Lansing’s First Fire Engine and Three Pioneer Fire Fighters

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Wednesday, August 13, 1913 – Pages 1 and 6.

Lansing’s First Fire Engine and Three Pioneer Fire Fighters

A feature that will arouse enthusiasm among the old settlers at the September home-coming and afford an excellent comparison of fire-fighting methods of a half century ago and the present time, will be a demonstration with the old Torrent No. 1, hand fire engine, at the City National bank corner on some date of the week’s celebration.

Captain Julius N. Baker, of the Bingham st. fire station, one of the old living fire fighters of the city, has planned the demonstration with the old engine in which he first broke into the fire fighting game in the city. Captain Baker is very desirous of obtaining the names of any members of the old squads who at any time helped operate the pumps at pioneer time conflagrations. He requests that all old members of the company send in their names to him either by telephone or postcard so that he can get a list and organize a second later day “Torrent Company” for the demonstration.

Hand Engine Valued Relic

The ancient engine now finds a shelter in the Bingham st. fire station after 60 years, a part of the time being a very necessary adjunct to the city’s safety. It was purchased by this city early in the year 1856 from a firm in Rochester, N. Y. At the meeting where the action was taken to buy the equipment, George W. Peck was chairman and R. C. Dart, secretary.

The engine was shipped to Lansing by a devious route from Rochester, owing to the lack of railroad facilities. It was packed and shipped in sections to Buffalo by rail and thence to Detroit by sail boat. From Detroit, after many delays, the engine was forwarded over the Michigan Central to Jackson. Jackson ended its rail journey and after that its sections were loaded onto “pungs” drawn by oxen over partially broken roads. One section of it was stuck in the mud near Rives Junction and with difficulty gotten out of the swamp.

The whole engine finally arrived overland in Lansing May 12, 1856. The sections were unpacked near where the Grand Trunk railroad station now stands. At this point it was assembled, decorated with flowers and headed by throngs of “dressed up” and enthusiastic citizens was hauled to its house on the south side of East Allegan st. The day of the arrival of the engine was made a gala one. There were speeches and a general celebration. Immediately after the arrival of the equipment a company was formed and named “Torrent No. 1.” The organization derived its name from the fact that the majority of the members had been members of a fire company in Rochester, N. Y., of the same name. Nearly all the early pioneers were New Yorkers.

Sold to Cheboygan

The engine, after this city had otganized a fire department under the jurisdiction of the council, was sold to the city of Cheboygan. A year ago James P. Edmonds, whose father was of the city’s early fire chiefs and who had often directed the movements of the ancient water thrower, and Alderman Oscar McKinley, discovered the ancient engine while at Cheboygan. Sentiment prompted them to purchase it. After years of disuse and neglect it was finally returned to the city where it was formerly held in considerable respect by the early pioneers.

Captain Baker’s proposed demonstration will be at the old reservoir at Washington and Michigan aves., a water storage that hundreds of persons walk over each day without knowing of its existence. The reservoir is kept filled to this day for emergency purposes and will hold over 1,000 barrels of water. Two similar reservoirs are located beneath the streets at the south of the Buck furniture store and north of the F. N. Arbaugh department store.

Talk of the Old Days.

“Lansing practically burned up under that engine,” said Capt. Baker of No. 4, indicating the old hand pump, which is on exhibition at the station. Although it has been strenuous service for many years and has been retired for half a century, the apparatus is in excellent condition and could yet give a hearty account of itself. The pumps are double-acting and are of a powerful mechanical type, and are operated by handles on each side of the engine and capable of throwing three streams at high pressure. The body of the truck is of solid mahogany, inlaid and the casting are of solid brass. The metal frame work of the engine is hand wrought, and withal the apparatus is a work of art.

“Fires which broke out in the old town from time to time consumed blocks of the business district during the service of the old hand engine, manned by volunteers.” said Capt. Baker, who has been a fire fighter for over 38 years. Coming to Lansing in 1858, Mr. Baker’s acquaintance with the development from a village in the swamps dates from that time.

Walked Here From Detroit

“I walked here from Detroit by way of the old plank road, which ran through the college campus and onto Franklin avenue,” said Mr. Baker. “This was the route of the old stage, which then turned south through the woods down the present route of Washington avenue to the present town.” No stage ever came over East Michigan avenue between here and East Lansing. The terminal for the stage was the old Ohio hotel at the corner of Washtenaw and Washington, opposite the Hotel Downey.

“When I came here I lived with an uncle at the corner of Washington and Shiawassee. At that time the only brick buildings in the upper town were those of the Cole and Bailey blocks at the corner of Washington and Michigan avenues. The Episcopal church at that time stood on the present site of the opera house and the city school building was the Townsend st. school. I remember attending the laying of the cornerstone for the old Catholic church, which was then built in the woods near the corner of Madison and Chestnut.”

Fires Visit Village

“An early fire, which is remembered by few residents, burned the block from the Downey to the Butler on a cold winter morning, and a similar blaze took the buildings between Kalamazoo and the present Commercial hotel. V. R. Canfield, the coal man, and myself got our ears frozen during the first fire, which occurred shortly after the old steamer had been introduced. The extreme cold froze water in the air chambers and caused them to burst leaving the firemen practically helpless except for the valiant service of the old hand engine.”

Westcott Was First Chief

“K. W. Westcott was the original chief of the old volunteer department, which comprised the two companies of the upper town and that at North Lansing. Saginaw st. was established as the fighting line, and although in times of fire the two companies gave the heartiest cooperation, no fireman ever crossed the line alone without taking chance of a fight”

“If a fireman from the upper town ventured down to the north village he invited an attack from the fireman of that locality and similarly were the north end boys shy of crossing Saginaw. I remember that my uncle sent me to the North Lansing mill to get bran for his cow. I took a wheelbarrow as far as Saginaw, where I sat down and waited the length of time it would take to make the trip, and returned with the report that I could get none, not carrying to take a licking from any of the Dutch.”

“A half-way house of the old wayside inn type, which stood on the corner of Saginaw and Washington avenue, which is still vacant, caught fire one night and both companies responded. A dispute arose over which company was to take charge of the fire and developed into a fight between the “Dutch” and the firemen from the upper town, the building meanwhile burning down.”

Active in Social Life

“There was only one social class in Lansing at that time, the residents comprising a single happy family. Church socials were the principal feature and were always largely attended. During the winter, skating on the Grand river was a popular social diversion, participated in by everybody. At times the volunteer company belonging to a single engine numbered as high as 10 men, and always took part in social activities. Many of the prominent business men were members of the fire companies; often becoming so to escape jury service from which firemen were exempt.”

“The town was an informal community in those days” continued Mr. Baker. “I remember when the Prudden block was originally built, that the stores occupying the site were moved into the street where they remained while the merchants continued to do business in them until the completion of the new stores. Whenever a new building was to be raised clerks from the capitol which was than a square brick building, would come out and make it a function.”

An attempt will be made to secure several of the old firemen’s trumpets which are in the hands of a number of Lansing families. The trophies were won by the Lansing boys in contests at Ionia and with Ann Arbor and other firemen from points about the state.

Photo Caption: K. W. Westcott, original chief, with Fireman Alex Cline and Ned Burton of North Lansing. All are dead.


Lansing's first fire engine and three pioneer fire fighters-1913-08-13-Lansing, MI-firemen photo

original article - page 1

original article – page 1


original article - page 6

original article – page 6


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