Fire Company #1
The roaring twenties were barreling along on January 26, 1926, the day the Upland Fire Company #1 was organized. Calvin Coolidge was in the White House, Gifford Pinchot was in the governor’s mansion at Harrisburg and J. Joseph Thorpe was the Burgess of Upland Borough. Times were good. Upland had about 500 households and a population of 2500 and the borough was growing.
In vogue were dirigibles, human flies, the Charleston and speakeasies. Delaware County deputy sheriffs, on that day, dumped 3000 gallons of moonshine into a sewer at Media. Upland’s bowling team in the City League was smarting from 3 to 1 drubbing by the Good Will Fire Company team.
There were many things a man could do or places he could go on a cold, gray Tuesday evening other than to a fire company organization meeting. There was a final rehearsal for a minstrel show sponsored by the Upland Baseball Club at the Club House, a full slate of boxing at the Princess Theater, 7th and Sproul, and a waltz contest at the Edgmont Ballroom in Chester. W. C. Fields, Edmond Lowe and Carol Dempster were featured in silent movies at Chester motion picture theaters.
Despite all of these diversions, a determined group of Upland citizens called a fire company meeting for that evening. For ten days prior to January 26th, these men canvassed the entire borough for prospective members. A brief item in the Chester Times on January 25th, mentioned that 150 to 200 charter members were expected to turn out at Upland Borough Hall for the meeting. As it turned out, that figure was optimistic.
On the evening of January 26, 1926, 34 men met at Upland Borough Hall to form a volunteer fire company.
George R. Blythe, as temporary president, called the meeting to order. E. H. Gilpin served as acting secretary and treasurer. The group was addressed by Walter Webb, a Delaware County district fire chief, who told of the benefits a community derives from having its own fire department.
An election was held with the following results: Charles McAteer, president; John MacDade, vice president; Duncan McDonald, recording secretary; E. Howard Gilpin, financial secretary; Joseph G. McCarroll, treasurer. William S. Cowan, Jr., I. Herbert Seaman and Robert Turner were elected trustees; Bert L. Greenwood, chief; Thomas Cluelow, 1st assistant chief; Robert Jones, foreman and James Lister, Sr. solicitor.
The newborn organization knew what had to be done. Little time was wasted in appointing an 11-man building committee, with Averill Mason as chairman. The committee was instructed to locate suitable land for an engine house and to solicit money from property owners for a building fund.
With this much accomplished, the meeting adjourned and Upland Fire Company No. 1 was on its way to becoming an institution. Down through the years its members would become known for their public spirit, selfless devotion to duty, courage in the face of danger and as providers of a center for social activity in the borough.
The next several meetings were concerned with cementing the company into a solid organization. A charter was applied for, a constitution written and a by-laws committee appointed. Dues were set at 15¢ per month for active members with an initiation fee of $2.00. Contributing members’ fee was $1.00 per year.
Starting from the top, the Building Committee visited John P. Crozer, perhaps the borough’s wealthiest and most distinguished citizen, who assured them of his support. Mr. Crozer and two other eminent Upland citizens, Albert R. Granger and George R. Blythe, were elected honorary presidents of the company.
Finding a suitable parcel of land to build a fire house on was not a simple task. A number of sites were considered, but because the company was not incorporated, it could not legally acquire property under its name. There was also the matter of insufficient funds. So, for most of the year 1926, the members of Upland Fire Company busied themselves with formalizing a charter and with fund raising activities. Some of the early ways and means they used to raise money were; selling chance books, producing a carnival, holding a tag day and staging a minstrel show. By the end of the first year, the company had $1,528.37 in the treasury. Early in 1927 the charter was approved by the State.
The ink was hardly dry on the charter when Upland Fire Company received an invitation toparade at the Delaware County Firemen’s Association Convention on June 11, 1927, in Drexel Hill. The invitation was accepted. Fifty members signed up for uniforms. Shaws Band of Upland, a 15-piece group, was hired for the event and Hugh B. Hayes was named Chief Marshall. Mr. Hayes was able to obtain the “Upland Dilly”, a man-drawn fire cart, for display in the parade. The antique hand pumper had been purchased in England in the mid 1800’s by a member of the Crozer family, brought to Upland, and used for fire duty at the Crozer mills. It was a fitting symbol for the borough’s first official fire company. Sometime after the 1927 parade, the Dilly was donated to the company and it has been pampered and painted by Upland firemen ever since, although they have never used it for active service in a fire.
The word was spreading that Upland had a fire company. In August, 1927, representatives from companies in neighboring communities asked that Upland lend them a hand when they answered a fire call in the borough. Felton Fire Company donated hose to get the new group started.
With the charter granted, the building drive gained momentum. On April 12, 1928, a committee was appointed to secure an apparatus. Nearly a year later, they located a horse drawn chemical wagon that was put up for sale by the City of Philadelphia. The membership voted to buy it. In the meantime, Upland Methodist Church consented to allow Upland Fire Company to ring the church bell in case of fire. Keys to the church were provided for two members, Mr. Gilpin and Mr. Cluelow.
In June, 1928, the Ladies Auxiliary was formed, with Mrs. Marie Simpers as the first president. The fire company appointed John Stinson, Joseph Taylor and Robert Jones to help the ladies get organized. Less than six weeks later the Auxiliary made its first contribution, in the sum of $53.35, to the building fund. Through the years, the Auxiliary would prove to be an extremely valuable and much appreciated source of funds and support for Upland Fire Company.
Then came a windfall, Mr. John Pretty, owner of Pretty’s Store, said he was willing to donate a lot adjoining the silk mill on Upland Avenue for a fire house. The membership accepted the offer unanimously and plans were quickly drawn up for a two-story brick building, 22 ft. by 40 ft., but there was still a problem of money. It was not until a year later, July, 1929, that a $17,000 mortgage was obtained from Delaware County Trust Company. Bids were let out and construction was started.
By August, 1929, the cornerstone was in place. During the same month, the company acquired its first motor driven apparatus, a 1924 model Reo Truck, purchased from Philadelphia Suburban Gas and Electric Company. Regulation blue uniforms were adopted.
On August 15, 1929, the Upland Fire Company Relief Association was formed, upon orders from Borough Council, for the purpose of providing insurance for members.
Plans were made for dedicating the fire house and housing the “new” apparatus. Hanley Hose Company of Chester, the only fire company to contribute to the building fund ($50.00), was voted the honor of conducting the dedication and housing ceremonies.
It is ironic that on Black Friday, October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began, painters and carpenters were putting the finishing touches on the new fire house in Upland. The building was completed on November 1 and dedicated on November 6. Upland Fire Company No. 1 had a $17,000 mortgage on their hands and 10 of the most difficult economic years in history ahead of them. Somehow, they made it.
The Reo Truck, sparkling with a fresh coat of red paint, sat in the new fire house for more than two months without being called into service. A pool table and piano were installed to help the volunteers wile away the hours. On February 13, 1930 the alarm sounded and Upland Fire Company was scrambling to its first fire as a complete unit. The conflagration turned out to be a field fire on the property of Josiah Smith, the company’s solicitor.
For the next seven or eight months, minor fires occurred at the rate of one per month. The Upland firemen got their first real baptism under fire in September, 1930, when they answered an alarm on the estate of Mrs. Hoskins at Knowlton. A barn burned down, but the house was saved. Upland Fire Company was congratulated for its good work.
The first indication in the company’s minutes that things weren’t going so well was given in May, 1931. The membership voted not to hire a band and not to parade at the County Fireman’s Convention in Upper Darby that year because so many of the members were out of work. A charge of 1¢ per rack for pool and 1¢ per game for shuffleboard was discontinued. Many members’ dues were in arrears for more than a year. A rule was passed allowing them to work off their dues owed at a rate of 25¢ per hour by cleaning windows and doing other odd jobs around the building. Then, the membership voted to absolve all members of back dues.
During this period in the early 1930’s, the treasury balance slipped from 7¢ on January 12, 1932 to a deficit of $16.58 in March, 1933. Several emergency financial meetings were called. On more than one occasion the mortgage was saved by a $1,000 contribution from an anonymous donor. On another occasion Borough Council donated $10.00 to the fire company to be paid on the principal owed on the building. The Ladies Auxiliary came through in the nick of time, month after month, with enough cash to pay the electric bill or buy coal. To save money, bonding of the treasurer was discontinued. Through this travail, the company faithfully responded to all fire calls.
Early in 1934 the treasury was back in the black. The young fire company had weathered the financial crisis and it was never again to experience a deficit.
A special meeting was called in July, 1934, to consider ways and means of raising money to buy a new fire truck or to repair the old one. Residents were solicited; there were corn boils, carnivals, card parties and minstrel shows. Enough money was collected to make a down payment on a new International Harvester pumper, which was delivered on January 1, 1935.
The new apparatus stimulated member activity and provided a much needed boost to morale. On June 15, 1935, after years of non-participation, Upland Fire Company was once again in the line of march at the Delaware County Fireman’s Association parade.
In 1936, Parkside Fire Company gave Upland its old siren, which was in need of repair. It was fixed and mounted on the fire house roof. During the summer of 1938, Upland bought a new siren and the practice of sounding the siren every night at 6 P. M. was started.
The company’s tenth anniversary was observed with business as usual. The fire house was accepted as an institution in Upland. Its auditorium served as a meeting place for Borough Council, unions, boys’ clubs and baby clinics; as a polling place, draft registration headquarters, Red Cross Emergency Station and the site of many special events. During the early 1940’s, the basement was leased to Sun Oil Company for use as a shooting range.
With the advent of World War II, activity tapered off. Many members went into the armed forces. The one who remained, were working long hours or taking part in Civil Defense activities. Minutes of monthly meetings went unrecorded for nearly two years.
When the men returned from the war, there was an infusion of new blood into the Upland Fire Company. Starting with the nine year tenure of John Lord in 1947, many improvements in the fire fighting organization and system were instituted. Under succeeding presidents Ray Hamilton, John Adkinson, Richard McClintock, Robert Baker, Jr., and Joseph E. Blair, noteworthy gains were made in training methods, equipment usage, alarm systems, communications, membership and financial growth.
A milestone in the company’s history was reached on June 13, 1951, when a mortgage burning ceremony was held in the fire house. Charter members in good standing put the match to the papers. The following September, the company voted to buy a new apparatus. They chose a 500 gallon Oren pumper truck with a 300 gallon booster. The vehicle was delivered in June, 1952, and the Franklin Fire Company was asked to house it.
Organization of the Fire Police was begun in September, 1954, and in October, 1955, this group was sworn in by the Burgess of Upland to serve the borough. One of the worst fires in the borough’s history occurred in January, 1955, when Upland Baptist Church burned.
Another new fire engine, a Seagraves, was purchased and housed in June, 1960. Upland now had two modern and efficient engines, the older vehicle having been sold. Only the “Dilly” remained.
Parking had been a serious problem for many years. This problem was finally solved in January of 1966, when a lot across the street from the fire house was purchased from the McClure estate.
Upland Fire Company is fortunate that it has never had a fatality among its members, but it has had its share of injuries in the line of duty. March 25, 1967, was a bad day for injuries when six men were hurt fighting a fire at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
In the first forty years of existence, Upland Fire Company weathered many trials and crises. The company’s survival is a tribute to hundreds of dedicated members and friends down through the years who have worked hard to keep it alive. Its existence is proof of the need and of the services performed for the community. Well deserved recognition and honor to the company was forthcoming in October, 1968, when Robert Baxter, Jr., past president of Upland Fire Company No. 1, was elected president of the Firemen’s Association of the State of Pennsylvania.
On September 13, 1971, Upland Borough was hit by a flood from the Chester Creek and the firehouse, which was located on the banks of the creek, was under water. The building suffered major structural damage, forcing the company to keep the trucks on the vacant lot across the street from the firehouse. The building was repaired enough to make it safe to resume fire operations. After several meetings with the Borough Council, plans were made to build a new firehouse. Construction was started in 1975 at 6th and Wake Road and completed in 1976. The old fire house was sold to a vending machine company.
For further information on the Upland Fire Company No. 1, visit their website.