History of the Newton Fire Department

Newton Fire Department

Historical view…

The earliest known effort to organize a company of firemen in Newton is recorded in an advertisement of August 20, 1827, that urged members of the Newton Fire Company to meet at Jason King’s tavern on High Street.  On February 28, 1828, Col. Lyman Edwards, chief engineer, requested members to meet at Thomas Allason’s hotel.  At this time, Newton’s only protection against fire consisted of fourteen leather buckets hanging on a pole in the lower hall of the Court House. When John Trusdell’s chair factory on Mill Street, located about 325 feet north of the Court House, was consumed by flames on January 4, 1835, only a deep blanket of snow prevented loss of adjacent property.  Citizens of Newton met at the house of Samuel Rorbach on December 8, 1835, to organize a Newton Fire Engine Company.  Using a crank engine known as Phoenix No. 1, the company performed its first drill on December 19, 1835, meeting at the house of our first fire chief, General Lyman Edwards, who then lived on the site of Holley Hall.  John Kraber was a foreman.  Water carried in buckets was pored into the crank engine’s tub.  To steady the machine during pumping operations, its wheels were set in wooden crates spiked into the ground.  To produce a stream of water, firemen cranked iron arms on the sides that rotated in the manner of a grindstone.  On January 23, 1836, subscribers and members of the Newton Fire Engine Company met at Rorbach’s hotel to select a site for construction of an engine house. Phoenix No. 1 was wheeled out on January 23, 1847, when the old Court House burned, but it was unable to contain the blaze.  On January 30, 1847, citizens met at Cochran’s hotel to organize a better defense against fire.  An inspection team was ordered to examine every building in town for hazards.  A committee was appointed to solicit subscriptions for a suitable engine, hose, hooks, and ladders.  Another committee worked on an organizational plan for a fire department.  Property owners were requested to procure ladders and to have scuttles (hatchways) made in their roofs.  On December 23, 1848, citizens gathered at Cox’s hotel to organize a new fire company and to appoint fire wardens.  This gathering discussed purchase of a more efficient fire engine and a committee of investigation was dispatched to New York City.  In May 1849, townspeople spent $600 to purchase a gooseneck engine, complete with leather buckets, which they named Neptune No. 3.  It was originally kept in Thomas Ryerson’s wagon house (at 59 Main Street) until a shed was built for it on a portion of the present site of the Presbyterian Church.  Lewis N. Williams was the first foreman of this company.  Meanwhile, Phoenix No. 1 was rescued from cobwebs in an old lumber shed on Main Street by a new fire company headed by foreman John Edwards.  It was converted into a suction engine at Edwards’ tin shop.  On November 17, 1849, notice of an application to incorporate the Newton Fire Department, with permission to hold property, real and personal, not exceeding $5,000 in value, was published.  On April (, 1850, owners of the buildings or stocks of merchandise within a half mile of the Court House gathered at the Cochran House to organize the Newton Fire department under its recent act of incorporation.  The Fire Tax was to be paid to the Collector by July 13, 1850.  On Christmas Day, 1850, Neptune No. 3 elected John Kraber, foreman, and Jonathan T. Shafer, assistant foreman.    In 1858, Charles Crook retired as Chief Engineer of Neptune Company and was succeeded by William P. Nicholas.  In May 1860, the valves of Engine No. 3 were so dry and useless that an hour passed before even a feeble stream of water could be raised from a cistern on Spring Street.  The Department’s treasury was empty, no assessments had been collected and no officers elected in the previous year.  On April 9, 1861, a meeting was called at the Cochran House to elect new officers and to reorganize the companies.  This meeting adjourned to April 16th, but by then many potential members were called into the Union Army. On March 9, 1863, fire swept several stables standing along the lane that leads from Spring Street to the rear of the present Post Office, burning over an acre of ground.  The fire ignited several storehouses on Spring Street. But the valiant efforts of Neptune No. 3 and a bucket brigade prevented their destruction.  Old Phoenix No. 1 proved ineffective.  The Fire Department met at the Cochran House on April 14, 1863, and elected Charles Rorbach, Fire Board president.  The sum of $1,000 was voted to purchase new equipment and to build new cisterns.  On June 19, 1863, a piano-engine, formerly used in Jersey City and purchased by Charles Rorbach and Charles Crook for $400, arrived in Newton and was named Hercules No. 4.  Because of defective hose, 300 feet of new hose was also purchased.  On June 24, 1863, a new company organized to operate the machine with Joseph Coult as foreman and S.C. Randall as assistant foreman.  At this time, a new company of 40 men was organized for Fire Engine No. 3 with P.B. Horton, foreman and Robert Gray, Jr., assistant foreman.  On September 11, 1863, 45 members of the new Hercules Engine Company paraded with “Their machine and hose carriage being splendidly festooned with festoons of flowers.”  To demonstrate the efficiency of their new apparatus, they shot a stream of water 25 feet higher than the spire of the Methodist Church.  At the annual meeting on April 12, 1864, Dr. Franklin Smith was elected president to succeed Charles Rorbach and $500 was ordered to be raised for the new equipment.  Two weeks later, members of Engine Company No.4 protested the election of two new members of a rival company (including a minor) as department officers.  On June 27, 1864, Neptune No. 3 chose Pemberton B. Horton as foreman, Robert Gray, Jr. as assistant foreman, and Martin R. Shiner as chief of hose.  The next day, Hercules Engine Company No. 4 elected Joseph Coult, foreman; S.C. Randall, assistant foreman, and Edward Simpson, chief of hose.  Incendiary fires involved John Kraber’s store on Spring Street in August and September 1864.  In August 1864, members of Neptune’s Company No. 3 solicited subscriptions to buy a larger engine, resulting in purchase of a big handengine of piano make, named No. 7, from Newark for $750.  On April 9, 1867, the Fire Board of Managers was authorized to dispose of No. 7 “for the best price to be obtained,” selling it several years later to Morristown.  On July 22, 1867, Neptune Company No. 3 met at the Star-Baseball Club and disbanded, owing to “a series of misunderstandings between the members of this company and officials of the Fire Department.” Its treasury contained only $40.  A few weeks later, Hercules Company No. 4 also disbanded, leaving Newton with no organized fire companies and with no regular maintenance if its fire equipment.  Once again, citizens resorted to bucket brigades.  

Newton Fire Station

Hercules No. 4

In May 1871, the Town committee purchased a lot on High Street occupied by a cooper shop, opposite Peter Hoppaugh’s Hotel, for $600 with the purpose of erecting “a two-story brick house for the use of engines and other fire apparatus.”  In July, they contracted with Absolom W. Price, mason, and Walker Brothers, carpenters, to build a brick Fire Department building, 20 by 35 feet, two stories high, with pressed brick on the front.  This occupied part of what is now a parking lot behind the County Hall of Records.  Upon completion, the building was occupied by Hercules No. 4  Hercules Company re-organized in 1874.  In May 1875, contractors remodeled this Engine House.

Newton Steamer No. 1

As a result of the great fire that swept lower Main Street on September 23, 1873, the Town Committee met on September 28th to authorize purchase of a new engine.  Fire Chief Charles Crook had visited Paterson, Newark, New York and Hudson, New York, to examine fire engines on sale.  He also visited depots where rubber hose was vended.  A special committee of investigation (namely, Martin Rosenkrans and Charles Crook) decided to buy a 4th class steamer and 900 feet of four-ply rubber hose from Clapp & Jones of Hudson, New York, at a cost of $5,000.  The new steamer was described as “a model of simplicity and beauty,” weighing 3,700 pounds, with a tubular boiler that could get up steam in about five minutes using cold water.  The exposed parts were plated with German silver and Prince’s metal.  Cylinders were 8 inches in diameter and pumps had an 8-inch stroke.  The engine was furnished with 15 feet of suction hose and basket, 100 feet of rope and every appliance of a first-class steamer.  Within 7 minutes, the engine could throw a stream of water through 100 feet of hose and 1-1/8” nozzle a distance of 210 feet.  Through 1,000 feet of hose, it threw a stream 175 feet.  The decision of the special committee was unanimously approved and the new engine was designated Newton Steamer No. 1.  It was then on display at the Albany Fair but was delivered to Newton for a trial exhibition on October 8th.  The town Committee also resolved to build cisterns in every part of town and to either fill them with water from buildings or to use the steamer to supply them with water from Big Brook.  Tested at a cistern near the Presbyterian Church, the new steamer shot water nearly 200 feet into the air, reaching nearly 20 feet above the Presbyterian Church’s weather vane.  The Newton Town Committee charted Newton Steamer Company No. 1 and its compliment, Kittatinny Hose Company, on September 30, 1873.  Charles Crook was named Chief Engineer and John Hemmingway, Assistant Chief.  The officers were: Martin R. Snyder, foreman; Coulter Cannon, assistant foreman; Henry C. Bonnell, engineer; John J. Crane, first assistant; Stephen Norris, second assistant; Charles S. Steele, third assistant; Charles McCollum, stoker; and John Massaker, assistant stoker.  At their first meeting the Steamer Company adopted a uniform consisting of a blue shirt, black pants, blue-cloth cap and plain black leather belt.  Kittatinny hose became a separate company in 1878 with George Van Gilder, foreman, and Lewis Morford, assistant foreman.  They purchased a parade carriage from the Humane Steamer Company of Easton, Pennsylvania, in September 1878.  On September 30, 1880, Newton fireman paraded in their first Exempt Firemen’s Parade, the department having been in existence for seven years.

Spring Street Engine House

On June 23, 1890, the Newton Town Committee purchased part of the Judge John Townsend lot on Spring Street, adjoining the late Judge’s residence, for $1,700 to build a new engine house.  On April 23, 1891, the Town Committee awarded construction contracts: carpenter George A. Walker, $2,300, and mason Absolom W. Price, $2,896.  Work on the new building was begun at 150 Spring Street on May 7, 1891.  The cellar excavation was finished in one week and work on the foundation began.  The building was completed by December 1891.  On January 5, 1892, a handsome flag staff, surmounted by a large bronze eagle, was placed atop the new Engine House.  In April 1892, merchants Black & Savacool delivered 170 yards of Axminister carpet.  The new Engine House was formally opened March 15, 1892.  The Italianate Fire Engine House at 150 Spring Street, two stories tall, measuring 35 by 55 feet, was set back 17 feet from the street in order to allow fire apparatus to stand in front without obstructing the sidewalk.  Fire engines were stored in two large rooms (15 by 30 feet) on the first floor.  Two smaller rooms at the rear served as a wash and cloak rooms.  Two parlors on the second floor were separated only by folding doors so that they could be used as a single assembly room for meetings of the Fire Company or the Town Committee.  On April 1, 1892, the old hand engine was moved from Water Street to the High Street Fire House, Hercules Engine Company No. 2 having disbanded.  New members then organized Sussex Engine Company No. 2 on June 11, 1892, with James Baldwin, foreman, and William Cutler, assistant foreman.  On September 30, 1892, Newton Exempt Fireman held their first parade in twelve years to celebrate their nineteenth anniversary.  In November 1892, William N. Stelle was organizing a Hook & Ladder Company.  On June 23, 1893, Sussex Engine Company No. 2 received delivery of a new hose cart. Eighty double- nozzle water hydrants were installed around town when Morris Lake water came to Newton on August 31, 1895.  In August 1897, final tests were made of a new electric fire-alarm system throughout the Town and reportedly the siren was loud enough to be heard at Swartswood Lake.

Newton Hose Company No. 3

On December 3, 1900, Wesley Puder, George N. Harris, William Cooper, Thomas Stone and Andrew Fox appeared before the monthly meeting of the Town Committee in behalf of the residents of Sparta Avenue and contiguous neighborhoods seeking permission to organize a hose company.  Twenty men from East Newton organized the Merriam Hose Company on December 8, 1900, with Wesley Puder, foreman.  Chief Baldwin immediately equipped them with 400 feet of hose and a jumper.  The Town proposed to build a Hose House on the lot behind the Merriam Shoe Factory.  Merriam Company became Newton Hose Company No. 3.  On September 7, 1900, the old hose cart of Engine Company No. 2 was replaced with a combination chemical engine and hose wagon, having two horizontal tanks, each of 25-gallon capacity, located under the driver’s seat.  This new unit had hubs, rails and guards of polished brass, a channel-steel frame and woodwork of oak or ash.  The apparatus coach was gold-striped with gilt letters reading “Sussex No. 2” on each side of the hose bucket.  It was equipped with 300 feet of ¾” four-ply chemical hose, brass hose pipe and three nozzles, 4 acid holders, 2 brass-plated lamps, 2 brass-plated hand lanterns, 11” brass-plated rotary gong operated by spring, 1 hand-operated bell, with 20’ extension ladder, fire axes, pike poles, crowbar, rubber buckets, 2 copper fire extinguishers mounted in brass cups on side straps, and wrenches.  The soda was carried in the tanks and extinguishing fluid was generated by overturning the acid holders.  Cylinders could be recharged inside of two minutes.  Fitted for hand or horses, the engine weighed 3,260 pounds when outfitted with 200’ of 2-1/2” cotton hose. Manufactured by C. T. Holloway of Baltimore, it cost $1,750.  The new chemical engine, drawn by a team of greys driven by William Loftus and Frank Whyms, was displayed and demonstrated during a Firemen’s Parade and Inspection on September 15, 1900.  Engine Company No. 2 wore their uniforms of blue cloth, gold buttons and gold braid trousers, with a Russian peak cap.  By December 1900, the small extinguishers had been removed from the wagon and mounted on a two-wheeled cart so as to speed their arrival at a fire.

Hose Company No. 3

Diller Avenue

On September 2, 1902, the Newton Town Committee adopted a resolution authorizing its Chairman to make a contract with Charles L. Kyte for construction of a brick house for Newton Hose Company No. 3 upon a lot on Diller Avenue donated by George A. Williams.  Bricklayers commenced work on November 3, 1902.  On December 4, 1902, Company No. 3 elected the following officers: William Heyder, foreman; George Slaught, assistant foreman; George N. Harris, secretary; William H. Cooper, treasurer; and Morris C. Siple, captain.  By the second week of December 1902, the new engine house was ready for the roof slaters.  It would have been completed much sooner, except for a delay in cutting stone sills.  A house-warming was held on April 9, 1903 with a parade, fireworks and banquet.  Chief Dan Fisher and Assistant Hart donated a French clock; Jacob Benz gave a marble tablet for the door; Fred Loges gave a bell.  The new Diller Avenue station was 18 by 30 feet, built of brick with a slate roof and a bell tower.  Its parlors were furnished with chairs, desk and rugs. A new hose cart for Newton Steamer Company # 1, manufactured by the American Fire Co. of Elmira, New York, was purchased from S. F. Hayward Company for $600.  It arrived July 15,1904.  It was a balanced cart, nicely painted and striped, with wheels 64 inches in diameter.  Two chemical extinguishers were mounted on front and the reel mounted 800’of hose.  It was loudly received by firemen and townsfolk in an informal parade from the Lackawanna Hotel to the Spring Street Fire Engine House on July 18, 1904, with a display of red fire, bengal lights, roman candles and fire crackers.  The old hand Engine No. 2 was loaned to Andover in November 1904.  In December 1909, Chief Dan Fisher placed a new extension ladder on the old truck.  In December 1910, the Newton Branch of the Sussex County Baseball League met at No. 1 Engine House.  Fourteen men signed to play ball: Walter Taylor, Edward Hall, Herbert Lippincott, William H. Dunn, Harold D. Nicholls, Harold Lockwood, Ivan Wright, Walter Resh, Lee Miller, Dan Steele, Obadiah Armstrong, Bert Bale, Merritt McManiman and William Earl Nicholls.  Charles Steele was president and Milliard Goldsmith was secretary and treasurer.

Stutz Fire Engine

 On June 30, 1923, a new truck, manufactured by Stutz Fire Engine Company, was delivered to Steamer Company No. 1 via the D. L. & W. Railroad.  The latest in fire-fighting equipment, this vehicle had a pumping capacity of 600 gallons per minute and a 100-horse power, six-cylinder engine.  Members of the Fire Company trained in its use were: John Armstrong, Charles Wheeler, James Kays, James Young and Willis Howell.  Firemen found that the doorway of the Spring Street Fire House was not quite large enough and so the right-handed door had to be increased in height and width.  The old wooden floor was removed and a concrete floor laid.

Mack Fire Truck

In September 1948, a new Mack Fire Truck was purchased for the Steamer Company No. 1 to replace the Stutz Pumper.  Assistant Chief Leo McCluskey had charge of the new vehicle.  In December 1948, the Stutz Pumper was sold to Hyper Humus of Lafayette for $600.  In 1964, the Fire Department had 130 volunteers in four companies and a Fire Patrol.  Their equipment consisted of a 1959 American LaFrance 85’ Aerial Ladder, a 1956 Mack 750 g.p.m. Pumper, a 1948 Mack Pumper, and a 1964 Chevrolet Emergency Truck.  In 1965, the Newton Fire Department received a new 1,000 g.p.m. Mack Pumper to replace the 1948 Mack Steamer at a cost of $19,500.  In 1971 Newton Hose Company No. 3 and Chemical Company No. 2 moved into their new fire station at the intersection of Lawnwood and Woodside Avenues, replacing their Firehouse No. 2 on High Street and the Diller Avenue Firehouse.  The Kittatinny Company and Steamer Company remained at the Spring Street station.  The Fire Patrol was housed on Stuart Street.  On April 19, 1972, four firemen were hospitalized after a collision of two fire trucks at the intersection of Pine Street and Merriam Avenue. In 1977, Newton utilized a Community Development Block Grant to construct Newton Firehouse No. 1 on Mill Street, a three-bay facility with brick veneer comprising 6,720 square feet, including a meeting room, recreation room, kitchen, bath and shower room.  The Spring Street Engine House was closed in 1978 after completion of the new building and converted to a fire museum.   Credit: Above information published with permission of the author, Kevin Wright. All rights reserved by the author.