General Overall Department History

With century old records incomplete and providing little data as the organized firefighting in Somerville’s early days, the story of the beginning of the department has been pieced together with difficulty after considerable research. Therefore many interesting bits of detail must be lacking in this compilation of what few authenticated facts can be found today.

The earliest known fire company of which there is any record, and on which the department’s centennial anniversary date is based, was called Washington Fire Company No. 1. Records show it was organized in 1835, though the month is not known, and housed its ‘goose neck’ engine in a frame building which stood on what is now the southeast corner of the Court House yard here. The apparatus was a tub engine, so called because water had to be carried to it in buckets while men on either side pumped long handles up and down to force water under pressure through the hose line. A Captain Tunison was the foreman of the company.

About 1852 this first engine was sold when it was decided to for two companies. Two smaller pieces of apparatus were bought, pulled by hand, of course.

One of the new companies was known as Union Fire Company No. 1, and this company stored it apparatus in a building upon a lot on Doughty Avenue presented to it by Joshua Doughty, Sr. This building was demolished before 1900, the West End Hose Company acquiring the property and erecting its firehouse there. The late Jesse Lindsley was foreman of the old Union Company for several years.

The other company was named Jersey Blues No. 2, and housed its apparatus in a brick building erected for the purpose on the old Hedges property back of a grocery store at Warren and Main Streets and about opposite the present quarters of Lincoln Hose Company. P. W. Tunison, Sr. was foreman of this outfit.

When first bought, the two engines were tested in front of the Court House with water pumped from a well at the old County Hotel. There was a keen and spirited rivalry between the two companies in running with their apparatus to get to a fire first.

After the old Union engine had served its purpose and had been taken out of service to make way for more modern equipment, it was for years stored in a barn on Joshua Doughty, Jr.’s property but later all trace of it was lost. The old Jersey Blue engine is still treasured among the relics of the old days.

It was in 1873 that the Somerville Board of Commissioners purchased a steam fire engine and Somerville Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1 was organized as was a unit to be called Steamer Hose Company No. 1, the latter manning the hose carriage. These units were disbanded after five years and the present Engine Company No. 1, the first company of today’s department was organized in 1878.