A brief history of the Crisfield Vol. Fire Company
According to City records found a City Hall in the late 1970s. Crisfield
formed its first Vol. Fire Co. in the year 1874 by purchasing 96 feet of
ladders and 50 buckets for a fire brigade. Two years later in 1876 John E. N.
Sterling Bailiff for the City authorized the purchase of 48 white cedar
buckets at a cost of 30 cents per bucket. He also purchased six axes and a
30-foot hook ladder. During the same year he acquired a bell from William
T. Lawson to be used as a fire alarm bell. The bell was placed in a location
where it could be kept in a locked enclosure were only the bailiff and certain
persons would have access to it.
Sometime between 1876 and 1883 the city commissioners purchased a hand pumper to improve the fire protection of the city, as the bucket brigade was found to be very inefficient with all the wood structures in the town.
In 1883 a large fire practically destroyed the whole downtown area of Crisfield, which again caused the city officials to take a look at the fire fighting equipment of the Crisfield Fire Company. As a result of the loss of property in the lower part of the city, commissioners decided in 1885 to purchase the now famous horse drawn Clapp & Jones Steam pumper, at a great cost of $2, 800. This modern piece of equipment was supplied by the Clapp & Jones MFG. Company of Hudson New York and was state of the Art in the late 1880's, but well within the budget of the now growing City of Crisfield, thanks to thriving oyster industry. This economic boom also brought the (New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad) NYP&NRR to the area, which would later play an important role in the History of the Steam pumper. The Steamer was equipped with a steam signaling whistle, two lanterns, name plate showing manufacturing data, and all the necessary tools and accessories. At the time of purchase the new engine was housed in the Andrew Polyette’s Livery Stable on lower main St. (now the Watermens Inn Restaurant). Mr. Polyette an early member of the Company supplied the horses needed to pull the heavy piece of equipment. According to local historians horses could be hitched to the rig within five minutes, and steam up on the system by the time the unit arrived at the location of the fire.
So with the Railroad in town, and a telegraph office at the Pine Street Railroad station the stage was set for that historical night of October 17th, 1886, when the call for mutual aide was received about 7:30 P.M., by way of telegraph for the Crisfield Vol. Fire Co. to respond with all the men that could be spared and the Steam Pumper. The message was clear that a great fire raged out of control in the City of Salisbury some 30 miles to the north, which threatened the newly constructed Wicomico County Courthouse. The members of the Crisfield Vol. Fire Co. responded under the leadership of Chief Col. B. Hufty (b. c.1845) with the new pumper and firefighters, Jeff D. Stubbins (1862-1936), James Purnell (1867-1940) and several others.
Based on historical records and knowledge of the older members of the Fire Company, the telegram would have been received at the Pine Street Railroad station. This message was then relayed to the local bailiff or person in charge of ringing the fire bell located in the center of town. After responding to the alarm the firemen would have hitched up the horses at the Polyette Livery Stable, where the steamer was housed. They then made the run up to the loading ramp at Pine Street which was about ½ of a mile. At this location the pumper was loaded on a flat car that was coupled to a special train, that had been made ready under the authorization of Superintendent H. W. Dune of the NYP&NRR. The Crisfield Railroad terminal had a turntable and engine house located where the Crisfield Firehouse is today, for making up three trains per day in the late 1880's. It was a common practice to keep up a head of steam on a locomotive during the night making the locomotive ready for an early morning run to Philadelphia and other northern cities, with live seafood taken from local waters. Tracks were well maintained and fairly new in the 1880's and locomotives could reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour or more. So the special train transported the newly acquired Steam Engine and its crew to the Salisbury station in about one hour. It has been reported that the firefighters were fighting the flames near the Courthouse, using water drafted from Humphrey’s Pond by sometime between 9:30 and 10:00 P.M. that evening.
Chief Engineer: Philip Lee Goldsborough Crisfield, Vol. Fire Company July 9, 1997