By Scott Kinville

The history of the Little Falls Fire Department spans over 200 years. This chapter is part one of the formation of volunteer companies.

For the first 26 years of its existence, Number One was the only company that made up the Little Falls Fire Department. As Little Falls grew, its need for more fire protection also grew. On September 4, 1834, the Hook and Ladder No.1 was organized and attached to the Number One. Less than a year later, a brand new company was formed and added to the ranks of the LFFD.

The Protection Astorogen Company No. 2 (commonly known as the Protection Fire Company) was founded on June 19, 1835. The Protection Company was formed to provide fire protection for the village south of the Mohawk River/Erie Canal. They were headquartered in a garage at the site of present-day 26 Flint Ave (then known as German Street). They would not last long on the south side, as in 1858, they rented a building at the southwest corner of Albany and Second Streets (current site of Kinney’s parking lot) to serve as their headquarters. This would be an ill-fated move, as this building burned to the ground in 1877. Most of the records for the fire department to this point were stored there and lost in the blaze.

They would also be the first company in Little Falls to acquire a steam engine. It cost $3,000 and was put into service in 1870. That “steamer” was stored at the Petrie Street Armory – on the site of today’s Christ Lutheran Church. With the arrival of the steam engine, the company’s name was changed to Protection Engine Company No. 2.

This is the hand drawn steamer of the Protection Engine Company. The picture was taken in front of the Garden Street Hose House, the man in the photo is named Robert Upright.

This is the hand-drawn steamer of the Protection Engine Company. The picture was taken in front of the Garden Street Hose House, the man in the photo is named Robert Upright.

Cascade Fire Company No. 1 was formed on October 11, 1853, and it was comprised of the original No. 1 and the Hook and Ladder Company. They were briefly headquartered on North Ann Street but moved to what would come to be known as the Garden Street Hose House, which stood where the current Laura’s Hair Salon is. On September 20, 1871, they received a steam engine, which they named the “Z.C. Priest,” and after reorganizing on November 29, 1873, they were known as the Zenas C. Priest Steamer Company.

The Cascade company wore a uniform consisting of a blue cap, a blue cloth coat, a red shirt, and black pants.

The General Herkimer Company No. 3 was formed on July 3, 1857. Although organized in 1857, they had to wait until 1860 to actually go into service. The reasoning for this was a clause in the Charter of 1850 that stated, “The number of fire engines (companies) is not to exceed one for two thousand inhabitants, and one additional engine (company) for every fifteen hundred inhabitants over two thousand.” To add the General Herkimer Company, Little Falls would need a population of 5,000 – which it achieved with the census of 1860.

The General Herkimer Company originally moved into the quarters vacated by the Protection Fire Company in 1858. They were welcomed with open arms, as with the departure of the Protection Company, the south side had no immediate fire protection. In 1866, a new firehouse was built for the General Herkimer Company, which also had a jail in the cellar. It was located at the site of the current Benton’s Landing. This firehouse would later be known as the Southside Hose House and remain in service until 1941.

Yet another company was added on January 1, 1870, when the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company No. 4 was created. This company was actually born out of the old Hook and Ladder Company that had been attached to the original No. 1. Many prominent men belonged to the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company, including Titus Sheard, James D. Feeter, J.J Gilbert, and David H. Burrell. They stored their equipment at the Garden Street Hose House and maintained social rooms at the Cronkhite Opera House on the southwest corner of Main and Ann Streets (you will hear about the Cronkhite Opera House again in a future chapter).

Along with new fire companies, Little Falls also added a new steam fire whistle on November 20, 1873 in the Mohawk Mill. Prior to the installation of the steam whistle, firemen were alerted to a fire by someone yelling “fire!” and then running to a watchtower to ring a bell.

Perhaps the most unique of all the fire companies in Little Falls Fire Department history began as a reading and study club. The Erina Lyceum was formed around 1874 with mostly Irish male membership, and in 1886 became the Erina Chemical Engine Company No. 5.

Their engine was a one of a kind Little Falls. It had two large tanks that carried a soda ash solution that when combined hydrochloric acid, propelled the solution onto the fire. The original engine was purchased with the Erina’s own funds and was hand drawn. It was destroyed when when the engineer lost control of it on the way to a fire and it crashed into the Rockton Hotel. A second chemical engine was purchased on November 11, 1892.

The chemical engine of the Erina Chemical Engine Company No. 5.

The chemical engine of the Erina Chemical Engine Company No. 5.

For a short time, the Erina Chemical Engine Company was headquartered on Loomis Street but spent most of its existence at the Garden Street Hose House (which was rebuilt in 1878). They were very active in fire department social activities and would remain in service for a few years after the LFFD became a paid department in 1899.

UP NEXT: The Little Falls Fire Department undergoes a major reorganization, gains a new water source, and adds another company.

I want to thank the Little Falls Historical Society for the use of their fire department files and access to the early fire department pictures.