One of Chester’s more interesting buildings is the old Yosemite Firehouse in the Depot.
The Chester Historical Society was deeded this firehouse some 40 years ago by Pember Hazen. For 40 years the historical society kept power to the building as well as basic maintenance. For those 40 years we kept the building insured and we allowed the Town of Chester to store their antique fire equipment at no charge.
Further with grant writing help from Michael Leonard working on behalf of the historical society $35,000 was raised for improvements to the firehouse. Both the hose tower and bell tower were repaired and repainted. Rotted clapboards were replaced where needed. This restoration was complete down to the eaves.
Many readers will be aware how much insurance has increased in the last decade. Chester Historical Society was paying $1,200 yearly to insure the firehouse. This $1,200 became a burden and to top it off we couldn’t do anything with the building.
There is no water or sewer to the building and parking is a problem. At best there is parking for three vehicles. Chester Historical Society board members held meetings to discuss what to do. The board decided to look into selling the firehouse. This sparked a vigorous response from the public.
We then decided to offer Yosemite to the Town of Chester as a gift. The town attorney began the long process of title searches, which led to some interesting discoveries. It was discovered that the historical society never owned the building even though we had a deed. So for 40 years the historical society paid the insurance and maintenance for a property we never owned. That’s like paying child support all your life and then discovering it isn’t your kid.
Pember Hazen never had title to Yosemite therefore his transferring title to the historical society was not valid. It’s a confusing chain of ownership but town attorney Jim Carroll is nearing the end. Perhaps you’ve seen notices in local papers for those that might have a claim to the property to step forward.
According to Julie Hance, Executive Assistant to the Town Manager, the town attorney’s bill to date is a little over $17,200 and will increase. But when done the town will have clear title to Yosemite Firehouse. It will take tens of thousands of dollars to restore the firehouse and then there is the question of what to do with it?
It’s hard to imagine it as a business as there is no parking. Snowplows in the winter push snow right up against the building as much as four feet high. The firehouse could be moved to another location, which probably makes the most sense. But that would be another expensive project. So what will become of it? I’m sure the town will be asking residents for their ideas.
When it was first built in the late 1800s automobiles had not been invented. Being so close to the road in those days with horse and buggies driving by there would have been no danger. Today if you step out the door and take two steps, you’re in the road.
At the historical society we have a number of old photos of Yosemite. Recently Ted Spaulding donated to the historical society a group of old Chester photos. One photo in that donation is the photo with this article. A period inscription on the reverse reads: “John Marshall driver Oct 1903.” In those days the firehouse was painted a soft yellow not red as we see it today.
The matched pair of white horses belonged to John Marshall. Those horses are hitched to the 1849 Hunneman Pumper, which is stored in the firehouse.
Instead of an old saying I offer a song we sang in first grade at Chester Elementary School at Christmas time.
“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!”