper order for service - a steam fire engine and two hose carriages with a suitable line of hose. Seven directors elected annually shall be elected by ballot one each of the following: first and second assistant chief director, first, second and third engineer, first, second and third fireman, engine captain, hose captain, and chief pipeman.. The chief director shall be elected by the company by ballot. All fines shall be considered dues. Fines for various offences ranged form 10 cents to 50 cents.
The first officers were George Atherton, president; H. L. Waidlich. vice-president; George A. Hornbaker, secretary; A. B. Lauderbaugh, chief director; John Pensinger and C. H. Fallon, assistant directors; John Eckert, treasurer; J. W. Pheil, chief engineer; S. C. Jordan and W. Weitzel, assistant engineers; David Criswell, chief pipeman; Oliver Myers, hose captain; M. S. Murray, engine captain.
According to the Constitution and By-laws of the Eclipse Fire Company the following was the original roll of members: Atherton, Geo. W.; Anderson, EWD; Bennett, B. H.; Brown, M. V.; Bishop, DR. S. S. ; Brewer, N. H.; Baker, T. M.; Chambers, J. D.; Eckert, JOHN L.; Fendrick, JACOB; Fendrick, CHAS.; Fallon, C. H.; Grove, WM.; Garlinger, H. B.; Hornbaker, G. A.; Jordan, S.C.; Lackhove, GEO.; Long, D. S.; Lauderbaugh, A. B.; Martin, J. M.; McCune, R. L.; McCune, H. A.; McCune, DELMAR; Miller, D. T.; Murray, M. S.; Pensinger, J. T.; Reitzel, W. A.; Ritchey, R. B.; Rockwell, THOS.; Rockwell, BISH.; Sharar, DAVID; Steiger, G. W.; Unger, W. L. G.; Unger, U. U.; Waddell, W. B.; Waddell, T. A.; Waidlich, H. L.; and Waidlich, WM.
Town Council purchased a very dependable, task-proven steam fire engine built by Silsby Manufacturing Company, Seneca Falls, New York. It was rated as a 3rd size (600 gallons per minute) steam actuated water pumper costing $2,200 and 1,000 feet of hose for $800.
At the report of an alarm, the vertical tube boiler fired by wood and coal at the engine house, hand-pulled at walking pace one and one-half blocks to Center Square, could generate sufficient steam to produce a good fire steam. Steam pressure transferred from the steam pump to the water pump was dependant upon the amount of fuel burned relative to time. Good operating pressures ranged to 150 psi at the water pump. A horse was often used to pull the rig back to quarters. The only salvaged hardware from the past must have been the IRE steam engine’s water pump.
Late 1880s - Three large cisterns for water supply were dug under the streets 18,000 gallons, 20,000 gallons, and 25,000 gallons randomly noted from Center Square: South Main, North Main, West Seminary Street. A random calculation for a 25,000 gallon cistern could be 37 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. Some towns piped city water to fill cisterns. If sufficient hose were available, the fire company could fill cisterns from nearby Johnston’s Run.
October 30, 1888 “$1,000 REWARD” - a 12 inch by 19 inch poster - “The Burgess and Town Council of the Borough of Mercersburg, Penna. hereby offer a reward of $1,000 for the apprehension and conviction of the party or parties who set fire to the buildings recently burned in said Borough. Attest: M.J. Slick, Secy; H. L. Waidlich, Burgess”
Note - Two culprits were sent to prison.
1893 - At the John L. Eckert stable fire of incendiary nature C. Edgar Fallon as a boy of twelve years was called upon to operate the Silsby steam fire engine since two operators were sick and his father, C. H. Fallon, was out of town. Seventeen years later fire chief C. Edgar Fallon married Eckert’s daughter, Anna Louise.
July 21, 1899 - “The fire company practice on Wed. afternoon brought the apparatus for contending with the devouring elements from the engine house and thoroughly sprinkled the Diamond and a portion of Main Street. The engine was located at the bridge and a very good stream was brought to play. Several of us took involuntary baths and many of the boys quietly changed their attire.”
1901 - After a disastrous fire had partly destroyed the tannery, the Eclipse was reorganized with Harold (Harry) Byron as chief director, Dr. J. M. Kuhn first assistant director, J. V. Pheil chief engineer; and C. Edgar Fallon as first assistant engineer.
Materials needed for fire fighting purposes included 1200 feet of hose, 12 coats lettered Eclipse Fire Company, 12 helmets, 24 buckets, extension ladder, 18 lanterns, 12 boots, and one ton gas coal.
1902 - Coming by special train, 300 firemen from Chambersburg attended Mercersburg’s gala time firemen’s parade. Each company made $210 profit on carnival. The electric company turned on the lights for the event.
September 1904 - Festival profit was used to furnish new hall. Council met to plan new Town Hall December 1901, the first floor planned for the Eclipse.
The Silsby steam engine pumper egressed from the double doors on thee right front; the outline of doors, since removed, is still visible.
1904 - C. H. Fallon, owner of “The Ark,” sometimes referred to as “Noah’s Ark, ” Farm Hardware on Center Square used carbon tet and hand grenades to put out fire in packages of tar rope he ignited striking a match.
1907 - Tannery whistle signals for fire location.
May 1907 - Sprinkler system installed at tannery - 1700 heads, 40,000 gallons in a redwood tank
June 16, 1912 Barn burned at Church Hill, James Benedick, owner
March 19, 1920 Committee with Burgess Hummel at the head of subscriptions to purchase a fire apparatus - Borough Council subscribed $1,000
1921 - Sprinklers control tannery fire.
1922 - Mercersburg Women’s Club petitioned Town Council for a new chemical engine.
1923 - Chief Fallon built a fire engine body on a used 1916 Cadillac of Harry Byron and mounted the pump from the IRE steam engine in use 56 years earlier. It would be a twin of the factory built Pirsch-Reo combination chemical engine pump and hose car fire equipment currently on order from Peter Pirsch and Song Co. of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
1924 - The new Pirschc-Reo engine with a 300 gallon per minute water pump was the first factory built internal combustion powered fire engine purchased by Town Council.
A 60 gallon chemical pump tank of sodium bicarbonate water solution activated by sulfuric acid provided a quick pressurized reaction to deliver water onto a lesser fire.
Mercersburg now had two fine fire engines for little more than the cost of one. The fire engines were housed in Fallon’s Garage.
July 24, 1925 - An Agreement “Burgess and Council passed a resolution with the Mercersburg Fire Department, hereafter called the Fire Company, and the officers V. J. Byron, president; C. E. Daub, vice-president; Lee Steiger, secretary-treasurer; C. Edgar Fallon, fire chief; and their successors in office as follows: to turn over to the Fire Department the use and operation of the two fire engines and equipment, the title to remain in the name of the Borough. Council would be responsible for new but not routine upkeep items. The Fire Company would pay interest on Borough’s indebtedness in the purchase of the present engines and equipment. Upon expiration of this agreement to receive back the identical property less wear. The agreement could be terminated on January 15th of any year by either party. In no event would the Borough be left without any one of the two engines. The fire chief would be an appointed by Borough Council.
October 23, 1925 - The elementary school was destroyed by fire.
January 9, 1927 - Main Hall of Mercersburg Academy was destroyed by fire.
Thereafter, a five-horsepower horizontal double head electric fire siren, purchased from Sterling Alarm Co, of Rochester, New York, was mounted on to the front roof of Fallon’s Garage. Some twenty years later a used windmill steel tower from the Joe Carbaugh farm was relocated between the Cold Storage, now Mercersburg Marketplace, and Lininger-Fries Funeral Home. With great effort the siren was remounted. The tower still stands minus the siren now located at the fire station on North Main Street. At a cost of $396 the siren has been a faithful performer.
1929 - The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania established the Volunteer Firefighters Relief Association (VFRA) to afford financial protection to volunteer firefighters who suffer misfortune as a result of their efforts. VFRA receives state aid from a two per cent state tax on insurance companies incorporated outside the Commonwealth. These funds pay for insuranc to protect firefighters, purchase fire equipment, and to cover volunteer training expenses. VFRAs are distinct, separate legal entities from fire companies. The funds are audited, assuring they are spent according to Commonwealth law, The tax distribution is paid to each applicable municipality based upon population and market value of real estate. Upon receipt of the distribution our municipality must allocate the funds to the Mercersburg Volunteer Firefighters Relief Association which is affiliated with the Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters, and Warren Volunteer Fire Company, Inc.
1929 - Firemen paint twenty folding tables built by Chief Fallon for the firemen’s block parties which were a good source of income from then until the late 1930s. In 1929 net proceeds from the block party were $1,282.12. In 1937 net proceeds from the block party were $569.94.
1929 - The full effect of the Great Depression was still forthcoming.
All of the oldtimers remember pleasantly the firemen’s picnics at Black’s Woods, events much anticipated. These picnics also made money for the fire company. In August 1932 the net proceeds were $149.94, and in August 1938the net proceeds were $704. 13. The following is a memory of those events.
Just follow the dusty roads leading to Black’s Woods along the West Conococheague flowing under the dark maroon trussed bridge with rattling woods underlays; then one was at the great firemen’s picnic in the heat of summer.
Ferris wheel and side attractions from Florida were set up. Food stand with ice cream and “pop” was popular. There were spinning wheels and die cages of chance.
There were several contests for adults. The watermelon eating contest was messy. With the fire engine pumping two teams of men each with a pressurized hoseline and nozzle did water soaking battle until exhaustion. “Hennie” Lightner’s team was quite competitive. Spectators lined each side of the Jousting Tournament course set upon the Conococheague’s banks. The event required excellent horsemanship as each contestant with a lance in hand rode at the greatest speed to snare each of three total steel rings hung between three sets of poles on a measured course. As the competition became keener, the ring diameters were reduced in size.
Competitions for the kids were present also. Kids searched a pile of flour for buried money. Sometimes the person in charge with bag in hand scattered more flour onto the live action. Competition for “king of the mountain “ using pillows tied to poles, kids on shoulder high trestles bobbed each other.
Dealers from town displayed appliances, and farm equipment from Lemasters and Greencastle was on display. Off the main thoroughfare was beer on the hill a short distance from the two unplumbed comfort privies.
1930 - The Cadillac engine went bad, but a new Reo chassis and a Hale 600 GPM rotary gear pump on order to have a body built and pump mounted by Chief Fallon at his garage. It was the first engine to have dual real wheels. The paint job by Gables Paint Shop was excellent. During the pumping test at Hagerstown Park the smooth operation permitted a nickel to stand upright on the front fender. The total cost was $4,406.82 plus $15 for pictures. The fire company now had a Pirsch-Reo and a Fallon-Reo #2 as first line engines.
1932 - Franklin County firemen met in Mercersburg.
1934 - The local high school replaced football with soccer.
1935 - The Star Theater benefit netted $40.46, and the picnic netted $150.40 toward the recently completed Fallon-Reo #3. This innovative apparatus had enough electrical output toe light the entire picnic grounds. Laundry baskets full of 500, 1,000, and 1500 watt clear bulbs were transported to the picnic at Black’s Woods, nighttime farm blazes, Cowans Gap water incidents, or wherever light was needed.
In the mid-1920s Chief Fallon salvaged the 1885 the Silsby steam-driven water pump, after the steam boiler became unsafe, and remounted it onto a 1934 used hauler of farm milk cans. With 90,000 road mile it was remodeled into a electric generating - water-pumping - hose-carrying fire apparatus. The Great Depression was now one-half way to the sneak attack of Pearl Harbor of the United States.
July 19, 1935 - Barn, silo, and wagon shed burned near Welsh Run, also a wayside inn for travelers heading west on farm of Charlie Snyder tenanted by his son, John. A bucket brigade filled the water tanks of the fire engines saving a nearby building
1936 - At the McConnellsburg Sesquicentennial the fire company won four prizes $10 each for second best equipped apparatus and best drilled team of twenty-five men, $15 for second finest appearance of twenty-five men, and $10 for a float with a downsized replica, built by Chief Fallon, of the James Buchanan Monument.
1936 - The Electric Company’s building burned, including store electrical stock and equipment at a fire of undetermined origin at Bridgeport. For the support of community fire engines 439 people in the townships gave $536.06.
1938 1- The fire company responded to a serious fire at Harper’s Ford Garage on North Main Street. Some months later billowing black smoke from Cold Storage within fifty feet of the fire apparatus storage garage was controlled by pumping water from the hydrant at the first alley on North Main Street.
1939 - Late Sunday afternoon two barns of Henderson Mellott, separated by two brick homes, burned fiercely as sparks varied over the homes at the intersection of King’s Lane and Lemar Road and the road to Williamson between the two homes.
1939 - A new 1939 White Motor Co. chassis model 708, 11oHP, was purchased costing $2,066.36. It was the first closed cab for the fire company, a good safety feature. The body was built by Chief Fallon who transferred the 600 GPM Hale rotary pump from engine #2. Water tank capacity was 150 gallons. The heavy metal construction of the Fallon-White #4, prior to World War II, resulted in dependable service for more than twenty-five years into the 1960s. With Christmas carols sounding the fire engine drove to all parts of town spreading cheer. In snow covered roads the wide tread front axle had to break its own tracks.
1940 - No. 1 Pirsch-Reo was reworked to carry a 500 gallon round water tank with its pump transferred to Fallon-Reo #2. Probably fifteen years ahead of its time, “Quick-Attack” with a mobile water supply was the future of progressive fire-fighting.
The twentieth annual firemen’s picnic was relocated to S. Tidd Byron’s woods; two hundred and eighteen truck loads of stumps were removed, and four buildings were constructed.
1941 - State police raided the picnic in the woods closing all bingo games and merchandise wheels, games of chance; and the penny pitch was carried into the woods, its fate unknown. This action was a blow to fire company finances. The whole affair led eventually to the taxing of all property owners to support the fire company.
1942 - Mercersburg Borough and Montgomery, Peters, and Warren Townships were incorporated into a fire company, reportedly the second of its type in Pennsylvania, “agreeably to the provisions of the Act of Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved May 5, 1933, Pamphlet Laws 289. Act No. 105 and amendments thereafter.” This fire company was named the Mercersburg, Montgomery Peters, and Warren Volunteer Fire Company, which serves us faithfully. The legal document establishing the local fire company follows:
1, The name of the proposed corporation is Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters, and Warren Volunteer Fire Company.
2. The corporation is formed for the purpose of protection of persons and property from fire.
3, The place of business of the corporation shall be the Borough of Mercersburg, Franklin County, PA.
4. Corporation is to exist perpetually.
5. The business of the corporation shall be transacted by the board of directors consisting of eight members, who shall serve for a term of one year.
6. The yearly income of said company other than that derived from real estate shall not be more than $25.000.
7. - 8. The corporation is organized on a non-stock basis; it will not have any assets to start its corporate function, except such assets as may be donated to it immediately after incorporation.
9. The active membership must be at least 21 years of age, who shall have paid entrance fees and dues as the by-laws prescribe. The by-laws may provide for contributing members and honorary members.
10. That the directors of the corporation shall be elected or selected in the following; each of the town ships of Montgomery, Peters and Warren and the Borough of Mercersburg shall serve for a term of one year, this right on the part of each of said municipalities t0 cease in respect to that municipality which shall not contribute its pro-rata share with the other of said municipalities to the funds of this corporation; the two directors, elected or selected by any municipality failing as aforesaid shall continue in office to the end pf their respective terms, and any vacancy thus occurring in the directorship shall be filled by a majority vote of the active members of the said corporation at any regular annual meeting or other meeting of the active members for that purpose, to have the power to maintain a directorship of eight members.
11. The officers of this corporation shall consist of a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer elected from the board of directors and the following officers need not be directors or members of the corporation: a financial secretary, chaplain, company captain, company lieutenant, drill captain, attorney, physician, and such aides and trustees as may be provided for in the by-laws. The president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer shall be elected by the active membership. All paid employees shall be hired by and be under the control and direction of the board of directors.
12. The fire trucks and fire fighting equipment shall be housed in the said Borough of Mercersburg, Franklin County.
13. Eleven active members shall constitute a quorum at any active membership meeting duly called and convened.
14. The said corporation shall have the power to frame and adopt the necessary by-laws permitted by law to carry out the purpose of this corporation. Witness our hands and seals, this 31st day of January 1942 J. S. Alleman, J. L. Huber, J. C. Hege, J. N. Royer, W. F. Cook. J. C. McCulloh, J. M. Philips, and J. E. Highlands.
Here’s to firefighters all
Always at your beck and call
Vigilant and unafraid
Volunteers or city paid.
Dedicated men are these,
Fighting fire a dread disease
Challenging a flaming hell
At the ringing of a bell!
Unknown heroes clad in blue,
Their lives at stake for you,
Pray for them as they go past
Every ride may be their last.
M. H. S. Notes
Please remember our December meeting, Thursday, December 6, at the American Legion with supper at a cost of $5 at 6:30 and the program beginning at 7:15. At that time the Reverend Matthew Hoover of Trinity United Church of Christ will talk about Dr. Henry Harbaugh’s love of Christmas and his Christmas service. In an era in which many people did not celebrate Christmas, Dr. Harbaugh, who taught from 1863 until 1867 in the Theological Seminary of the German Reformed Church, located in Mercersburg, wrote Christmas stories and poetry extolling the beauty and power of Christmas. You do not need to have reservations.
Friends of Jay Quinn, our president, who passed away in September, gave to our society $500 in his memory. The board of directors determined that an appropriate use of that money will be to sponsor in Jay’s memory a lecture to be given on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown. At that time Chris Frisby, a young man from Mercersburg, a graduate of the Mercersburg Academy, who now teaches at the St. James School near Hagerstown, will give a lecture entitled Paths to Glory: Select Stories of African American Trailblazers from Mercersburg to Hagerstown.
After the passing of Nancy Horton Heefner, vice-president and the guiding force and one of the editors of the Tuscarora Reader, the society purchased in her memory a bronze bust of a soldier of the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. As the Nancy Horton Heefner Memorial Art Show was held in Irvine Hall, we took the bust to that building, and the Academy was gracious in permitting us to let it remain there. However, recently, as we wish that it be accessible to the town, we took it to Fendrick Library where it will be on loan from our society.
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