The First Twenty-Five Years—1904-1929
Weldon’s first twenty five years commenced with the auspicious meeting of concerned citizens at the Weldon Hotel. It ended just as the period of the Great Depression was about to begin. Between these two events, the members of Weldon worked tirelessly to set the foundation upon which this fire company would be built, expanded, and improved. America participated in World War I, and it was there that Weldon lost its first member to war as he served his country. It was also during these 25 years that Weldon acquired its first motorized apparatus and built the building which still houses its apparatus today. Indeed, these years were filled with many firsts for the company. The milestones reached during this first quarter were the results of careful, responsible, and well thought out planning—traits which still exist in the fire company leadership thanks to the charter members.
The idea of a fire company to protect the residents of what was then known as Weldon Village became a reality on April 20, 1904. F. J. Smith chaired the meeting held at the Weldon Hotel, and it was at this time that a motion was made and seconded to create a fire company. A committee of three, Mr. Buck, Mr. Stewart, and Mr. Smith were directed to draft a constitution and by-laws, and Robert Gracey was appointed to solicit subscriptions for a hose reel.
On April 27, F.J. Smith chaired a second meeting and the charter members wasted no time organizing themselves. The Committee on the House reported contributions of carpet and a rocking chair. Equipment acquired included five “coupling openers.” The Committee on acquiring a hose reel reported progress and members gave the committee power to act. It was at this meeting that the first officers of the Weldon Fire Company were selected:
President – Fred J. Smith
Vice President – John Mooney
Secretary – William P. Buck
Treasurer – Robert Gracey
Trustees- H.F. Luff, David Canally, George Mills
Foreman – Lawrence Devinney
Assistant Foreman– Harry Brickley
Receipts for the evening were $20.00.
By May, the Hose Reel Committee reported that it placed an order for a reel from F. J. Donnel, of Jenkintown for the price of $110. It was reported that W.T.B. Roberts, the man responsible for much of the development of the Glenside area, donated $25 and the company also received an additional $34 in cash. Hose straps and a coupling for “fire plugs” were purchased, and the House Committee reported lumber had been donated. A decision was made to purchase the remainder needed. By the end of May, the Weldon Fire Company Treasury stood at $105.50.
The company would take delivery of its first piece of fire apparatus in October of 1904. Neighbor William Ellis offered shelter for the reel in his stone garage. Abington Fire Company, Glenside Fire Company, Pioneer Fire Company, and Independent Fire Company were invited for the housing. When the Company paid for the reel, the Treasury dropped to just $0.75. Undaunted, the members of the Company moved forward rapidly, accepting donations, arranging dances, holding rummage sales, and selling ticket books. Soon, the Company acquired 500 feet of hose for the reel as well as other pieces of equipment.
It wasn’t until February 7, 1905 that the company would be called to service. The first alarm was received in the Switchville section of Glenside at the home of John Sheean, with the second alarm in Wyncote. The company went into service for both fires. At just a year and a month old, the first audit of Weldon’s books revealed finances that were well managed. It was also in May of 1905 that the Company first began investigating erecting a firehouse. The pressure of fiscal responsibility prevailed and members decided after investigating the criteria for the building that construction be delayed until the Company had enough money to buy a lot. Soon after, in November, 1905, the Company attempted to purchase a lot owned by Walter Ellis, but was unable to. Fire company member Mr. Manning allowed the Company the use of his shed to house the apparatus. It was also at this time that the Company decided to explore the possibility of leasing or renting land on which to build a firehouse.
In 1906, Weldon received word that if a horse was required for a call, it would cost $2 each time a horse was requested. At this time, the first boundaries for Weldon’s response area were set: the rail at Glenside, the rail at Ardsley, the rail at Switchville, and Edge Hill Road at Hillside.
1907 found Weldon joining the Pennsylvania State Firemen Association, and the Company continued to explore different options to find land for a firehouse. It would be four more years before a permanent building became a reality.
On January 1, 1908, members decided that whenever they purchased a lot for the firehouse, it would be on the Willow Grove and Germantown Turnpike, now Easton Road. By the end of 1908, the Abington Township Fire Department would now be four companies strong with Abington Fire Company, Weldon Fire Company, McKinley Fire Company, and Edge Hill Fire Company.
In an effort to ensure participation in the operation of the fire company, a motion was made, seconded, and carried at a meeting held on November 19, 1909 to fine any member failing to attend the regular meeting of the Company $0.10 without a reasonable excuse. Monies collected would be turned over to the Treasury.
Finally in December, 1909, a committee was appointed to obtain a building lot and to see W.T.B. Roberts in reference to same. On December 17, a communication was received from Roberts and Son regarding a lot on the Willow Grove and Germantown Turnpike. The communication was accepted, filed, and a decision made to pay $150 down with the balance to be paid in six months.
In January, 1910, the $150 was drawn to pay Roberts, and a motion was made, seconded, and carried to begin soliciting money to help pay for the land and the firehouse. In February of that year, Company officers advised against the purchase of equipment until estimates could be compared with that of the Montgomery County Fireman’s Association. And in September, plans were submitted to the company for construction of a new building on the newly purchased lot.
1911 found the Company moving at a rapid pace to have Weldon’s first firehouse become a reality. A committee was appointed to look over the lot with power to remove trees and shrubs as necessary. By February, the deeds for the lot were in Weldon’s possession and a committee was appointed to collect money for the new firehouse. Roberts was to furnish stone for the new structure with a royalty, but later changed his mind and charged the Company no royalty. In April, the Company empowered the Secretary to write a letter of thanks to Roberts for the concession he made in the price of the recently acquired lot. In June, ground was broken for the new building, and on October 6, 1911, Weldon Fire Company held its first meeting in its new home.
In today’s world, electricity is a given, but in 1911, the Company had to notify Philadelphia Electric Co. to put electric lights in the firehouse, and a phone for the new building was negotiated. By November both utilities were installed at the firehouse, and a stove was procured for heat.
It was January 1912 that the company purchased its first means to alert members of a fire: a double bell. It was also this month that the Company had water lines run to the firehouse. The water company offered Weldon the following plan: allow 5/10,000 gallons of water free if the Company would purchase the pipe and do the digging to run water into the firehouse. In 1913 a fire gong crafted from a train car rim was purchased.
Having built a suitable structure to house its apparatus, it was time to consider improving the company’s apparatus. At a meeting held on January 16, 1914, the Company recorded the first mention of acquiring an auto chassis to become the Company’s first motorized apparatus. Also discussed at this meeting was insurance for the firehouse and a call for members to pledge to in five new members each. Also a bell outside the firehouse was connected to the phone to ring if an alarm was received.
In a special meeting called to discuss different ways to impress upon its neighbors the importance of adequate fire apparatus, the committee on securing an auto chassis reported progress and the Company decided to raise money for the auto apparatus to impress upon people that the Company was serious about the duties it performed.
On February 6, 1914, the membership’s pledge to bring in new members was realized when 42 applications were received for membership. At the following meeting on February 20, another 25 applicants were received.
In April of that year, the auto chassis for a new piece of apparatus was in the firehouse, but not yet ready for service. In May, the Company paid the Garford Co. for parts for the apparatus. At this same meeting, member J. D. Broza was made Weldon Fire Company’s first life member. In June, Broza chanced off his car in a drawing, with half the proceeds being donated to the fire company. Later, in September, Company members were pleased to hear the report that the new Garford truck would be delivered some time in October.
In July, the Company responded to a fire in Jenkintown at 0200 hours. Fifteen to 20 members responded. This was one of the largest fires to date in the area. Sadly, there was not much the company was able to do as there was no source of water to fight the fire. At this time, fire hydrants were still few in number and the various fire companies in the township had to specifically request of the township commissioners that they be installed.
The Company’s first motorized apparatus delivered in October, and at the next meeting, permission was granted by the Company for the truck to be taken wherever necessary to instruct prospective drivers in its operation. To give an idea of how far communications in the fire service has come in the last 100 years, it was also reported at this meeting that the telephone company promised to promptly call the firehouse or Hotel Weldon if a fire was reported. Today the necessity of such a promise would be unheard of. It was also reported at this meeting that $3000 insurance was taken out on the new truck against fire. Later, the secretary of the Company was instructed to write a letter to the telephone company protesting operators not being allowed to give locations of fires. A fire occurred on November 13 in the woods on Jenkintown Road. Typical of the way such fires were fought at the time, chemical tanks were used to put out the fire. In December, 1914, three members were placed on the list of qualified drivers of the new Garford truck. Weldon also welcomed a Battalion Chief from the Philadelphia Fire Department who addressed the membership on practical firefighting—and just in time as Christmas Day, 1914 was the date of the Justice Lumber Yard Fire in Glenside Fire Company’s local. Eight members from Weldon responded and reached the fireground four minutes after the Company received the alarm. Weldon was in service all day. At 2200 hours, members arrived to relieve firemen still on location at the fireground.
1915 arrived with the Justice Lumber Yard fire still fresh on people’s minds. It was at this time that the company discussed having regular drills instructing members on the use of the fire apparatus. Typical of the time, Weldon responded to an alarm in Hatboro, but just after members reached the “Trenton cutoff,” they were informed their services were not required. Such were the circumstances before the luxury of two-way radios on every piece of apparatus.
1915 continued to be a busy year for the company, administratively and actively. Weldon went on record with a resolution that the Willow Grove turnpike should be free of charge to those traveling on it. Licenses were issued to drivers of the apparatus, and circulars from the chiefs of the four companies were distributed defining the boundaries of the four township fire companies. The Company voted to have a phone line run to the home of Chief Sowers so he could receive alarms at his home. All the hydrants in the district were tested with the lowest pressure found to be 51 pounds. The Company began to discuss starting a fund to acquire a car for the chief to be equipped with chemical tanks. The motion carried. More typical circumstances of the time called for a motion to be made in August, 1915 to have the truck driven to all fires occurring during the day.
In September, members received word that from September to the end of the year, all members bringing in 10 new members would be given a gold badge. In November, a motion was made that $2.50 be paid to the first driver who reported for an alarm and drove the truck to a fire during the day except Sunday.
By December, the members determined that it was time to upgrade the apparatus and the Company decided to sell or exchange the truck. One interesting fire of note occurring in 1915, simply because none of the township companies have occasion to respond to such fires today, occurred on May 19, 1915 when the Company responded to an Ogontz trolley fire.
In 1916, the activities of the company increased to the point that it became necessary to appoint four assistant chiefs. Perhaps the need for these chiefs was exacerbated by the Company’s plans to purchase a vehicle to overhaul and equip to serve as a fire truck. The truck in question was a Palmer-Singer touring car. The Company purchased the car in September and it wasn’t delivered until January of 1917 when the monthly meeting was “pleasantly interrupted” by the arrival of the truck.
Brush fires were the norm in 1917 except for one fire at Willow Grove Heights where two houses were destroyed. Sadly, as in Jenkintown just a few years prior, water supply was an issue and contributed to the loss of both homes.
Also significant in 1917 was the Chief William Beatty’s pledging Weldon for $25 per year to a relief fund. The Abington Township Relief Association would exist well into the 1980s and provided for the care of firefighters of the township when injured in a fire. In May, 1917, the Company decided to by an Oldsmobile to carry its chemical tanks. In mid-May the car was in the firehouse.
In January 1918, the Company changed its by-laws to create the position of Chief Engineer. Weldon’s first Chief Engineer was Lawrence Potteigus. A siren to be run when the Company received alarms was proposed. Sadly, on November 15, 1918 the Company learned of the untimely death of member Walter Ellis in France during World War I. A page was duly set aside in the minutes in honor of Ellis.
As stated above, hydrants at this time were hard to come by and fire companies had to request that they be installed. As hard as it was to have these critical devices installed, it was not good news to learn the township commissioners wished to have them removed. To stave off such removal, the secretary of the Company was instructed to draft a letter to the commissioners stating that Weldon was opposed to the removal of the fire hydrants.
January 1919 commenced with a fire at Willow Grove Park. The Company was in service for eight hours, and the fire caused $20,000 in damage. The Company also developed two forms of membership in the company: active and contributing. Members found this necessary as at the time it had on file 248 members, some of whom were active and some of whom did not take as much of an interest in company affairs.
In May, 1919, the Company approved the purchase of a siren for the firehouse. By July the siren was in place and a policy on its use had been developed: the siren would be blasted every Saturday at 1400 hours, and would be blasted twice for fires in Weldon’s district and four times for fires outside Weldon’s district. 1919 was also the year that Weldon joined with Edge Hill Fire Company to ask the township commissioners for more financial assistance.
As the last 10 years of Weldon’s first 25 years began, the company embarked on several improvements. A second assistant chief position was proposed in January and ordered to be filled for the ensuing year. Preliminary discussions were held regarding the purchase of a pump, and a new building fund was created with an initial deposit being $300 and plans to add another $300 in six months. In March, 1920 the Firemen’s Relief Association of Abington Township was formally introduced, and by May there was $600 in the new building fund. By this year, both the Palmer-Singer and the Oldsmobile were showing signs of decline and the company began investigating the purchase of a new apparatus.
In early 1921 the possibility of attending Philadelphia’s fire school was discussed. And in April, 1921 a new record for applications was set when 43 applications for membership were received at one meeting.
In 1922, it was also time to improve the safety of the two trucks. Though on the decline, a siren for the Palmer-Singer was ordered for the safety of motorists and pedestrians that they might be aware a fire truck was answering a call.
After much discussion, the Company finally decided to buy a new fire truck in March, 1923. St. Peter’s Episcopal Church granted permission for Weldon to store its hose cart on that property. It was decided that the members would collect money in our district for the new apparatus. In April, the Committee on the fire truck recommended that the company purchase an American La France combination rotary pump/chemical tank/hose apparatus. Collecting money for the truck was no easy task, but when it arrived in October 1923, a standing vote of thanks was given to the committee who purchased the new truck, and those who collected funds to pay the purchase price of the new truck in cash.
In September of 1923, Weldon went on record as being in accord with the elimination of the grade crossing on Easton Road and would aid in whatever way possible to see the project through. While it is assumed this refers to the grade crossing of the railroad tracks, it should be noted that Easton Road was not actually lowered until 1928. In October, a building committee was also appointed.
The year 1924 was largely quiet for Weldon. The Company decided to sell the old Palmer Singer chassis but retain the body, and also to retain the hose reel as “a relic for sentimental reasons.”
The motto of 1925 was “A New Building.” While a new building would not be completed until 1927, progress was made in the planning. A figure of $20,000 was placed on constructing a new building and an architect secured to design it and get three bids for its construction. By May of 1926, the architect was ordered to move ahead with the plans upon which the Company decided. In September, 1926, the first organized attempt at mapping out the township to reflect the five districts and locations of hydrants commenced.
The reality of a new building was finally realized in 1927 when the finishing touches were placed on a brand new, two story building—a building which still stands today. The first meeting held in the new building occurred on July 1, 1927. Weldon also made W.T.B. Roberts an honorary member of the company.
1928 and 1929 were quiet years for Weldon as well. Weldon’s first 25 years ended on the cusp of the Great Depression. Without warning, the prosperity the fire company enjoyed during its first 25 years of existence would be disrupted by banks closing, a second world war, and a war in Korea. During the next 25 years, the Company would find itself working closely with the four other companies in the township via the relief association and the Abington Township Firemen’s Association. Though some of the next 25 years would be rough, Weldon would never lost site of its mission to protect lives and property from loss by fire. And it never lost site of the necessity to continually improve itself via training, equipment upgrades, and organizational changes.