Vischer Ferry Volunteer Fire Company Celebrates 50 Years
On the morning of Oct. 6, 1946 Charles Huiest was walking down Main Street in Vischer Ferry on his way to meet the school bus at the General Store. He came upon burnt embers and ash on the road, and as he approached the store, he glimpsed the remains of the Vischer Ferry Hotel across the road. It had burned during the night, and was still smoldering. All that was left was a single chimney.
The 150-year old landmark had been leveled. It was this catastrophe that inspired the residents of Vischer Ferry to form their own fire company. Volunteer fire companies had been formed in East Coast cities as early as the 18th century. It was not long, however, before urban fire fighters were paid. In rural areas, neighbors pitched in to fight fires, and there were no fire companies until fire trucks and other fire fighting apparatus were developed in the early 20th century.
Volunteer fire companies were formed not only to fight fires, but to care for the equipment used in fighting the fires. Another important aspect of a rural volunteer fire company is its social function. Camaraderie among members, parades, contests, dances, parties, dinners, cookouts, fund-raising and other member gatherings all instill a sense of belonging.
In many rural communities, civic events center around two organizations: the church and the fire company. The Vischer Ferry Fire Company was the last of four fire companies to be formed in Clifton Park.
The Jonesville Fire Company was formed in 1918, largely because of the destruction of the Jonesville Hotel by fire in 1915. The Rexford Fire Company was formed in 1923 soon after the burning of a cement shed that same year. The Clifton Park Fire Company was formed in 1937.
When the Vischer Ferry Hotel burned, both Rexford and Jonesville answered the alarm, but by the time they arrived the fire was already in the cellar. The hotel had been a popular restaurant and bar, and its destruction was a major loss to the community.
The Young Couples Club formed the catalyst for forming the Vishcer Ferry Fire Company. Founded in 1944, the Young Couples Club was a group of Vischer Ferry residents who got together regularly to play cards, talk, dance or just have a good time. This is what people did in the days before television.
The members were Bill and Dot Bloodgood; Joe and Elnora Jerome; Ray and Lorraine Jerome; Lathrop and Dot Shippee; Frank and Alma Fountain, and others.
In late February or early March 1947, a fire truck came up at auction at the Schenectady Army Depot. It was a 1937 USA pumper. Jim Keeler Sr. put up the $700 of his own money, and the fire company had its first truck. Joe Jerome went over to the Army Depot in early March to retrieve the truck. The ground was still frozen, and he had to chop the tires out of the ice, and used jumper cables to start it. The new truck was fully air conditioned, having no roof or windshield. The 1937 USA was first stored in Skip and Ella Fellow’s barn on Riverview Road where Gail Mayle now lives.
Sometime in late spring 1947, the town deeded over the Town Hall to the fire company to be used as its first fire station (Station 1A). The Town Hall was on the north side of Riverview Road near Crescent Road and across from the present Vischer Ferry Fire house. It was built by the town in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s to serve as a meeting and storage place. It was used as a voting place, and square dances were also held here. The building had steps and a set of double doors, much like those on the Grange Hall in Grooms Corners.
The front of the building was opened up with a garage door on one side and the double door moved to the other side. The wooden flooring was removed. In 1950, when a 1935 White tanker was acquired, another garage door replaced the double doors. The building is still being used by the fire company today.
Money for fire fighting equipment was raised by pancake breakfasts, minstrel shows held at the Grange Hall, and raffles sponsored by the Young Couples Club. The Vischer Ferry Volunteer Fire Company was incorporated on July 14, 1947. The first president was Bert Male; the first chief was Stanley Edwards. The first deputy chief was Joseph Jerome, and the first secretary was Frank Fountain.
By 1948, the ladies auxiliary was formed as a support group to assist the men in fighting fires. They provided coffee and nourishment at major fires. The auxiliary also has a strong social component. Founding members included Betty Mayo, Lorraine Jerome, Elnora Jerome, and Ruby Jerome.
The fire company turned its equipment over to a tax district in 1951, after four-and-one-half years of self support. Fire commissioners were added to the organization to oversee the tax support.
Eventually, a 1941 fire truck was purchased in North Creek and added to the fleet, and plans were made for a new and larger firehouse. Money was raised at exit 8 of the Northway after it opened in 1958. At that time, this was the end of the Northway where all traffic would exit, and it was an excellent location to ask for donations.
The old hotel property was purchased for $2,000, and in 1963 a new firehouse (Station 1) was constructed on the hotel site. A substation (Station 2) was erected on Vischer Ferry Road just north of Grooms Road at the same time. The total cost for both firehouses was $45,000.
Charles Huiest, an electrician who became the fire chief in 1960, hooked up a siren for the new building using parts from an alarm clock. Later he fabricated another off-site siren on Klingbiel’s barn at Grooms Corners by using parts from a vacuum cleaner.
Past Fire Chief George Donohue has some old photographs of the 1963 firehouse under construction. Posed in front of the building are young boys, aged 7 and 4. It is George and his older brother Jim.
In 1974, an addition was put on the Vischer Ferry Fire Station, including a second floor with a recreation area and a bar for the firefighters. During its construction the contractor forgot the bar and it had to be hoisted by crane into the building. With this addition, the site had come full circle, the firehouse bar was on the very site of the hotel bar.
Because of increased development in the area, the Moe Road Station was constructed in 1982. The first women, Denise Lombardi and Karan Donohue joined the Vischer Ferry Fire Company in 1984. Karan remembers that she submitted her application several times before she was finally accepted. Today there are six women among the 60 active members. There are another 15 social and life members.
One of the more memorable fires was the Grooms Church on Vischer Ferry Road, which had been converted to a furniture store called The Deacon’s Bench. It burned in 1975, lighting up the entire night sky. It was totally engulfed in flames, a total loss.
In the late 1980’s, another historic building caught fire. Except for the rear section where the fire started, the Grooms Tavern (Klingbiel’s store) was saved.
Today, as the Vischer Ferry Fire Company celebrates its 50th anniversary, they prepare to move into a larger remodeled firehouse. It now blends with the surrounding buildings, echoing the Greek Revival architecture of the Vischer Ferry Historic District. Now the community can not only be proud of the fire company, but also of this wonderful new building.
Portions of the above taken from and reproduced with the permission of the Community News from an article entitled “Vischer Ferry volunteer fire company celebrates 50 years” appearing in the Friday, July 11, 1997 issue. The ariticle was written by John L. Scherer.
John Scherer is the Clifton Park town historian.