A History of the Hopedale Fire Department
by Gordon Hopper
Most of the following is a condensed version of a history of the Hopedale Fire Department, written by
Gordon Hopper in 1975, although the part before 1886 was taken from records at the fire station.
On May 9, 1873, a meeting was held at the home of Joseph Bancroft on Hopedale Street, next to the
present site of the library, "for the purpose of forming a Fire Company." They elected officers and
appointed a committee to draft a constitution. With no other building being available, it was voted "to
keep the engine, when received, in the carriage house of J.B. Bancroft, until another building could be
On May 22, 1873, the engine was received and given a trial before the Board of Engineers. Several
months later, a large pile of rubbish and barrels covered with tar was set on fire so the new engine
could be tested. The fire was put out very quickly.
A fire station, or Hose House, as it was called, was completed in 1874, across the street from the
present site of Adin Ballou Park.
To help celebrate the country's centennial, on July 4, 1876, "the Company and apparatus joined a
parade at Milford. The Engine was handsomely decorated by the lady friends of the members of the
Company and presented a very fine appearance."
Two fire steamer companies, one hook and ladder company, and three or four hose companies had
been providing fire protection for Milford and Hopedale combined. This ended in 1886, when Hopedale
separated from Milford and became an independent town. At that time, Milford presented Hopedale with
the first apparatus. Identified as Fire Extinguisher No. 2, it was housed on Adin Street where Judge and
Virginia Larkin now reside. Equipment owned by the new department consisted of 900 feet of hose, four
ladders, 36 pails and a hose carriage. At that time, the department had 15 men on the payroll, which, for
the first year amounted to $500. Charles Pierce was Hopedale's first fire chef. The No. 1 Hose House
was a wooden structure located on Hopedale Street, then a dirt road. There was a hose drying tower
attached to the station and a large cast iron bell was located at the top of the tower. Horses that were
used to draw the hose wagon were borrowed from the Hopedale Stable. A rule put into effect in 1887
required that every member of the fire department be employed by the Draper Company.
During 1888, the amount of hose possessed reached 1500 feet. Shovels, an arrow gun, and a fire
escape were added to the department's equipment. In 1889, a new horse drawn hook and ladder truck
and extension ladder, and two fire extinguishers were purchased. In the same year, the firehouse was
The installation of a fire alarm telegraph system was completed in 1892 at a cost of nearly $5,000.
The system consisted of eight fire alarm boxes, five of them located inside the Draper factory, and three
strategically placed around the town. Possession of this system resulted in a reduction of fire losses. In
1893, another hose wagon was added, making it necessary to form a second hose company.
In 1900, to alleviate a space problem, a small wooden structure at Patrick's Corner (Mendon Street at
Hopedale Street) was rented from the Highway Department for several years. Starting in 1903, it was
required that one fireman be on duty at the Hopedale Stable Company's barn every night plus Sundays
and holidays. It had been determined necessary to keep a man there to hitch horses to the equipment in
case an alarm was rung. A fireman was kept at the barn until 1912, at which time the use of horses was
eliminated as the department had become completely motorized. The first piece of motorized fire
fighting apparatus owned by the department was purchased in 1905. It was a new electric chemical
truck. It cost about $3800.
Samuel Kellogg replaced George Jenkins as fire chief during 1907. He served for 36 years until he
passed away in 1943. Equipment at this time consisted of one hose house, two horse drawn hose
wagons, an electric chemical truck, a horse drawn hook and ladder truck and 4500 feet of hose.
The sum of $6,300 was expended during 1908 to remodel the hose house on Hopedale Street.
Enlarging the building eliminated the necessity of maintaining the smaller station at Patrick's Corner.
The smaller station reverted back to the Highway Department, who proceeded to sell it. In recent years it
has been located behind the home at 142 Dutcher Street in use as a private garage. The second piece
of motorized equipment, a hook and ladder truck costing $4,300 was purchased in 1910. Retired Fire
Chief Charles Watson recalled the difficulties experienced by the Milford Light and Gas Company in
supplying constant power into Hopedale. Power for the fire alarm system was obtained from the Milford,
Framingham and Uxbridge Street Railway Company for many years. All mobile fire department
equipment had been motorized by 1912 and the use of horse drawn vehicles came to an end.
A committee was formed at a town meeting in 1914 to investigate a suitable location for building a
new central fire station. Another town meeting in 1915 appropriated $50,000 to build a station on
Dutcher Street. Robert Allen Cook, an architect and W.L. Mellen, a contractor, were selected to build the
station. Mr. Cook must have had excellent foresight because the station he designed in 1915 is still in
use and is still a modern station. The main floor contains three bays for the large pumpers and a larger
bay for the ladder truck. There are also two bays in the basement. The original Dutch doors on the front
of the building were replaced with overhead doors in 1947. A 94 foot hose drying tower on the fire station
was originally used for hanging and drying wet hose. In the fifties, the tower was found to be structurally
unsafe and a heavy fire bell was removed. Since then, half the tower has been used for hose drying and
it supports the whistle and an antenna. One section of the large meeting room contains a collection of
trophies, badges, and ribbons which have been won at competitive events. Other awards are for fire
truck qualities and appearance in competitions. These awards signify achievements of the Hopedale
Fire Department personnel. An interesting feature about a standby air compressor in the station is the
fact that it was originally used between 1919 and 1946 by an electric freight motor belonging to the
Grafton and Upton Railroad.
An American LaFrance chemical truck was purchased in 1916. An American LaFrance hook and
ladder truck with a right hand drive costing $10,800 and a car for the chief were purchased in 1923. In
1926, a new Ahrens-Fox pumper was purchased for $14,000. It was capable of pumping 1,000 gallons
of water per minute. This truck performed excellent service for 35 years.
Fire Chief Samuel E. Kellogg, who passed away in 1943, was replaced by William Whitney. Whitney
served until the end of World War II.
From 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 14 until 1 a.m. on Aug. 17, 1945, the fire department answered 52 false
alarms. Box alarms had been struck by individuals to keep the fire whistle continually audible in
celebration of VJ Day, the conclusion of World War II. Two other calls were for bonfires which had been
set during the occasion.
Throughout the past 89 years the nature of the calls received by the department have changed. Some
of them would now seem rather unusual. For instance, there was a squad call to rescue a horse,
another call for a fire at the Hopedale Coal & Ice Co. icehouse, and another sent men and equipment to
extinguish a fire in a coal pile. No information was recorded about the horse rescue, but horses were
know to occasionally wander onto the trolley bridge that spanned Hopedale Pond until the early 1930s.
Whenever that happened, it was necessary to lay wooden planks along the track ties for the horse to
walk on while it was being led to the end of the bridge.
Charles Watson was appointed Fire Chief in 1945. Major repairs were made in the Central Fire Station
during 1949 and a two-way radio communications system was initiated in 1949. The present fire alarm
system was installed around 1950 and cost $15,000.
An alarm sounded at 4:15 a.m. on Dec. 11, 1962, signaled what was to become the total destruction of
the Union Evangelical Church on Dutcher Street. Hopedale firefighters and mutual aid from Milford and
Upton battled more than three hours to contain the blaze and prevent its spreading. Losses amounting
to $250,000 caused this fire to be the largest one in Hopedale's history.
The need of a rescue vehicle had long been realized by Hopedale firefighters. In 1969, the men
purchased a 1964 Cheverolet panel truck which they remodeled into a light rescue truck.
Chief Charles Watson retired in 1970 after 43 years of service. On the same day, Arnold Nealley, was
appointed Fire Chief and served until April 1971, when illness forced his retirement. Edward Scott was
appointed Call Deputy Chief in 1971.
In 1971, the private fire department which had operated inside the Rockwell Draper plant was phased
out. For a half century the Draper Company maintained its own group of firefighters. There were
hydrants and small hose reels placed around the company property and one company-owned fire truck
was kept on the premises. A station with a hose drying tower still remains near the Bancroft Park
During 1973, a local citizen left a bequest to erect a granite memorial on the property at the fire
station. A stone was placed by the station and inscribed: "In memory of all firefighters who served the
town of Hopedale. Erected by firefighters September 1973."
Nearly 90 years after its meager beginning, the Hopedale Fire Department now is one of the best
equipped and well trained fire departments in Massachusetts.
The author of this article, in addition to spending many hours researching books, papers and records,
acknowledges the cooperation of Fire Chief Herbert Durgin and Firefighter Robert Hammond. Without
their help, this history could not have been documented. Milford Daily News., 1975.
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