Danielson: Stories of Early Fire Fighting Equipment



                An email arrived at the Killingly Historical Society in late 2016 seeking information on fire departments in the local area.  The request was from Renee Crist, Collections Manager of the LeMay America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington.  They were hoping to find the original fire department that had owned an 1878 Silsby Steam Pumper Fire Wagon #588 that they had just acquired.  They had checked with a Silsby Registry for #588 and next to that number was “Danieleson, CT” – spelled that way.

          Renee said the General Putnam #588 had come to them with limited provenance and they would like to attribute the engine to its original fire department.   The engine has a plaque installed on the boiler noting that it was restored by American LaFrance in 1908, presumably by its fire department as was customary for many of the Silsby wagons that survive.  The Silsby was painstakingly restored by the owner a few years ago and is in beautiful condition.  She attached a photograph of the wagon as it appears now displayed in their lobby.

Research in the Society’s newspaper archives located the following item:

Windham County Transcript of March 14, 1878 published in Danielsonville, Conn. 

“The Silsby steam fire engine arrived Thursday evening…  two hose carriages came with it.  There was a parade Sat. afternoon with the post of honor given the old “Minnetexit” hand engine, then followed a hose carriage, then the new steamer, followed by two more hose carriages, and the Hook and Ladder truck.  The Minnetexit and Hook & Ladder companies paraded with full ranks.”

In reply, Renee noted that there would have been hose-carriages that went along with the Steamer.  The steamer had the hard-side intake hose mounted on either side, with little room for anything else on the wagon; the delivery hoses would have had to be carried separately.

In the May 9, 1878 issue of the Transcript was the following note:

“The steamer Gen. Putnam was out for practice Saturday afternoon, driving water from the cistern near Bacon’s furniture establishment.  The machine worked finely, but the stream was unfortunately thrown into a spot where the spray barricaded Main Street, dampening carriages and clothing before word could reach the engine and the direction of the water changed.”

Even as the General Putnam approached the age of 50, Chief A. P. Woodward always kept the faithful old steam pumper in readiness in case of emergency.  In April 1926 there were two instances where he considered sending for the old General to use its extra lines to be laid down from the hydrant on Humphries Street to fight a fire in the Danielson Inn.  And again, a week later when the 16,000-pound Captain Put pumper became mired in the mud at the scene of a fire, Danielson was without the services of its premier firefighting machine but was far from lacking protection.  In case of an alarm there, the old General Putnam steamer, kept in commission for such emergencies, could have been gotten out and would have answered the purpose for any, but a very serious blaze.

          In an excerpt from the Transcript of June 20, 1935 mention was made of the participants in the Tercentary parade.  “The final division was made up of firemen.  The oldest piece of fire equipment was the Torrent No. 1 from Norwich, a hand tub made in 1769 and one of the most ancient in existence.  Then were there the Minnetexit tub, bought in 1855, the General Putnam pumper [from Danielson], and there were two pieces from the Lawton fire dept. in Plainfield, one from Moosup, one from Brooklyn and the three modern vehicles of the Danielson dept.”

          Another article in the Windham County Transcript dated August 15, 1935 showed that the antique fire fighting equipment still could put out fires and also attract crowds to watch them at work.  The headline read: “Old Hand Tub Will Be Used in Fire Test-- Ancient Minnetexit Engine to be used at the Grand Finale of State Firemen's Meet at Plainfield.

“As the Connecticut State Firemen's Association convention at Plainfield draws to its close on Saturday afternoon, August 24, the old Minnetexit hand tub and the General Putnam steamer from Danielson will play prominent parts in the final glorious celebration, a demonstration of ancient and modern methods of fire fighting especially appropriate in this Tercentenary year.  The convention will be held on two days, Friday and Saturday, with a big parade Saturday afternoon, followed by the demonstration and a dance in the evening.  A carnival will be held in Plainfield all next week under the auspices of the firemen of that village.

Four Alarm Fire

“A huge bonfire is being constructed for the display of equipment dating back nearly 170 years.  It will be touched off at the conclusion of the parade and successive generations of apparatus will be called out by alarms sounded on the whistle of the Lawton mills.  First to go into action will be Torrent No. 1, of Norwich, a hand tub built in 1769, which was shown in the Tercentenary parade here on June 15.  It will be commanded by Chief Henry Taft.  The second blast will summon Danielson's Minnetexit tub, recently redecorated and refitted, manned by some thirty red-shirted fire ladies under the direction of Chief Winthrop E. Short.  This machine was placed in service in Danielson in 1855.  On the third alarm the General Putnam steamer will take over the flame fighting.  Purchased in 1878 and used here continuously until 1919, when it was superceded by motorized apparatus, this pumper was in action at the local Tercentenary celebration in June and demonstrated that it can still throw an effective stream.  The final call will be responded to by a modern pumping engine, not yet named.

“Danielson will also be represented in the afternoon parade by its museum pieces and one of the motor-driven engines of the department.  

Eras of Fire-Fighting

“Following the parade, a huge bonfire was ignited on the Community House field in order to demonstrate the fire-fighting equipment of bygone days.  The Thompson and Torrent tubs first attached the incipient blaze with comparatively feeble streams.  Danielson's Minnetexit, with a score of huskies pumping and Deputy Chief Cassius A. Hamilton directing them showed how flames were combated nearly a century ago.  Finally, the General Putnam steamer, operated by F. O. Armington and Ira A. Warren, gave a convincing demonstration that this type of pumper can still give the modern motorized a good run in any contest for distance and pressure.

“About 15,000 people lined the route of the parade, applauding frequently as the divisions passed.  The traffic was handled by the state police under the direction of Lt. Ross V. Urquhart, the Danielson officers being assisted by men from the Hartford, Groton and Stafford barracks.  During the evening, after the police had departed, complaints of disturbances resulted in the return of about a dozen officers, whose appearance on the scene quickly quieted any riotous members of the assembly.  A dance at the Community House Saturday evening closed the two-day convention of the firemen—probably the biggest and most exciting celebration ever held in Plainfield.”

In the previous newspaper clippings mention was made of Danielson’s Minnetexit Tub which was the fire department’s earliest piece of firefighting apparatus.  The name Minnetexit was taken from the word the Nipmuck tribe used to describe the Quinebaug River—“Minitexit” or “the white gliding waters.”

The Danielson’s Firemen’s Association announced in the Transcript on January 2, 1936 that “Danielson's Tub Company Is Disbanded.  The Minnetexit Tub Company, an inactive organization reminiscent of the old days of fire-fighting, was legislated out of existence at the annual meeting of the Danielson Firemen's Association, held last Thursday evening at the central fire station.  Its personnel will henceforth be affiliated with the Salvage Engine Company as honorary members, leaving three companies in the association, the other two being the Captain Put Engine Company and the Minnetexit Hook and Ladder Company.

          “There were about twenty-five men in the old tub company, which was reorganized some years ago, following the motorization of the department, for the purposes of providing an organization to which veteran and retired firemen might belong and of furnishing a crew to care for and man the hand tub on the occasion of parades and exhibitions.  The new plan will financially aid the Salvage Engine Company, which is the most recently organized of the three active apparatus crews and which has had little opportunity to raise funds for its treasury.”

From https://connecticutgenealogy.com/windham/history_of_danielsonville.htm

“The borough at a very early date gave attention to protecting its people and their property against accidental fires. It was voted October 16th, 1854, that a fire engine should be purchased. The engine was purchased in Troy, N. Y., March 19th, 1855, at a cost of $990, and the burgesses named it the “Quinebaug.” April 4th, 1855, the borough voted to purchase 500 feet of leather hose at 50 cents a foot. Minnetexit Fire Company was organized July 11th, 1855, and the name of the engine was changed to “Minnetexit” to correspond. A hook and ladder company was organized August 15th, 1855 with ten ladders and hooks, and the borough voted to purchase 300 feet of leather hose. Trucks for ladders and hooks were purchased in July 1873, at a cost of $500. The steam fire engine, “General Putnam,” was purchased March 14th, 1878, of the Silsby Manufacturing Co., Seneca Falls, N. Y., at a cost of $3,550.”