In its Feb. 11 meeting agenda, the Hallowell City Council outlined three options for the future of the former fire station on Second Street. The options include selling the fire station, renovating it to house the police department, or researching the issue for another year.

Out of all options, the most reasonable, given the city’s imminent need for a new police station, is to renovate and install the police department in the former fire station. The former fire station has ample square footage to house the police, and a rich history, including housing priceless artifacts from the days of bucket brigades and horse and buggy.

Hallowell’s first town hall was constructed in 1828 as a meeting place for elections and other town purposes. Late in the 19th century the building was converted to house the volunteer fire department with the requirement that each volunteer keep ready two leather and canvas buckets. These volunteers were the 19th-century first responders who offered assistance to residents in need.

In 1835, the fire wards of Hallowell created the fire department and S.C. Whittier became Hallowell’s first fire chief. At this meeting, wardens were chosen for the Hydraulion, later dubbed the “Lion,” the first engine owned by Hallowell to draft its own water.

The “Lion” consisted of a doubled-decked tub and a folding shelf which allowed six to eight people to work the upper set of brakes.  Wardens were also chosen to Engines 1 and 2; these were the small bucket-tubs and required the help of a bucket brigade.

A bucket brigade consisted of a double line of residents connecting a water supply and the machine.  Buckets would be filled, emptied into the machine, and returned for a refill.  Each household was required to have two fire buckets swinging from their home.

Wardens were chosen for the hooks and ladders, furniture, merchandise and a warden for the ax company, which consisted of 15 men. Engine 1 was stationed at the Hallowell crossroads, now Manchester Forks. The “Lion” and Engine 2 were stationed within the city. In 1836, the Tiger was added to the fire equipment and Company 4 was formed. For years, these two hand engines comprised the Hallowell Fire Department.

At a special meeting in November 1899, the ownership of the fire department located on the corner of Water and Winthrop streets was transferred to the Granite Knights of Pithias. This sale made it possible to relocate the fire department to its location on Second Street.

In 1898-1899, the wooden hose tower was constructed to house the leather and heavy canvas hoses. Hoses were hung vertically in the tower, which served as a chimney to facilitate air flow, to dry after a fire or training session. If they weren’t dried properly, they could rot or weaken and rendered useless. The wooden tower is one of the few remaining wooden towers left in the U.S.

As you can see, this important building is a part of Hallowell’s history. In fact, one could easily argue it’s one of the most important buildings in Hallowell. In March 2013, the City Council found the building so important, it approved Resolution 02-13-R, which ensures the building to be “maintained and preserved for the future” and any uses of the building are “consistent with its historic value.” Finally, the resolution required the building to remain under the “care and supervision of the City of Hallowell.”

Because of this resolution and a building in dire need of restoration, the Hallowell Citizens Initiative Committee was formed to direct the restoration and preservation of the fire tower. Since 2014, the committee has raised $50,000 to fund the tower restoration. These funds were added to $220,000 included in the bond package and a $25,000 donation from Kennebec Savings Bank. In 2017, phase one was completed to stabilize the wooden section of the building.

Spring forward to 2019, the Water Street reconstruction is nearly complete, new sidewalks and lights are installed, better parking is available, and the crown is down on Water Street.  Life in the “Little Easy” is returning to normal, with Mardi Gras on the horizon and spring hopefully coming early.

Unfortunately, the new year has brought its own set of fiscal challenges with renewed discussions from the city’s councilors on selling Hallowell’s first city hall to get much needed revenue for other projects. The fire station contains an important part of Hallowell’s history and continued public support for this project is crucial.

The Hallowell Citizens Initiative Committee and I urge you to contact your city councilor to request they uphold Resolution 02-13-R and preserve Hallowell’s first city hall for future generations.  Tell them Hallowell does not sell their historic landmarks.

 

Danielle Obery is a resident of Hallowell.

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