The Chester Historical Society will publish a new book next spring. The title is “History of Chester’s Fire Departments.” Our collection of firefighting artifacts is substantial.
In the old days, Chester had two fire departments. On School Street was Fire District 1. This company served the village and outlying areas. Yo-Semite or Chester Depot Fire Company served the Depot and its outlying areas.
Peter Farrar sits in the right foreground. Frank Bidwell sits at his station on the left. Danny Clemons sits in the far corner. My station is at the opposite end of Peter’s station. This allows us to keep our space.
We have several years of the Chester Advertiser newspaper. Peter says the Chester Advertiser was a weekly supplement to the Springfield Reporter. Our issues are an incomplete run from the 1890s to 1914.
Peter sits down with one year at a time searching for articles regarding Chester fires, firehouse meetings, dances etc. Page by page Peter looks for relevant articles. It’s hard not to be distracted by other news of that day.
When Peter finds something pertinent, he puts a little page sticker on that page with a note as to what the article is. This prepares it for Frank.
When Peter completes a year of the Advertiser, it is passed to Frank. Using his laptop, Frank copies every article that Peter has identified. Some articles are only a paragraph or two – others much more. The 1904 fire that destroyed the buildings at what today is Chester Hardware is a half-page. This is tedious work.
Danny sits in the corner in his swivel office chair. Danny is searching the hundreds if not thousands of old newspaper clippings and photos we have. Danny is a great organizer. When he finds something fire related, he brings it to my attention so I can archive it.
My job is archiving photos, documents, and other ephemera. One piece at a time, I add each artifact to one of our archival boxes. Each week I create more boxes.
Our goal is to include these newspaper articles, Ed Spaulding’s notebooks, and Yo-Semite firehouse ledger entries about any given fire. To that we will add an old photo of that building or a contemporary view of that location when possible. It will be a comprehensive book.
We meet twice a week at the historical society. If you were to add up the hours we work together, it would total close to 30 hours per week. We love what we do. Sometimes the room is quiet when one of us asks, “Ever hear of so and so?” I wish you could hear the information that follows that question. Ken Barrett stopped in last week. He is a fountain of Chester history.
We each have different areas of knowledge or interest. With all of this knowledge in one room, it sure is fun to be part of. Frank is a new volunteer and quickly catching on.
The other day Frank was reading one of the papers and asked, “Who is Mrs. Frank Patch?” I replied, “My great-grandmother and my Mayflower connection.” Frank’s ancestors arrived in this country in 1630.
We have just about completed the donations from Ted and John Leon Spaulding. This required over 40 archival boxes. Now when Danny finds a newspaper clipping or photo relating to one of the boxes I’ve created, I simply add it to the proper archival box. We are each aware of what the other is working on.
On the subject of archival boxes, I’ll give you a little idea what we have so far. We have boxes for Chester schools, hotels, winter carnivals, Buttonwood Farm, Town Hall, the Depot, fire departments, one box each of the Depot train station and Gassetts train station, Popple Dungeon, West Chester, Gassetts, and dozens more.
Currently, I am just placing artifacts in appropriate boxes. Each box will need to be arranged chronologically when we are finished.
I’ve had an excellent response from readers of this column regarding Chester Fire Department artifacts or histories. A couple very rare Yo-Semite artifacts have surfaced and will be included in the book.
If you have any artifacts or history, fire off an email or give me a call. We’d like to include whatever you have or know in this book. This is your chance.
This week’s old saying is a sign I see at Kim Kendall’s. Kim tells me Deanna Parker gave it to him. “Bad decisions make good stories.” ’Tis true, says Henry.