Nearly 50 years ago, Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Co. president R.K. Spencer was questioned by a new member: If the Mt. Carmel volunteers were "Company 5," then why did the company's by-laws show a different numerical designation?
President Spencer explained to the young member that many years earlier there were actually two Mt. Carmel fire companies.
Mt. Carmel's “other” fire company had been located further north, in the vicinity of Tuttle Avenue.
The fire company later known as "Company 5" was established first, in November 1911. So when the company applied for incorporation the members wanted that fact to be reflected in the name of their fire company.
On March 28, 1912, the State of Connecticut issued corporation papers to the "Mount Carmel Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, Incorporated," which remains the official name of that fire company to this day.
For over a century, that "No. 1" designation on Mt. Carmel's corporation papers was the smoking gun that suggested another, long forgotten fire company had once existed. Then, several years ago, photocopies of minutes from several 1914 meetings of "The North Hamden Improvement Society" turned up at the Hamden Historical Society. References to members with the titles of "chief" and "captain," as well as references to other Hamden fire companies suggested pay dirt had been struck. But little else was known about this fire company. When was it organized, and by whom? How long did it exist?
Most of these questions were answered recently when local historian Mary Jane McGaffin discovered meeting minutes dating from 1911 to 1926 of an organization that began as the "North Hamden Fire Company" and later adopted the name "North Hamden Improvement Society."
As we sift through these newly found records, the website will feature more stories about the North Hamden Fire Company in future website updates. The first installment is below.
NOTE: Most area residents today probably consider the center of Mt. Carmel as the immediate vicinity of Whitney Avenue and Ives Street. However, a century ago, the area between Mt. Carmel and Tuttle Avenues was known as "Mt. Carmel Center."
The North Hamden Fire Company
According to the minutes, an organizational meeting was held in the office of the Liberty Cartridge Company on Saturday evening, December 2, 1911 "for the purpose of perfecting an organization looking to the betterment of conditions in the northern part of Hamden and Mt. Carmel Center in particular."
Organized just one month after the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Company, then located on Ives Street, Mt. Carmel's newest fire company was initially called the North Hamden Fire Company. The organizers included Judge Willis Cook, A.J. Ralph, Howard Yale, E.M. Funk, and several other prominent citizens of Mt. Carmel Center.
The organizational meeting minutes continued, "Various subjects were discussed and it was decided that at present our greatest need was that of fire protection." Judge Cook made the motion to organize a fire company for the protection of North Hamden.
At the new organization's second meeting, held on December 8, 1911, the following officers were elected: Judge Cook, Chief; A.J. Ralph, Deputy Chief; Robbin Spencer, Captain and F.B. Kimball, Secretary-Treasurer.
This fire company was formed when all Hamden fire companies were fairly autonomous, each having their own nomenclature for its officers. The individual fire companies were brought under the control of the Hamden Fire Department when it was created in 1925.
Within a few months the organization became the North Hamden Improvement Society, with the North Hamden Fire Company remaining as a part of the Society. In addition to providing fire protection, its membership was also concerned with other issues affecting the residents of northern Mount Carmel, including trolley fares, monitoring the condition of the roadways, and obtaining sidewalks, among other things.
In 1915, members organized a rally of Hamden telephone subscribers at the town hall to protest toll charges on calls to New Haven that were imposed by the Southern New England Telephone Company once a new Hamden telephone exchange was established. The Society also embarked on a campaign that proved influential in the eventual cessation of quarrying operations on Sleeping Giant. But the principal purpose of the Society during the 19-teens was to provide at least a modicum of fire protection for the residents of the area.
The members of the North Hamden Improvement Society voted to disband the fire company portion of the organization at the May 7, 1920 meeting, donating their firefighting assets to the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, located one mile south. But the Society continued meeting to monitor and act on other community issues until at least 1926.
Eventually the North Hamden Fire Company will be included with Hamden's other nine volunteer fire companies as further information about its organization, operations, assets and activities is extracted from these newly obtained documents. We'll keep everyone posted.
Mt. Carmel Upper Axle Works building, where the Liberty Cartridge Company located in 1911. It eventually burned down. (Photo courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society)
According to Rachel Hartley's A History of Hamden Connecticut-1786-1936, published in 1943 by the Hamden Historical Society, in 1911 the Liberty Cartridge Company moved into the building that had once housed Mt. Carmel's Upper Axle Works, located on the east side of Whitney Avenue, several hundred feet north of Mt. Carmel Avenue.
Mrs. Hartley wrote, "During the occupancy of the Axle factory by the Liberty Cartridge Company who came there in 1911, the building burned." It is not clear exactly when after 1911 the building did burn. References to the cartridge company are found in the association's minutes as late as 1917.