POMEROY — It was in 1847 — 165 years ago this month — after a major fire struck Pomeroy, that a small group of men got together to organize the Pomeroy Fire Department, one of the first volunteer units in the State of Ohio.
Those first dedicated volunteer fire fighters, who had watched as a section of Pomeroy burned, set up stations in four sections of town, and for the next 50 years operated what might be described as a bucket brigade to fight fires that occurred.
Near the turn of the century, The Barckoff Organ Co. moved into town and built a factory just off Spring Avenue in Pomeroy, which was then a growing and prosperous community. Barckoff wanted good fire protection, and to get it, his company provided the first real fire-fighting equipment for the Pomeroy Fire Department.
It consisted of a steam pumper and a hose wagon and reel. The equipment was stored in the ward houses, and the horses to pull it were stabled at the rear of the old Pomeroy Village Hall located on a lot adjacent to what is now the New Beginnings Methodist Church on Second Street.
In those early years when a fire struck, the tolling of the courthouse bell signaled the volunteer firemen to their posts. Records show that by 1908 the department had 77 volunteers on its roll. About that time, more equipment was purchased to serve the population of the village which then exceeded 7,000.
The department purchased its first piece of mechanized equipment in 1929 —a Seagraves pumper.
Many things have changed in the 165 years since that first group of volunteers organized into a fire department. In the 1960s, the three companies merged into a main department headquartered in the old village hall building on Second. In the mid-1970s the move was made into a new brick building on Butternut Avenue which today houses modern fire equipment, along with providing a meeting room and recreation space.
Over the years, Pomeroy has had perhaps more than its share of major fires destroying blocks of downtown businesses. Records show that in 1851, about one-third of the business buildings in the middle block of Pomeroy’s Main Street were destroyed. Just five years later, another major fire struck destroying many stores in the middle and lower blocks of the village. But business was good, the population was growing, and there was a flurry to rebuild and enjoy the prosperity of the times.
The next major fire came on a hot August morning in 1927. That fire started in the Priode Livery Stable on Second Street, which at the time was located near the building later occupied by Powell’s SuperValu. It spread rapidly through the frame buildings on that block and then jumped across the street to consume all the buildings on the lower blocks of Second Street. It destroyed the work of a lifetime for many businessmen.
Among the buildings destroyed were the Ewing Funeral Home, the G. W. Burson three-story brick hardware building, the J. R. Stark Tailor Shop, Pride Livery and Storage Stable, Sam Lathey Second Hand Store, the Root Brothers Tin Shop, a shoe repair shop opened by Philip Meier, the Huber Brothers soft drink establishment, the John Bentz Blacksmith Shop, O. H. Myers Store, barn and residence. Other building gutted were the Gribble building, office of “The Democrat,” Pomeroy’s newspaper at the time, the stock building of C. S. Curtis, D. H. Peoples’ prosecuting attorney’s office, Sargeant’s Restaurant, Phillip Sommer’s Shoe Shop, and Charles Dow’s Architect office.
When it was all over, the view from just above Butternut Avenue to Mulberry was one of smoking shambles and a few brick walls, according to Katie Guth’s account to this reporter some 20 years ago. Then 92, she had worked in one of the businesses destroyed that day. While reminiscing about the devastation wrought she displayed newspaper clippings she had preserved about what she described as the “great fire.”
Other fires have struck Pomeroy but none were as destructive as those in 1851, 1856 and 1927. Much of the credit for that goes to the volunteers of the Pomeroy Fire Department which this year observes its 165th anniversary.
In the mid-1970s when the Butternut Avenue building was constructed the department had two pumpers, relatively new, a brush truck, a rescue truck and a boat. In 2008, they added a new $617,000 ladder truck purchased with federal fire act grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.)
Many things have changed since that group of volunteers organized the Pomeroy Fire Department 165 years ago, but one thing has remained constant — that sense of security residents have in knowing there is a group of firefighters ready to respond.