By Scott Kinville

The history of the Little Falls (NY) Fire Department spans more than 200 years. This chapter is a look at the earliest days of Little Falls.

From its beginnings until 1899, Little Falls was served by a volunteer fire department. In fact, Little Falls had a fire department before it was an actual village. The fire department was established in 1808, whereas Little Falls wasn’t officially a village until 1811.

During this time, Little Falls comprised five dirt roads, a grist mill, a few taverns, small farms, a handful of dwellings, and the Western Inland Canal. Built in 1795, the Western Inland Canal at Little Falls was one of the first canals built in the United States. Due to the “little falls” in the Mohawk River, the canal was vital for water travel to Utica and points beyond.

When the Little Falls Fire Department was formed, it was led by Captain Soloman Lockwood. Before 1851, the chief of the department was called “captain.” In those days, the fire department was called the Number One Company (No. 1). They had a goose-neck style hand pumper which was purchased in 1810. This pumper was stored in a shed just west of the present-day Snyder Apartments.

On March 5, 1811, the No. 1 was summoned to a fire at Craines Tavern. Craines Taverns was located on Main Street (then known as Catherine Street) east of the Ann Street intersection. After this fire, the only known roll call of the Number One Company was read.

Although there were only male names on that list, Number One was not an exclusive company. Under the village charter of 1811, both men and women were required to be in the Number One. Men would carry full buckets of water from the water source to the pumper at the fire, while the women carried the empty buckets back to the water source to be filled again. Usually, the water source was the Mohawk River, but there were also cisterns (water tubs), and small water springs.

The United States of the early 1800s was an almost entirely different world from what we know today. Back then, the U.S. was predominately a farming society. The largest cities were New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 1830 only New York City had a population over 200,000 at 202,589.

The few long-distance roads that were in existence at the time were terrible at best, making travel a difficult and time-consuming task. The Erie Canal opened in 1825 and opened western lands for settlement and trade while also sparking an economic explosion that rippled throughout the entire United States. Travel time was significantly shorter, and fresh produce and seafood could now reach markets that could not survive the trip before the canal. The canal barges could carry much more freight and passengers than the wheeled wagons of the dirt roads.

Little Falls, with its ideal location straddling the canal, was poised to take advantage of this economic growth.

As Little Falls grew and changed, so too did its fire department. In 1827, Little Falls received a new village charter, and with it, membership in the fire department became restricted. No longer were men and women required to be members. With the Charter of 1827, only men could serve in Number One.

Another change would be the selection of three fire wardens to oversee the Number One as well as the new fire prevention laws. These wardens were elected in the stone school house which still stands at the corner of School and Church Streets.

One of the fire prevention laws that was to be enforced was a strict chimney cleaning law. Another law was held over from the Charter of 1811 that read each home and business was to have a bucket for extinguishing fires. This law was taken seriously. By 1835, the fine was one dollar per day for as long as the law was violated. One Dollar may not seem like a lot of money today, but back then it was a significant amount of money.

NEXT: As Little Falls continued to grow, its fire department needed to expand as well. In the next installment of the History of the Little Falls Fire Department, find out which new companies and how many were added to the LFFD.