BEGINNINGS OF SOUTH MANCHESTER FIRE DEPARTMENT
The need for a fire department in South Manchester was voiced increasingly during the
late 1800's, particularly by F. Ernest Watkins, one of the partners of Watkins Brothers.
A fire, which destroyed the Weldon business block in 1897, spurred action and a petition
signed by twelve men to the Selectmen asking them to call a meeting to form a fire district.
A meeting was called on April 21, 1897 and a fire district was organized by a vote of 56
Boundaries of the district were set roughly through the center of Middle Turnpike, south
through Parker and Autumn Streets, west along Charter Oak Street and Hartford road and north
through Cooper Street and in a line with Bigelow Brook. In response to a petition submitted
to the Selectmen less than a week later, the southern boundary was extended to include Spring
and Hackmatack Streets.
Management of the district's business and property was assigned to the officers acting as
a committee: President Frank Cheney Jr., Clerk F.E. Watkins, Treasurer Justus W. Hale and
Assessor and Collector R.M. Rood.
The residents who met and voted to extend the original boundaries also voted a tax of
11/2 mills and authorized the borrowing of $3,000.00 to purchase apparatus. The tax levied
by Mr. Rood was 15 cents for each male in the district between the ages of 18 and 60 and a
personal property tax which included about 5 cents for a bicycle.
The Officers asked men in five sections of South Manchester to organize companies. The
first to be organized was called the West Side Company No.1, with L.N. Heebner as foreman,
the company included five members of the Cheney family: Frank Jr., Charles, Horace B., C.
Herman and Howell. Company No. 1 was supported financially by the Cheney Brothers for many
years, although remained under the direction of the district committee.
Center Hose Company No. 2, located in the vicinity of the Center included Albert, James,
Theodore Bidwell; Robert, Samuel, W.J. Smith among others. The Company was under the direction
of Foreman Walter M. Saunders.
In the Orford Hose Company No. 3 were C.E. House, J.W. Hale, F.T. Blish with John P. Cheney
serving as Foreman.
School Street Company No. 4 included William C. Cheney as Foreman, Alexander Rogers,
Alexander Trotter, F.E. Watkins and Walter B. Cheney.
With Frank Tryon as Foreman, the Charter Oak Company No. 5 included Leo and James Burke ;
George and Olin Day Andrew and John Gordon ; and Arthur Hale. Charter Oak Company No. 5 merged
with School Street Company No. 4 in 1905.
The four remaining Companies were organized into a Fire Department in June of 1897 and named
the South Manchester Fire Department. Frank Cheney Jr. was selected as the first Chief of the
Department. The Department was consolidated with the Town of Manchester in November of 1956 to
form the current entity known as:
Manchester Fire - Rescue - EMS or M.F.R.E.
This hand drawn hose cart was the earliest type of equipment to be used in the South
Manchester Fire Department. Five such carts were delivered in May of 1898 and distributed among
the five hose companies. Each consisted of a two wheeled cart, 350 feet of hose, two axes, a
hydrant wrench, two spanner wrenches and a canvas sack, which was laid over the top, containing
rubber coats and hats. Appearing in the photo (right to left) are Robert Carney, Ernest Kilquist,
Clifford Forbes, Richard McCann, Clarence Aspinwall and Alfred Hultman.
The 1899 ladder truck, 1900 hose wagon and chief's buggy at Company No.1 operated with runners
in Winter to speed their response in snowy weather, Rollers were placed in the floor of the fire
house so the runners could move in and out easily. In the background is the fire house at the corner
of Pine Street and Hartford road. It was built by Cheney Brothers in 1900 as the home of Company
No. 1. It was used until 1966 when Company No.l 1 moved into new quarters on McKee Street.