The growing settlement of Beaver Falls (known as Brighton or “Old” Brighton until 1867) in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, much like other urban areas in the mid-1800’s, was subjected to periodic fires that wrought widespread devastation. In April 1875 the Harmony Society, a tight-knit religious sect that owned, operated, and built-up most of Beaver Falls beginning in 1868, bought a horse-drawn Silsby Steam Engine, the borough’s first sophisticated firefighting apparatus.
That engine was stored at and operated out of the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company, a Harmony-owned factory located at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 2nd Street in what is now the extreme southern end of Beaver Falls. When the alarm was sounded private citizens would race their own horse teams to the Cutlery building, as whoever got there first was paid to pull the engine and other equipment to the location of the fire.
Later in 1875 the Harmonists constructed a dedicated fire station, also housing the borough’s municipal offices, on the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 11th Street – where the old Farmer’s National Bank building now sits. The two-story structure cost about $8,900 and was soon equipped with several additional pieces of horse-drawn firefighting equipment.
The first volunteer fire department was organized in 1876, but was disbanded and reorganized several times in the coming years due to political infighting. In fact the fire department was dissolved in 1887 and all its equipment was sold at auction despite protests from the public. In the meantime another fire station, financed and manned by prominent area citizens, was stood up in an alley between what is now 9th Avenue and 24th and 25th Streets. The main Beaver Falls fire department was reequipped and back in business before too long.
In 1890 the Harmonist-owned fire department building (and all its contents) was sold to the borough government for $20,000. At least two other stations were built in the Beaver Falls area around the turn of the century. In 1900 the borough hired its first fulltime firemen and also purchased its first horses. The two horses, known as Billie and Old John, would faithfully serve the community for many years. Old John saw his share of duty and was finally retired, at the age of twenty-one, to a farm in nearby Darlington in April 1917. At the same time the department put its first ever motorized fire equipment into service.
On September 13, 1928, the borough of Beaver Falls opened a modern combination municipal building and fire station at the southeast corner of 15th Street and Eighth Avenue. The property and building cost a total of $150,000 and also became home to the offices of the Beaver Falls Police Department. The fire station at nearby College Hill, originally organized back in 1913, was absorbed as well and became known as Beaver Falls Company No. 2.
The expense of the new municipal building/fire station was defrayed by selling the old municipal office/fire station for $110,000 to the Farmer’s National Bank, which soon tore down the structure and erected a magnificent financial building at the site. The Farmer’s National Bank, which changed hands several times over the years, still stands in downtown Beaver Falls but has been vacant since 1998. The classical-looking municipal building and fire station on 15th Street, located near the Beaver Falls High School, is still in operation to this day.
Another photo showing the Central Fire House in Beaver Falls. (c1905)
Members of the I believe is the Beaver Falls Fire Department march in a “Firemen’s Parade” in downtown Beaver Falls. (c1907) Full Size
These two horses, Old John and Billie, faithfully served the Beaver Falls Fire Department in the early 1900’s. Old John, the last horse in active service with the department, was retired to a farm in Darlington in April 1917. (c1914) Full Size
I believe this a group of young firemen – possibly in training – with the Beaver Falls Fire Department in 1920. Full Size
The new Municipal Building, the home of the Beaver Falls Fire Department, opened in September 1928. (c1945) Full Size