Editors Note: The following text is from “Hands Willing to Serve: A History of the Fire Companies in Monroe Township” by Jacob L. Heisey published in Historic Monroe Township: A collection of articles and images illuminating various aspects of our community’s past by the Monroe Township Historical Society.
For one to better understand this essay, it is essential that geography, topography, and population be addressed. During the latter part of the 18th century, what is now Monroe Township was, for the most part, an undeveloped, wooded area. Politically, the area was a part of Allen Township. The earliest structures were probably log cabins built by the first settlers. A church was built about 1795 to serve the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. The first house of record in Churchtown is reputed to have been built by Jacob Weiss in 1804. In 1829, Peter Livinger laid out a plan of lots (indexed in the first Plot Plan Book of sub-divisions recorded in the Cumberland County Recorder of Deeds office). This plan called for 14 lots in an area bounded by Church St on the north; Main St on the west; High St on the south and Green St on the east. The lots in these blocks were auctioned off in 1830. At this time there were approximately 200 property owners in present Monroe Township. Monroe was created in 1825 by court decree. The village of Churchtown had perhaps fifty structures, notably dwellings and stables.
There was no indoor plumbing. Outdoor privies were a necessity. Wells were dug by hand and were few in number. The main source of water was from cisterns which collected the run-off from the house roofs. The population in 1830 for all of Monroe was 1,562. By 1860, it was grown to 1,832. Churchtown accounted for possibly one-fourth of the population. The Public School Law was a local option. By 1860 Monroe Township had adopted the Public School Law and had several school houses in the township. Churchtown had two school houses on one lot located in front of the Lutheran/Reform Church.
It should be noted that what roads and streets did exist were dirt or mud. They were poorly maintained by today’s standards. Transportation was limited to walking, horseback riding, or horse drawn buggies and wagons. The American Volunteer, published in Carlisle, was the dominant newpaper. Electricity, telephones, automobiles, and other conveniences now taken for granted had not yet been invented. Also of interest are the names that were applied to the streets of Churchtown. Church St is now (for the most part) Boiling Springs RD; Main St is now Old Stonehouse RD. High and Green Streets remain unchanged.
The nearest fire company was the Union in Carlisle, a distance of six to seven miles away. Needles to say, the all-wooden structures of the day would have been totally destroyed by the time a hand-pulled engine would arrive. Possibly as a result of several bad experiences, the townspeople were motivated to form their own fire company. This was accomplished and became an important part of the village of Churchtown for the next 50 years or more.
The First Fifty Years
“Agreeable to notice the Citizens of Churchtown met at No. 1 School House, on Thursday evening, November 15th., 1860 for the purpose of making arrangements to purchase a Fire Engine”. Following this initial entry in the minute book, the Union Fire Company of Churchtown became more than the dream of a few of the local leaders. The first step, of course, was to appoint a committee to raise funds. Forty-eight citizens pledged a total of $294.50. The next step was to “see after engine.” It would appear that a decision had been made to purchase a used engine from the Union Fire Company in Carlisle. While the minutes refer to hearing of others and a letter received from Baltimore, nothing was done regarding any other equipment. The engine purchased from Carlisle was a “Bull Eye” which had been purchased new by Carlisle Union after the court house fire of 1845. By December 11, 1860, the purchase had been completed for a sum of $300. the engine, together with all apparatus, two axes, and fifty feet of hose, had found a new home. A guarantee was furnished by the seller and payment was to be made within 60 days. The next effort was to collect on the pledges.
On December 28, 1860, a committee was appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws. On January 11, 1861, ground to build an engine house was acquired (the lot was 16′ X 25′) and cost $20.00. The site was located on High St near an alley that ran between High and Church Streets. The constitution provided for members from the age of 18 and upward with the following officers to be elected on the first Monday of February: President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, three Directors, three Trustees, one Engineer, and one Assistant Engineer. Appointed officers included two axemen, three laddermen, and one janitor.
Operating procedures were clearly spelled out in the by-laws. “Engineer shall take charge of the pipe and apply water according to the director. Engineer shall have the sole charge of engine. Member arriving first at the engine house, at an alarm of fire, shall be entitled to trumpet which he shall retain until the arrival of a Director, when he shall resign it into his hands.” The dues were 25 cents per year. Fines were imposed for, among other things, spitting on the floor of the meeting room. The fine for this infraction was ten cents with half going to the member reporting the incident. The membership of the company was all male, but the ladies did receive recognition of February 10, 1863: “…a vote of thanks was tendered to the ladies of Churchtown for their great exertions and services rendered in supplying water for the einge at the late fire.”
In March of 1863 the Hall was completed. In May 1863, it was agreed to rent the Hall to the International Order of Odd Fellows. On May 23, 1863, a special meeting was held for the purpose of escorting the returning Civil War volunteers into town. There is no further reference to the matter. In June of 1863, Confederate troops had occupied Carlisle and Mechanicsburg and were also scattered over the valley.
In September of 1865 the company held a “fare” at “church.” Also noted was the following act: “…expnerated of 50 cents conerfiet (sic). A bell was purchased for the engine house and a hose carriage was purchased for $49.50. The church was perhaps not agreeable to having another fair on their grounds, for the 1866 fair was held on James C. Baker’s farm. Thereafter, reference was made to selling the small engine house, and in May 1868 to extending the bell rope to the “lower store.” It should be noted that two squares were referred to, the upper of which was the intersection of Main and High Streets, and the lower of which was at Church and Main.
A reference in the 1873 minutes authorized the Treasurer to loan $750.00 at 6% interest, a high rate for the time. No reference is made to using a bank. Money was loaned to members, with some difficulty in collecting payments, and indications are that some was never collected.
In October 1874, the hall was rented to the Grangers. No further reference is made so it is not known whether a Grange operated in Churchtown or it this was a one-time rental. Likewise, in February 1875 an agreement was made to rent to the fraternal group Patriotic Order Sons of America for $15.00
In June 1876 arrangements were made to participate in the Centennial Parade in Carlisle. Ellen Goodyear made a flag for $4.50 plus $7.35 for the cost of bunting. At the same meeting ground rules were set forth for those participating in the parade: “…any member becoming intoxicated on the 4th of July before the parade, at the parade or after the parade before the company returns home shall be fined $5.00 and be expelled from the company.”
For whatever reason, 1879 was apparently not a productive year for the company. On February 3, (electrion night) the minutes read as follows: “After ransacking the stores, hotel, and Post Office, 13 members of CUF Company met in thier hall at 7 1/2 P.M.” (!) Taxes were paid for 1879 as follows: 38 cents road tax and 95 cents state and county tax.
The minutes for June 4, 1883, note that is was time to “get wheels for ladder,” while those for March 1885 relate to “looking for a new engine.” A new of newer Rumsey engine was acquired to replace the Bull Eye. It is not clear when this was accomplished, however there was a reference made in May 1887 to “put bells on new engine.” Later a bill from A.W. Plank for $2.00 to put bells on was rejected as being an “excessive charge.”
An interesting method for breaking a tie vote for director was used in 1886: “…meet at A.G. Burtner’s store on Saturday afternoon a 2 o’clock Feb. 6, 1886, and the one who can pump the highest shall be first director”. At this meeting also, loan-holder Filler was informed his note was beinn turned over to “Lawyer Leidigh” for collection, and that he, “after not acting althogether as is required was discharged from his office of Janitorship.”
Talk was held in 1889 to repair the old engine known as “The Bull Eye.” Another interesting matter occurred concerning building a bridge over the gutter in front of the engine house. Samuel Darr, Supervisor for the “upper end” agreed to furnish some old planks, but the members would have to build the bridge.
In 1897 the first mention of a bank is made. The treasurer was directed to write the First National Bank in Mechanicsburg to see if members who issued drafts had the money on deposit to cover said drafts. Apparently the did, as the next mention of banking was making a deposit in the “Bank of Carlisle” (probably the Carlisle Deposit Bank).
In March 1890 there appeared to be more interest in parading. “When we have 20 members we get uniforms.” Mention is also made of a “banquet at public house.” In June 1900 $25.00 was given to the band. In November it was agreed to loan the band $30.00. However the band was apparently shortlived as in July 1902 several members were directed to pick up instruments from members or offer to sell them to the members to ten dollars. Apparently the band did buy caps if no other part of a uniform. At about the same time the fire company also bought hats. The firemen must have had parade uniform as mention is made of car and keep of same. In 1902 overalls and leggings were purchased.
In 1908 the minute book became filled, and no further record is known of what occured in the years that followed. There is an indication from scraps of notes found that some interest was shown in buying a motorized engine. This never happened. Considering all the verbiage used in recording the minutes, there is no specific mention of ever fighting a fire. There are, however, two references to billing people for “hire of engine.” One of these persons refused to pay the $15.00 charge.
The most notable Churchtown fire of which a record can be found occurred in 1937, when two dwellings siuated on Main St near the corner of Main & High were completely destroyed. Fire protection service at this time was furnished by the Union of Carlisle and Washington of Mechanicsburg.
The last chapter of the Union Fire Company of Churchtown was written in the 1950s, when several residents of Churchtown made an agreement with the Union of Carlisle to house the new antique until such time as Monroe/Churchtown had a suitable place to safely keep the old engines and apparatus. In the mid-1970s the Monroe Fire Company attempted to regain possession of this equipment but the Union Company did not want to return it. The Common Pleas Court Judge ruled in favor of Monroe and the equipment is now permanently at home in the Monroe fire house.
The Next Forty Years
In 1937, the owners of Williams Grove Park, Roy Richwine and Sons, along with some of Mr. Richwine’s associates, formed the Williams Grove Fire Company. The company was based in the park. The engine house was a small weatherboard building which was barely large enough to house the homemade engine. The need for a fire service was necessitated by not only the park opeation but also by the large number of summer cottages situated in the upper end of the grove. During the forties and fifties, with Clay Hall as Fire Chief, the company served the Williams Grove Area. After the race track was built in 1939, it was served the track with a water truck. Water was drawn from the creek at the bridges entrance to the park. An old gasoline tanker was converted and fquipped with spray arms. Water was distributed on the track to settle the ever-present dust.
In the sixties, new members revitalized the company and it became more viable. A new fire house was built on the race track side of the grounds. Initially it housed on truck. Later a kitchen and another bay was added. In 1977 the name of the company was changed to Monroe Fire Company. At that time, ambulance service as added. The location of the company had two drawbacks. One was the fact that is was not centrally located within the township. The other, and sometimes a bigger a problem, was flooding. In the Agnes Flood of 1972 most of the company’s records were destroyed.
Monroe Fire Company Today (edited for content)
In 1985, the Township of Monroe built a new combination fire house and multipurpose room at 1225 Peffer RD, just east of the village of Churchtown. The building is designated as an emergency shelter to be used in the event of a disaster or other emergency situation. During the Blizzard of 1993, stranded motorists were rescued and housed until the roads were cleared.
In 1999, the fire company began running medical assistance calls on all cardiac arrests and when the first-due ambulance is unavailable. That same year, the fire company became part of a multi-agency wildfire strike team – the Piney Mountain Strike Team, and received a Life Safety Achievement Award for its fire safety and prevention programs at Monroe Elementary School and various daycare facilities.
The public’s financial support and volunteer efforts allow the fire company to provide a high level and protection and service. A weekly Bingo program began on March 5, 1975 and is currently held every Thursday evening at 7:00 PM sharp. Other fundraising activities and holiday celebrations are held throughout the year and advertised in the township newsletter and on this web site.
In November 2009, Monroe Township supervisors passed Resolution 2009-15 which levies a .395 mill tax upon real estate in the township. The tax will help to fund the department in the wake of rapidly increasing expenses and fundraising shortfalls.