The Early Years

The city of Ferndale was founded in 1852 when Willard Allard, Seth Louis Shaw, and Stephen W. Shaw cleared five acres of ferns and began building a cabin. By the mid 1870s Ferndale had grown into a town of considerable size. September 6, 1875 marks the beginning of fire in Ferndale, as a disastrous fire destroyed the Ferndale Hotel, two nearby stores, and damaged two other buildings.

After the fire, there was much talk about the need for communities to have their own fire protection. But nothing was done.

On May 27, 1878, there was another fire. This time it was a flue fire at Mrs. Brown’s house, and only the quick action of citizens armed only with an ax and buckets of water saved the day.

Afterwards, the Ferndale Enterprise wrote:

“Our town is now assuming the proportion of a city and we should begin to look after its protection. There should be a reservoir built in some convenient locality and with one engine we could defy the red-handed destroyer.”

But nothing was done.

Two years later, on July 5, 1880, there was another near miss, when smoke was discovered at the International Hotel. Again it was discovered early, and citizens were able to easily extinguish it.

After the fire, there was more consternation from the Enterprise, and the by now predictable result, that nothing was done.

Just nine months later, a major fire destroyed several businesses on Main Street. The Ferndale Enterprise wrote:

There was no wind at the time, which was the salvation of the town.

Finally, something was done. On April 11, 1881, some citizens got together to form two committees. The first committee was to look into purchasing an engine, and the second committee was tasked with the water supply problem. At the next meeting, the engine committee had nothing to report, and the water supply committee recommended the installation of a fire hydrant system, at the cost of $2,000.

But later that year the Enterprise reported that it was unlikely an engine would be purchased, as

“The people are satisfied so long as the insurance companies don’t growl.”

In December 1882, when the town was considering the purchase of a hearse, the Enterprise had this to say:

If the people have money to invest in anything solely for the public well-being, nothing of more urgent importance could be devised than the provision of a well equipped fire department. It is a matter that interest each individual property owner, and would be of some practical moment before we die. But a week ago the entire west side of Main Street was saved from destruction of fire only by the most active efforts of one or two men. But for their presence of mind, the whole northern portion of town would have been destroyed. These risks are hourly present with us, while the average man will not need a hearse until he is 33 years of age. Should you purchase a hearse and not an engine, its destruction by fire is, sooner or later, inevitable. Is it not more reasonable to ask our people to aid in this matter of protection from fire, than to enlist them in a useless project that can be of no appreciable benefit to anyone? Call it what you may – hearse or fire engine – so long as it will put out fire. Ferndale must have a fire engine, or a fire will have Ferndale.

That tirade from the press seems to have finally woken the town up, and on Dec. 30, 1882, a group of citizens once again assembled and decided that a hand engine and a supply of hose should be purchased. The expense was estimated to be about $2,000.

In April of 1883, Ferndale welcomed its first piece of fire apparatus, a Hunneman Engine from San Jose. The Hunneman first served the Torrent Fire Company in San Jose, and was then passed down to the Franklin Fire Company when they were formed in 1873.

Ferndale adopted the name of the engine for the name of their new department and organized as the Franklin Fire Company. Its first officers were Forman R.D. Dunn (what we would now call Chief), First Assistant E. Merrill, Second Assistant J.J. Scheer, Secretary E.C. Cummings, Treasurer H.H. Moller.

This first attempt at creating a fire department failed within just a few months, as the officers and stockholders could not even agree on where to store the engine.

In November of 1884, a second attempt was made at starting a department. This time it was lead by Chief C.M. Smith, Foreman B.B. Nichols, and Assistant T.A. Kennedy.

After some fundraising, the new Franklin Fire Company was able to purchase a fire bell, and they found a home for their engine in the Town & Good Templars Hall.

In 1885 the company sunk a water tank in Main Street near the post office, and shortly thereafter had their first major test, a fire in the rear of W.P. Grinsell’s blacksmith shop, on Ocean Ave. With forty men working the engine, they were able to extinguish the fire quickly by pumping the water from their newly installed tank.

In April 1889, there was yet another reorganization, with the new company being called the Ferndale Fire Company. The new officers were Chief Engineer L.B. Barnes, Foreman B.B. Nichols, Foreman of the Hose W. F. Kausen, Secretary P.T. Early, and Treasurer J.H. Trost.

In 1892, Francis Water Works installed a new main and five fire hydrants along Main Street.

By 1893 the Ferndale Fire Company was once again having trouble staying active, and when they tested their hose that year it failed. Later that year, a suspicious fire at a house suspected to be a brothel got out of control and ended up burning down the Town & Good Templar building. At least the engine wasn’t stored inside at the time.

Many thanks to “Ferndale …The Village”, by Denis P. Edeline and the Ferndale Enterprise for the source of this early history.