February 24, 1966
Written by Charles Collett
Submitted by: Robert Kingrey
The city firemen are everybody’s friends, and if you don’t think so, you should read my mail since the Sunday column about the first volunteer firemen in town a hundred years ago. Folks seemed to ask for an encore. Like in most cases, where better things have happened in a community, usually a newspaper takes the lead and that’s what happened in Ironton following the big fire of 1865. Christian Feuchter was editor of the German weekly newspaper and his paper started a subscription to buy a hand pumper for the volunteer firemen. Citizens kicked in $137.50 and city council provided the remainder of the money to make the purchase.
Upon the arrival of the new hand pumper from Cincinnati, a demonstration was held at the Ironton House, Front and Railroad streets. Plenty of water was available from the river and the pumper threw water on the roof of the three-story hotel building. Firemen stood in line waiting their turn to man the pump. Four men worked at a time for a period of three minutes, then four more were ready to step up in relays, until the fire was out. The town was proud of this demonstration and the editor of the Register said, “Now let the fires come.”
The first baseball team to represent Ironton was organized among the younger members of the Excelsior Fire Company in 1867. They rented a steamboat and took a crowd of about 300 rooters to Portsmouth on a Saturday and were defeated in the first game. That started the sports rivalry between the two cities. The firemen started it and the Tanks were called 60 years later to finish it.
The first Firemen’s Ball was held at Union Hall in 1868. It proved such a successful social event, raising over $100 for the firemen’s fund, that on January 1, 1869, the Firemen’s New Year Ball was the biggest social event that the city had seen during the 60’s. Many guests came from Ashland and Portsmouth.
The city’s new waterworks was completed and tested July 2, 1872. That was another show-off day for the firemen. The hand pumper was no longer needed. Fire hydrants replaced wells on street corners and firemen could nozzle water on roofs of the three-story City and Union Halls at Second and Lawrence, the two highest buildings in town.
The erection of the water works provided the town with a steam siren called the “Mocking-bird Whistle.” This was before the city had telephones. The water gauge at the water works was so sensitive that when a fireplug in any part of town was turned on, it registered on the gauge. That was a signal to blow the whistle and the people ran upon the streets to point the way to the volunteer firemen and help find the fire.