Thursday, July 1, 2010

This Month in Rochester History

This month we observe the 115th anniversary of the founding of the Rochester Fire Department. When Rochester was incorporated as a village in 1869, no fire department was established. In those days, fires were fought by friends and neighbors with an old-fashioned bucket brigade when the need arose. As the village grew, this approach became inadequate to protect life and property.

The village was prompted to take action after a devastating fire destroyed the former Pavilion Hotel at Third and Main streets on April 16, 1880. Newspaper accounts of the time note that only the favorable direction of the wind prevented the entire downtown from being engulfed. After the fire, the village council voted to purchase some ladders, buckets, pike poles and ropes, and a fire warden was appointed to take charge of the equipment. However, without an organized fire department, response to fires in the village was still somewhat haphazard.

After the village constructed a waterworks and laid water mains within the village in 1894, serious talk about establishing a proper fire department began in earnest. On July 1, 1895, the Rochester Village Council adopted a resolution created two hose companies, a hook and ladder company, and the office of chief engineer. The charter fire department was led by chief engineer James W. Smith of the Hotel St. James, and hose company captains J.W. Horn and H. J. Peters.

For over a century, the Rochester Fire Department has defended life and property, and on more than one occasion has saved the downtown business district from devastation. The department is governed by time-honored tradition established in 1895 and has been a family institution, with multiple sets of fathers, sons and brothers on its historical roster.

For anyone interested in a complete history of the department, I highly recommend William A. Cahill's The Rochester Fire Department: A Centennial History, 1895-1995. If you encounter one of our dedicated Rochester fire fighters this month, be sure to extend happy birthday greetings!

This 1895 photo of the charter Rochester Fire Department is one of my favorites. Notice the young boy peering beneath the wagon in the center background.


  1. Fabulous photo! I grew up in Rochester during the 70's and 80's (i.e. when Rochester actually WAS a small town) & have many fond memories of my hometown. The "dreaded" trip to Mitzelfeld's for back-to-school clothes, the fun bike rides to Dairy Queen when it was 90+ degrees outside, the awesome squeeky wood floors of D&C's (where my $5.00 allowance went far)...I miss those days.
    Sure, some of the "old guard" is still there...Green's Art Supply (I can still spend hours there), Varsity Shop, Arizona Saddlery (they STILL have that awesome fake horse inside!), Knapp's Dairy Bar (YUM), Lytle's, & a few others...but the new shops are just so "meh".
    Keep up the good work with your blog! Fun & fascinating info! :)

  2. Glad you're enjoying the blog! As long as you keep reading, I'll keep writing.

  3. John Mohr writes:
    I had to laugh reading Andi's comment, because everything Andi writes is a 100% accurate description of my life in Rochester, although I got my start growing up here beginning in the late 1960s ('68 to be exact). Andi especially hits the nail right on the head with the part about "that dreaded trip to Mitzelfelds"-although I had it worse in that it wasn't just a back-to-school event that dragged me there - my mother used to drag me there for everything and anything that would totally bore me, ultimately getting a job in the fabric department upstairs.

    However, my opinion of Mitzelfelds changed drastically in the mid-1970s, when I got my very first job there at age 16, working in accounts payable in the office. Later, as an adult & homeowner in the 80s and 90s, I always seemed to have an excuse to there and spend money.

    And now, in 2010, I miss the place dearly!

    I, too, would like to commend 'Remembering Rochester' for your excellent blog - I've learned so much from it, in addition to all the reminiscence it lets me do. I would love to take you to lunch someday and just pick your brain on all things Rochester!

    Posted by: John Mohr

  4. Thanks for the compliment, John! If you'd like to reminisce about Rochester, I highly recommend the downtown walking tours sponsored by the Rochester Avon Historical Society. I'll be at the next one on Friday, July 23 at 7 p.m. If you're able, I hope you'll join us. We have a great time telling (and listening to) stories!

  5. As a local kid growing up on Alice Street in Rochester I was privileged to hear stories from my parents, Grandparents and Great Grandparents. I can recall the old McGregor barns burning down (which later became the home of Crittenton Hospital), the centennial celebration, Park Davis, Twist Drill, all the churches on Walnut Blvd., Knapps, DQ, Cunnighams,Kresge and all the downtown stores. Its great to see that these times will not be forgotten. Great Job!