The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 4, Page 21.


City Has Had Organized Department For All But 18 Years of Its Existence

Although Valparaiso had a volunteer fire department almost from the day the city was founded, it was not until 1868, eighteen years after the village was incorporated, and three years after it became a city, that it had an organized department.

The story of Valparaiso's struggle for protection against the fire fiend, is a struggle for water and for funds. From the time the village was founded until 1868, this fight was carried on with water pails and ladders. Water was always hard to obtain in the city until Flint lake was tapped.

In the early days of the village the only source of supply was that furnished by dug wells and cisterns. These wells were very deep, and the holes had to be bricked up. The water was elevated by means of oaken buckets to which a rope was attached. Only the well-to-do could afford this luxury. Their digging was expensive and dangerous.

Most families depended on cisterns supplied with roof water. Some families had "fire cisterns" dug to be used only in case of fire. Then came a new-fangled contraption which elevated water by means of little buckets on an endless chain. This innovation was for a time believed to be the last word in wells.

One day a genius invented what was called the "driven well." A pipe with a "point" was driven down into the water vein, and the water raised by suction. Cyrus Axe sank one of these well in Jefferson street between College and Locust, for the accommodation of his neighbors, and it proved a great blessing. However, those who bought these pump were harassed by the inventor for payment of royalties. Infringers on his patent had sprung up all over the country. Law suits in amazing number cluttered up the courts, and it was not until the patents expired that the confusion was over.

In 1868 Valparaiso woke up to the necessity of having some kind of fire department. A hook and ladder company was organized and an engine house was built on the east side of the court house square. Until then when a fire broke out, the victim ran out in the street and cried "fire" at the top of their voices. The word would somehow reach the town hall, and the old fire bell would be frantically rung. This summoned the citizenry to the fire.

"Where is the fire?" Locations were not numbered as they are now. "Down at Smith's house." If one knew where Smith lived, you knew where the fire was raging. Then everybody grabbed a bucket and ran to Smith's house. If Smith was lucky enough to own a cistern, water was to be had. If not, then water must be carried from the nearest cistern. If the fire got much of a start, there was nothing left to do but carry out the furniture.

Then came the hook and ladder volunteer fire company of 1876 when the fire department was established with two engines, a ladder cart and hose cart. William Dragoo was chief engineer of the fire department.

The members of the department in those days included most of the city's finest, and for years it was considered a high honor to belong to the organization. On the signal of the fire every one of these volunteers dropped whatever they happened to be doing and sprinted to the fire house to rush the apparatus to the scene of the fire.

A prize was offered for the member getting to the fire house first, and this caused some mighty fine sprinting. Among the oft-time winners of these races was Frank L. Faley, who in his time was about the fastest thing on legs. Buckets were still used as there was no pressure system.

Then came the hook and ladder wagon, which carried the ladders, hooks and buckets. It was man-drawn -- a string of fire boys tugging at a long rope with a couple of men hanging on to a long pole behind used to steep the unwieldy wagon.

Sometimes in turning a sharp corner at full speed the unlucky tail-enders would be swung in the air like the boy at the end of a line of boys when the ship was cracked. One time Clem J. Horn was at the end of this steering gear, turning a court house square corner. He was lifted up into the air, his body straight out and sailing like a bird. But Clem hung on and escaped being thrown through a store window.

Back in the eighties when Woody Kellogg was chief of the department these was such valiant firefighters as Taylor Chester, Arthur Bartholomew, Frank L. Faley, William Edward, James Burk, Joseph Halladay, Valentine H. Wendt, John A. Longshore, Frank A. LePell, Don G. Lytle, Luke Ransom, Charles White, Fant Deming, Marion Breyfogle, William F. Lederer and Joseph Sego.

From an organization of a few man, equipped with hard rubber buckets which they brought to a fire in the best manner possible, the Valparaiso fire department has grown until it is now one of the most efficient for a city of this size in the state.

Fire losses cause millions of dollars worth of damage each year, besides taking a heavy toll of lives and causing injury to many other persons. The city has experienced some heavy losses in the last ten years.

Valparaiso had a number of disastrous fires in its early days, several of which would have taxed the fighting ability of the present department with its modern equipment. Bucket brigades were the only means of combating fires. This later was changed to hand drawn and hand operated pumps and hose carts, later the hand and horse drawn, then to motorized equipment, and at the present time the city has two of the latest type of fire engines capable of pumping 750 gallons of water a minute into a fire.

One of the earliest big fires occurred on May 27, 1885, at 3 a. m., when fire was discovered in the rear of a row of frame buildings on the north side of Main street, east of Franklin. A small breeze was blowing, and in two hours every building in that block was a mass of smoking ruins. The destruction included the skating rink, owned by Salisbury and Sloan; the Tremont House, Dolson's stables, in which several valuable horses were burned; Williams and Felton's livery barn and two adjoining buildings; Wilkinson's implement house, and a number of smaller shops. It was fortunate that a high wind was not blowing, as in that case the loss would have been unquestionably much greater.

This fire occurred about the time the waterworks was being projected in the city, but which, through legal delays, was not completed and turned into the mains until the following year.

Other disastrous fires occurred in Valparaiso as the years went by but the fire department became better equipped to fight them as the city grew and as new firefighting equipment made its appearance on the market.

Before 1898, hosecarts pulled by the firemen, or at times conveniently hooked onto the back of a dray or transfer wagon, were used for many years. Besides the hosecarts and a hook and ladder kept at the central station, stations were maintained on College Hill n the rear of the Domestic Science building, and also at the Grand Trunk, near the Hutchings hotel.

In 1898, Fred Shoemaker and Charles M. Gogan, the latter a veteran engineer on the Pennsylvania, then member of the city council, proposed that the city buy a new fire wagon and a team of horses. This was carried through and Tony Massey was the first driver of the wagon. The horses were named Fred and Charley after the two councilmen.

Vet Chester, a driver, while going to a fire, on the site of the Palace confectionary, corner of Lincolnway and Franklin, in 1907, was thrown off the wagon and dragged half a block. The injuries received finally culminated in his death. Suit was brought against the city and a verdict was rendered in favor of his estate in the sum of $2,500.

The horse-drawn vehicles went out in 1920 when the city purchased a Service truck of Ball and Stanton. J. A. Wise was chief of the department then. Others in the department at that time were Floyd LePell, Taylor Chester, Lewis Shurr, John Holman, John Vantrees, H. E. Dille, Ray Adams, Albert Schumacker, and Bert Woodward and John Deardoff, drivers.

Others who served as drivers are George Winter, George King, Fred Smith, Vet Chester and Taylor Chester.

Some of those who served as fire marshals, or fire chiefs during the years were William Edwards, Lyman Dran, J. A. Wise, W. B. Forney, W. H. Newland, Fred Shoemaker, W. F. Lederer, Theodore Thimings, John G. Marks and Harry Clinedinst, the latter present chief.

Other big fires recorded in the history of the local department were:

On January 22, 1897, Vineyard Hall, one of the largest dormitories of Valparaiso university, was destroyed in a spectacular blaze. Before the department could reach the scene the flames were beyond control. There were sixty or more students occupying the building and several of them had narrow escapes. Misses Minier and Warner were found insensible in their rooms and were rescued with difficulty. The building was owned by Mrs. Anderson, of LaPorte, and was valued a $10,000.

East Hall, at Valparaiso university, was destroyed in a fire on December 30, 1902, with a loss of $15,000. Many students living in the hall were losers by the fire.

On January 16, 1903, C. J. Kern's store in the Salyer block on Main street was destroyed in a fire which started at noon. A stock of practically $12,000 was ruined and the building was damaged to the extent of $2,000. The fire department prevented spread of the fire to other buildings.

On January 22, 1904, the Grand Trunk railroad station was burned -- the second time in five years. The building had been erected a few years before at a cost of $3,500. The Grand Trunk also suffered by fire in the burning of its elevator in the local yards on March 23, 1904. It was operated by Way, Higley and Company, and at the time of the fire contained 4,000 bushels of grain, mostly oats. The total loss was $6,000.

On July 10, 1917, Vineyard and Eiss Halls, two large dormitories on College Hill, were destroyed by fire. Firemen were unable to cope with the flames. Company L assisted the firemen in fighting the flames. James H. Jacoby, of Vineyard Hall, was carried out of the burning building on a cot. Floyd LePell and John Holman, firemen, were burned about the hands, and W. B. Forney, another fireman, was overcome by smoke.

On November 2, 1917, Corboy Hall, one of the oldest rooming halls at Valparaiso university, was completely gutted by fire. The blaze was discovered at 6 p. m. The fire started in a waste paper basket where a roomer is believed to have thrown a match. William B. Forney, a fireman, was overcome, and dropped to the floor. William Arnold, another fireman, grabbed him and dragged him from the burning building. Harold Card, a member of a boy scout troop, was overcome by smoke, but recovered. The building was owned by Mrs. Arnold, and was built thirty-five years ago. Mrs. A. T. Foreman is the present owner.

In the old days fire alarms were spread by riders on horseback or persons on foot. Later telephones made their appearance and they aided in getting out the volunteer firemen although they were but few phones in Valparaiso for a number of years. As telephones increased the fire chiefs found it easier to summon men to a fire and also to receive an alarm.

When the Northwestern Indiana Telephone company was established here in 1899, one of the provisions of the franchise granted by the city was the furnishing of an alarm system to the city free of charge. This system was maintained for a number of years, and then allowed to deteriorate. Finally the system became abominable and the Schenck city council agreed to release the company for that part of its agreement providing they purchased a new siren to sound alarms in place of the old bell which was turned over to the Valparaiso high school for its victory celebrations.

Back in 1896 a movement started in the council for the construction of a hose drying tower. Plans were also made at the time for the purchase of a new fire patrol wagon and a span of horses to replace the old reel carts and hook and ladder which were to be applied to the purchase.

In the old days, Valparaiso firemen participated in tournaments in which firemen competed in various drills and fire fighting maneuvers. Once in the eighties the local firemen went to Sarnia, Canada, to take part in a tourney.

On August 15, 1907,Valparaiso firemen were hosts to the Northern Indiana Volunteer Firemen's association. A parade was held in which departments from Valparaiso, Hobart, Indiana Harbor, Whiting, Robertsdale, East Chicago, Lowell, Crown Point and Monticello took part. Local business men cooperated in making the affair a success.

Newer and more modern equipment was added to the local department in 1923 when the city council purchased two Seagrave trucks for $23,000, with a $4,000 allowance for the old Service truck.

One of the trucks is a triple combination pumper of 500 gallon capacity at 120 pounds net pumping pressure or 750 capacity from a flowing hydrant pressure, and the other of the same capacity equipped with hooks and ladders.

One of the new trucks arrived here on June 12, 1923. That night a fire broke out in the Smith and Smiths company lumber yard near the Pennsylvania depot. The old Service truck was unequal to the occasion. The engine began to get hot. The representative of the Seagrave company who was staying at a hotel awaiting the morrow when he was to test the machine, was contacted and turned the pumper over to the city firemen. The pumper performed admirably. But for it the McGill plant and the lumber yard of the Smiths' company and other buildings would have been destroyed.

During the last twelve years the Valparaiso fire department has been put to the supreme test by big fires. On February 15, 1923, fire destroyed the old College building at Valparaiso university, entailing a loss of $55,000. This building was built during the period before the civil war. In 1924 followed the destruction of Elks' temple building on West Lincolnway. The firemen were compelled to fight the blaze with the temperature seventeen degrees below zero. The Saran Apartments was badly damaged by fire on February 1, 1924.

On October 23, 1925, fire attacked Valparaiso Auto Sales company, located in the Roy Ross building on West Lincolnway, directly across from the postoffice building. The building was badly gutted, entailing a loss of $55,000. Milton Take, manager of the Vaparaiso Auto Sales company, was a heavy loser.

The next big fire was the Academy of Music Block, and the Kauffman clothing store. Two firemen, Robert Bartholomew of Valparaiso, a volunteer fireman, and Harry McNamara of the Gary department, who was assisting in fighting the fire, were killed when a wall fell over on top of the Kauffman building. Ten or twelve other fire fighters of Valparaiso and Gary were injured. The loss on the two structures totaled $112,600.

The following year another old landmark, the Merchant's hotel, one of the city's first hostelres, was wiped out.

On July 19, 1930, the William Paint shop at the south west corner of Washington and avenue, in the Urbahns building, was completely destroyed with a loss of $10,000.

The most spectacular blaze in the city's history was the destruction of the Porter county court house, built in 1883-84-85, at a cost of $167,000. Starting in a closed room on the first floor between the clerks' and sheriff's office, the flames went up an open vent near a soil pipe to the Porter circuit court room above. Foremen were unable to stem the flames which worked their way into the tower structure and then shot in the air to a distance of 175 feet or more. LaPorte and Gary fire departments responded to a help call sent out. While returning to LaPorte after the fire, the LaPorte truck was wrecked and one of the firemen, Raymond Meinke, died later of injuries received when the trick skidded off the icy highway.

At the present time the Valparaiso fire department has six regular men on duty at all times. They are Harry Clinedinst, chief; Wilbur Cowdrey, assistant chief; William Butterfield, Wallace Gray, William Zea and William Stoddard, drivers. There are also the following call men: William H. Peters, Byron Soliday, John Watt, Lloyd Miller, William Johnston, Paul Black, Gerald Johnson and Max Hildreth.

From time to time there had been agitation for an all-time, technically trained fire chief. Councilman Louis Gast advanced this suggestion at a meeting of the city council, city planning commission, and city survey committee of the chamber of commerce held on July 26, 1926.

When Mayor C. L. Bartholomew assumed the office on January 1, 1935, he announced that the fire department would be reorganized. John G. Marks, who had held the position of chief for a number of years, was succeeded by Harry Clinedinst, one of the regular firemen. He took over the duties on July 1, 1935.

For the last four years a fire school has been held at the central fire station here with Emmet Cox and John O'Brien, of Indianapolis, acting in the role of instructors. Latest methods in fire protection are taught the firemen. Firemen from outside cities also attend.

In addition to fire fighting, the firemen are also instructed in Red Cross life-saving methods. Four or five years ago local firemen started a movement for the purchase of an inhalator. This has now been paid for through donations, dances, and a city appropriation. It is available in cases of drowning, asphyxiations and so forth.

Inspections are made by the firemen under directions of Chief Clinedinst of all fire hazards in the city. The department cooperates with the state fire marshal's office in an effort to reduce fire loss. Drills are conducted in schools and talks are given the students on safety methods.

In other words, fire fighting has changed greatly from the early days when men had only rubber buckets to combat the fire fiend. Today as much time and effort is spent in preventing fires as was expended many years ago in quelling fires after they started.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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