BY SKYLER, DEB AND TIM SMITH
Last week, in addition to my shout out for the Mendon Carnival, I promised I would be back with a history of the early years of the Mendon Fire Company. At this point I would like to go ahead and put my personal spin on a story that started over a century ago. “Skyler Smith’s Tour of Mendon” will now ask you to climb into the Wayback Machine and return to the early years of the 20th century when the dream that Mendon should have its own fire department first came to fruition.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS ~ The men at the Mendon Fire Department proudly acknowledge that it was the women who were responsible for the earliest steps in establishing the department back in 1914. It was in that year when, after seeing an unspecified but valued building in the hamlet burn down, Mrs. Fred Dunn and Mrs. Laura Hill began canvassing the community collecting funds.
Their efforts were successful and the earliest firefighting equipment was purchased and stored in a shed behind the old Presbyterian Church on the north side of Rush Mendon Road. It’s the building that now houses Westminster Hall and Chapel, the Presbyterians having moved to their new digs on Cheese Factory Road in 2006.
The first major piece of firefighting equipment was purchased in 1917. It was a crude hand propelled pumper which required sixteen men to operate. In looking at old pictures, there is what appears to be basically a wooden hand railing on both sides of the apparatus. Eight men would grab the railing on each side and with a total manpower of sixteen, the team would propel the pumper to its destination.
In 1920 the fire department marked the new decade by moving into the era of motorized vehicles. The first Mendon fire truck was a Model T Ford pick-up truck which was retrofitted for firefighting purposes. That vehicle did the heavy lifting for the department until 1932 when a new Chevrolet fire truck was purchased at a cost of $750.
IT’S OFFICIAL ~ The year of 1932 was also significant in that it was during this year that the Mendon Fire Company was officially organized. In speaking with carnival chairman Steve Shuler he pointed out the fact that this year’s carnival was commemorating our local department’s 90th anniversary. The carnival itself is actually a little bit younger than the fire department with the first one being held in Mendon in 1936. The location was in the hamlet on the grounds adjacent to what was then the Grange Hall building. That would be the large white building immediately east of the current Westminster Hall and Chapel, on the north side of Rush Mendon Road.
Much of my research on the early history of firefighting in Mendon was garnered from a booklet that was loaned to me by my next door neighbor and former president of the fire department, Art Morrell. The booklet is titled “Mendon Fire Company ~ 1932-1982 ~ 50th Year.” If you’re paying attention to the dates, one interesting fact becomes evident. The initiation of an organized community firefighting effort predates the actual formation of the Mendon Fire Company by 18 years.
It was also a total surprise for me to find out that my property was the site of two very significant milestones in the history of Mendon firefighting. I live in the fourth parcel from the light on the south side of Rush Mendon Road where we have two buildings with road frontage. The larger one on the left is my home and we also have the smaller blue building which sits close to the road just to the west of our house.
Our little building, which we refer to as “The Blue,” has the distinction of being the birthplace of the Mendon Fire Department. The first meetings held by the ladies I alluded to in my opening paragraph took place in The Blue. In 1914 The Blue was home to the barber shop of Addison Hodge who made his space available for the first fire meetings.
Addison Hodge rented The Blue from William Furlong who operated a hardware store in one half of my current house and his family lived in the other half. The new motor-powered fire truck purchased in 1920 was put into action within its first year. According to the historical booklet the “First and most serious occasion when this apparatus was used was in 1921 at the time of the Furlong Hardware store fire.”
I’ll close this piece by summarizing and pointing out the irony in the details that I have just shared regarding some early history of the Mendon Fire Department. The one piece of property I live in, on the south side of Rush Mendon Road, has the two buildings which were involved in being the first home of the Mendon Fire Department as well as the building where that department put out its first fire.
So not much mileage was put on that new truck enroute to its maiden mission. What are the odds that the first fire would break out literally right next door to the fire department!?
CARNEY FACTS ~ At any rate, this year it will be back to business as usual, or at least as usual as anything will ever get in this post-pandemic era which we now find ourselves in the midst of. Here are your carney facts and figures for the 2022 gala.
On Thursday and Friday, June 2-3, the carnival grounds will open at 5:30 with 6:00-10:00 ride specials available for $25. The Saturday special is an even better deal with a $30 charge covering rides all day from noon until closing. New this year is the option of buying your tickets in advance online through the Mendon Fire Department website.
As usual, live music will be featured throughout and some familiar sights and sounds will be enjoyed for the first time in two summers. The fireworks display will light up the Mendon skies at 9:33 on Thursday evening and the parade will wend its way from Mendon Farms to the carnival grounds beginning at 6:45 on Saturday.
I know I’ll be there and I hope to see you too.