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St. Vincent Firehall


Richard Clow

As you drive through St. Vincent, Minnesota there is abuilding that catches your eye. It is an old firehall of the past. It isone of the few remaining old buildings of a once large town.

The St. Vincent Firehall was built in 1903 by Edward Cameron,a carpenter, and his sons. It was built on a corner lot on Main Street,four blocks east of the Red River bridge. Originally the forty-two by twentyfoot firehall faced Main Street and was painted red. When the building facednorth, there was a big wooden bridge across the ditch. In the winter a snowbank blocked the doorway so the building was moved to face the east sidestreet as it does now. It has a single and a double door in the front. Twowindows are on each side. A large square steeple was built around the southeastcorner, with heavy beams across the middle of it to hang up the wet firehoses, to dry after a fire.

In the top of the steeple is the belfry with the fire bellinside. The chimney was built on the west side for the stove which was usedto heat the building. A fire was kept burning constantly in it during coldweather to prevent the water from freezing in a ten thousand gallon cisternthat was underneath the firehall. This cistern held enough water to takecare of most of the local fires. It was filled from the river by the engineon the firewagon. Whenever there was a big fire near enough to the riverfor the hoses to reach, the firemen pulled the firewagon to the river byhand and pumped the water from there to the fire. The business districtof St. Vincent was located mainly between the firehall and the river somost of the water for the fires was supplied from either the cistern underthe firehall or the river. But to take care of the dwelling places firewellswere dug at several locations throughout the town. This kept the insurancerate down on these buildings because of easier access to water.

The first firewagon was a wagon with four big wheels thatwas pulled by a team of horses. The driver sat up front behind a kind ofbuckboard. The wagon had a firebell on it that was rung by a foot pedal.The fire chief would ring it while driving his team of horses to the fire.A large centrifical gasoline motor was mounted on the back of the wagonto pump the water. The pressure was great enough to send the water eightyfeet in the air. A separate cart was used to haul the two thousand feetof hose. This cart was pulled by hand to the fire. Later they got anotherfire engine which was an old Chevy motor mounted on a four wheel trailer.Finally they bought a regular fire engine that was pulled by a truck ortractor. This last fire engine and cart with the hoses is still in the firehall.

Wallace Cameron, the town Marshall, was janitor of thefirehall and kept the fire going in the winter. He also ran the firebellat 9:00 every night as curfew. Phil Ahles, who was fire chief, kept thefire equipment in working order. The firemen were volunteers and that wasalmost any man in town that was available. A few of these were R. H. Lapp,R. E. Bennett, N. E. Green & J. A. Monroe. There were also young volunteersto bring the cart with the four ladders to the fires if needed. The firebellwhose rope hung almost to the floor was rung by whoever saw the fire first.

One of the largest fires they had to fight, was the onethat burned down the Lynch Saloon and living quarters. Mr. Lynch went tosleep while smoking a pipe and ashes fell out and burned the place and himself.His wife got out but died shortly after. Later the Lynch barn burned downin about the same way. A man crawled into the barn to take shelter for thenight and went to sleep while smoking and the hay caught on fire. Besideshimself, a good team of horses was lost, the firemen arrived too late tosave either of these places, but they did save the surrounding buildings.

One night the firebell rang to herald the fact that theRube Smith Restaurant was on fire. The fire spread rapidly to the implementbuilding nearby and destroyed both buildings. This time the fire engineswere used to spray water onto the Lapp Store nearby and save his tin coveredbuilding from too much damage. Only the wood around the windows was burned.The last time the fire engines were used was to put out the fire at theHarold Easton barn which was located one block south of the firehall. Theymanaged to save most of the barn and Mr. Easton remodeled it. The firehallclosed down about 30 years ago and St. Vincent arranged with the PembinaFire Department to take care of the fires. It was cheaper to pay them thanto hire men and keep the building and equipment up.

At one time the firehall housed the village light plant.It was run by a hydro, but in 1916 the Pembina Light and Power Plant suppliedpower to St. Vincent. Later Otter Tail Power came in and extended theirline to St. Vincent.

The Firehall was also used for a morgue in the olden days.A man who drowned in the Red River, the man who died in the Lynch barn fire,and others, such as some who died in jail, were brought into the FirehallMorgue.

The firebell in the "Old St. Vincent Firehall"may never ring again to summon firemen to a fire, but if the St. VincentHistorical Society have their way, this building will be preserved alongwith the few remaining other historical landmarks of this old historicaltown of St. Vincent, Minnesota.

Interviews: William Ahles; Eli Gooselaw; Mr. and Mrs. RichardLapp

>Interviews: William Ahles; Eli Gooselaw; Mr. and Mrs. RichardLapp