Fire Was Early Hazard,
1st Equipment Bought In 1880
The history of fire protection in Penns Grove is a difficult one to write but certainly Penns Grove saw a need for a fire department very early in its
Late in 1876 George Elkinton’s General Store took fire and was destroyed. A few men, realizing the seriousness of affairs, got together in the early part
of the year 1877 to foster ways and means to raise funds for some sort of appartus for fire protection.
In the latter part of the year 1880 they learned that a hook and ladder could be purchased from the Liberty Fire Company in Salem, as it was too heavy
for their use. A committee of two, William Bilderbeck and Joe Ale, was appointed to journey to Salem and find out the price of the apparatus. On arriving
in Salem, they contracted henry J. Hall, who was authorized to sell the apparatus fo his company for $100. They agreed to take it provided Hall would
drive it to their destination and receive the money.
Setting out at 2:00 p.m. on February 4, 1881, with the mercury at two degrees below zero, they arrived at the side of French’s Hotel on W. Main St., after
dark. The men who first signed for the delivery of the apparatus, and formation of the Company on that date were Dr. Johnson, Joseph French, William
Bilderbeck, Joe Ale, Ad. Jess, a man by the name of Lanning who kept a livery stable, an elderly man by the name of Diver and another whose name was
Everything else being completed, they wanted to give a name to the company. Outside of the Hotel they could see the truck with gold letters “Liberty”.
Joseph French looked at it and exclaimed, “There’s the name we want.”
The apparatus was placed in a shed next to a barn on Oak St., about where the Penns Grove Record Office once stood. There was little interest and no
one even looked after the machine. It was placed on the street where, with the weather playing havoc with it and parts disappearing, it was soon a thing
of the past.
Nothing was considered for fire protection until another fire on October 7, 1902, at Layton’s Corner which was serious enough that a call for help was
made to Wilmington. Liberty and Friendship Companies responded and after pulling down Robbins Harness Shop, they succeeded in extinguishing the
About the middle of 1904 the citizens began to realize the seriousness of the lack of fire protection, and a few young men such as D. P. Featherer, Elmer
Curriden, William Denny, Thomas Morgan, Walter Bell, John Lynch, O. Peterson, Thomas Firestone, David English, Warren English, Josiah Smith, Jacob
Dolbow, and Harry Barber met in Turners Hall to organize a fire company. Elmer Curriden was chairman and D. P. Featherer was Secretary.
About this time the Lannings rigged up a hogshead on a wagon with a garden hose attached to haul water to the fires. The hogshead had to be refilled
On August 11, 1904, Elmer Curriden was elected the first president and D. P. Featherer the first secretary. Thomas Morgan was appointed as a
committee of one to ask Council to secure a hall for a meeting place, and also to have an ordinance passed to form a fire company. The Council was
interested enough to rent David Paulding’s Wheelwright Shop, at Penn and Harmony Streets for $50 a year with Council paying part and the Company
The foundation of a permanent company was laid when these men set their names on Papers of Incorporation with Elmer Curriden as Agent. They were
recorded in Salem on April 12, 1905, under the name of Liberty Fire Company No. 1 of Penns Grove.
On July 19, 1905, the Company organized by electing the following officers: Elmer Curriden, president; Josiah Smith, vice-president; D. P. Featherer,
secretary; Walter Ball, treasurer; Thomas Morgan, chief; Harry Devlin, assistant chief. The Company felt it needed some advice in fire matters and found
a willing helper in the Phoenix Fire Company of Wilmington, who knew the needs of the little company and presented Liberty Fire Company with its first
piece of apparatus. This was a hand drawn hose Carriage with 4 lengths of 2 and one-half inch hose. It was housed by Phoenix Company with fitting
ceremonies about November 1, 1905. The friendship formed by these companies was lasting and remained so until Phoenix Fire Company was merged
into a Paid Department.
In 1907 the Company signed a contract for one Holliday Combination Chemical Engine and Hose Carriage, Horse drawn, to be delivered in 100 working
days from American-La France Company. The new machine was shipped in care of Phoenix Fire Company and fittingly housed by that Company. Not
being satisfied with the horse drawn engine, the Company looked around and found a Pope-Toledo automobile they could buy from James Sweeten for
$300. It was purchased and turned over to the Company by council, which had an iron swivel connection made on the Chemical Engine and coupled to
the auto. It proved to be a great asset to the department.
In 1916, the Pope-Toledo wore out and unable to pull the Chemical Engine was sold on July 17. The company again resorted to the use of horse until
they purchased a Ford chassis. The two 30-gallon chemical tanks were removed from the horse drawn engine and mounted on the Ford. A committee
was also appointed at the same time to purchase a Howe-Buckeye, Model 80, Motor Driven-Friction Drive Pump and Chemical Engine Combination.
The Company was at its lowest in 1919, but through the efforts of various citizens, the Council appointed Frank Rose as a driver at the salary of $100 a
month. His mechanical ability kept the machines in good shape.
By 1920 Council felt it was paying too much rent for three different buildings - one for Council chamber, one for the jail, and one for the Fire Department
- decided to build a Borough Hall on a lot on the corner of Main and State Streets. The new building was completed on November 12, 1920, with the first
meeting held there on November 16. The Council then asked the Liberty Fire Company to move into the new quarters provided. The older members,
except for a few, rebelled against the proposition of the Borough and wanted to remain independent; but Council on March 8, 1921, ratified an ordinance
to establish a Fire Department, “which shall constitute the members of Liberty Fire Company and additional members to be appointed by the Mayor and
confirmed by Council, having one chief, two assistant chiefs, and fifty active members to be paid $1.00 a year, and the Chief $50 a year.” Liberty Fire
Company was then notified to move into new quarters with apparatus, subject to controlling ordinance. On April 5, 1921, under the reorganization
program, all the names of the members of the fire company were submitted to the mayor and Council for approval.
On May 31, 1921, Council received a new pumper from the American-La-France company.
In 1922 the Company found the old Chemical apparatus too small and it was sold for $500. With this money a Ford chassis was purchased. The rest of
the parts were purchased separately and assembled by drivers Nelson Munyon and Frank Ball.
During August 1927 the American-La France, Model No. 38 Pumper arrived and was housed with great ceremony on December 10. This was the
combination engine that made Liberty Fire Company a big, little company.
March 1, 1932 saw the “Big Fire” in Penns Grove. The fire started at 12:50 and burned out of control until around 4 p.m. Some 43 companies with
approximately 54 pieces of apparatus responded to calls for assistance. There was no loss of life or injuries, but Penns Grove had certainly been
singed. This same year saw the first Community Ambulance in the town. It was a Pontiac ambulance purchased by the Walker-Dyer Post, American
legion and turned over to the Borough with drivers to be furnished by the Fire Company.
By 1939 the old ambulance was in such poor condition that the purchase of a new one was necessary. Liberty Fire Company, through Fund Drives,
raised the necessary funds to purchase a LaSalle Ambulance. There were two fire engines with 40 men volunteering their services.
CHIEFS OF LIBERTY FIRE COMPANY
Thomas Morgan 1905-06
Thomas Firestone 1907
David Johnson 1908-09
Dennis Fahy 1910
David Johnson 1911-12
George Dickle 1913-17
Harry Johnson 1918-21
David Johnson 1921-23
Federic A. Gentieu 1924-25
Dennis Fahy 1926-46
Paul Sparks 1947-52
Fred Cullman 1953-58
Ed Clark 1959-61
Chuck Weller 1962-64
Morris Fisher 1965
The Penns Grove Record
Borough of Penns Grove
75th Anniversary Supplement
August 14, 1969