The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2000

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The Morgan Hook and Ladder
Company Building

A Restoration Project in Naples, New York


Beth Flory

The restoration of the historic Morgan Hook and Ladder Company Building in Naples is nearing completion. The major project of the Naples Historical Society since 1992, this complicated and ambitious undertaking has saved a structure of significance to the community, especially because of its life as a firehouse between 1891 and 1926.

On Mill Street just behind the chief business block of Main Street stands a tall, plain, 3-story wooden building with a hose-drying tower on one end that looks rather ungainly. The structure began as Simeon Lyon's house, built in 1830.

Lyon was not one of the four original settlers who arrived from Massachusetts in 1790; he was a Vermonter who came two years later to this township which had been part of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase. In 1791 the land had been surveyed and divided into lots. Some lots were considered marginal or undesirable and these Simeon Lyon bought. When the center of the village soon moved south from its original center at the junction of present routes 245 and 21, Lyon's property turned out to encompass the heart of the present Naples business district.

That move was toward the sources of abundant water needed to run mills which could make boards from logs and flour from grain. A raceway was constructed during the summer of 1792. Bruce Gelser in his "The Settlers of Naples, 1790" wrote: "It ran from the falls of Grimes Creek, northeast across Vine Street, then northward parallel to Mill Street to the west. The entire length of the raceway was on Simeon Lyon's land so his cooperation was absolutely essential in building the saw and grist mills. He was most helpful and cooperative, and became one of Naples' leading citizens."

The water that ran the mills was handily available in case of fire and for years bucket brigades seemed to be adequate.

Simeon Lyon married Hannah Clark, a daughter of original settler Col. William Clark, thus linking two important families. Lyon had a hotel/tavern on the site of the present Naples Hotel. His builder was Isaac Whitney, said to be the best in the area, whose work may still be seen in the Cleveland House on the corner of Routes 21 and 245. Although no record has been found, Whitney may well have built the Lyons' house on Mill Street that in 1891 became the firehouse.

Information has not come to light telling us how long the family remained there, nor the dates when it was a boarding house called "The Beehive." For some time it held the town offices and a basement jail.

After several serious fires. Naples focused on its need for firefighting equipment and a company of men to use it. Efforts in the mid-1870's failed to raise enough money. The village could not help with tax money because it was not incorporated until 1894.

In January, 1884, 45 prospective firemen answered another call. D. Dana Luther chaired the new group. (He would later become Field Geologist at the New York State Museum and earn lasting if quiet fame for his discovery of the fossil tree in Grimes Glen.)

Officers were chosen and by July the name "Morgan's Hook and Ladder Company" was adopted in appreciation of the gift of $75 from John C. Morgan, local druggist. He purchased a hook and ladder unit from the Ramsey Manufacturing Company in Seneca Falls which came with "hooks, chains, ropes, ladders, leather buckets, axes, poles, lanterns" and more. Mr. Morgan stipulated that the company would have to raise—not donate—the remaining $50 of the total cost. This time entertainments and dances brought in the funds.

A constitution was adopted later that summer. Future membership would be contingent on surviving a vote with fewer than three blackballs. Elected members were to pay an initiation fee of $1.00, sign a copy of the constitution, pay 25 for a key to "the truck house," and 10 a month dues.

Members were responsible for their own equipment. A cap and belt were provided, but each man had to buy his own "blouse, such as the Company has already adopted."

Marching uniforms were important. Drills were held once a month during the summer and a minimum of two parades a year were required, at which "each member shall participate, fully equipped." Pete Dunton led a Company band and competition among nearby towns was keen. Pride in marching and musical skills as well as in appearance was evident.

Behavior was monitored. The fine for "becoming intoxicated on duty, distributing spirituous liquors about the apparatus" was one dollar. The same fee was charged for "leaving the ranks on parades or drill or leaving a fire without permission." Failure to respond to a fire or to attend a regular meeting incurred charges of 25.

After a bad fire destroyed the first Ontario Mill at the north end of town, Mr. Morgan led fund raising which secured $330 to buy a pumper, still in the possession of the present Fire Department, the Maxfield Hose Company.

The manufacturer's plate on the pumper reads:

No. 303 1852
L. Button & Co.
Waterford, N. Y.

With the outfit came a hose cart with reel, leather hose and nozzles, now in the Morgan Building, on loan from the Fire Department.

The old pumper had been polished up and set aside for parades but it saved the day when fire destroyed several buildings in 1890. The Hooks lost the one they had been using, along with equipment and a bell.

It was after this loss that they moved into Simeon Lyon's old house. The Naples Record takes up the tale in January, 1892:

Though the public spiritedness of the Morgan Hooks, the old Beehive has been converted into a truck and engine house with a tower on the east end for the new bell and to get the better drying of the hose. This arrangement fills a long-felt want, and the Hooks are certainly entitled to great credit for assuming the cost of the tower, which they will pay too, unless the citizens turn in and help them, as they should do, for this change not only removes largely a standing danger to the town but affords the best possible location for the truck and engine. Such a company should be liberally supported.

Still, it's a wonder that any building could survive a fire given the procedures that had to be followed before water could reach the flames. The Record of May 4, 1892, continues the story:

The Morgan Hooks held their first meeting last evening in their new rooms on Mill St. When completed and furnished, the rooms will be in fine shape.
Their system of access to the building will be very handy to the public, as a key to the house may be found at the hardware store of E. Wells and Co., for alarms during the business hours of the day, while during the night, in case of a fire, a key can be found in the box on the north door, covered with glass. Break the glass only in case the store of H. Wells & Company is closed.
In case of a fire, the proper way to ring an alarm is to pull one rope and then the other, but not too fast, for the bell will not give a clear sound when this is done. The ropes for ringing may be found in the east end of the lower room, just behind the ladder truck.
A lantern will be found just outside the north door, which will be kept burning during the night for the benefit of the public.
The firemen are instructed not to remove the ladder truck from the house with less than six persons to handle it, while the bucket cart may be taken by two.
It is the duty of every fireman to see that the building is properly used at all times, and no damage done to the apparatus, and further than that—that the bell be rung only for the purpose of calling a meeting or sounding an alarm of fire. This latter must be strictly adhered to.

Sanborn fire insurance maps tell us that in 1898 the Hooks had one hook and ladder truck and two hose carts. In 1906 the company had 14 men, two hose carts and a Hook and Ladder truck. A 1911 map notes "No organized company-volunteers" and the same equipment as before.

In 1916 the present fire company, the Maxfield Hose Company, was organized. The era of larger, mechanized equipment called for expanded quarters. The move to Main Street came in 1928. Now there were 60 volunteers and modern methods of fighting fires. After the Hooks left the Morgan Building, various businesses moved in: including a harness maker in the 1920's, a plumbing business, and Sutton's (since 1935 on Main Street and famed for fishing tackle). Then it was used for storage and finally stood empty and decaying.

In September, 1958, volunteers lowered the fire bell to the ground and the building's owner took it away from Naples and hung it on a rack on his property on Canandaigua Lake. Its trademark read: "McShane Bell Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland, 1891."

In the 1970s, deterioration was slowed by the efforts of Naples Town Historian Bill Vierhile and several friends who raised money and made repairs themselves. It was clear by 1990 that unless major action were taken, the old firehouse would be doomed.

Enter the Naples Historical Society, then headed by the late Proctor Smith. In January of 1992 the $13,000 purchase was made. John Bero, a Rochester architect well known for his excellent work in historic preservation and restoration, was engaged; most of his fee was covered by grants from Rural New York and the New York Council on the Arts. Jerry Ludwig, building consultant and Society member, agreed to oversee the operation and Bob Harris of Naples came on as contractor.

The building had settled lopsidedly; close proximity to the structure next door had resulted in a serious drainage problem. Inside were years of pigeon droppings. But the siding was intact, the tower straight, and the roof line level. Surprising to a few skeptics was the realization that every professional whose opinion was sought responded enthusiastically. The project was not only worthwhile, it was feasible.

A list of everything that has been repaired or replaced would be long indeed. At the beginning, the entire building had to be lifted up to permit work on the foundation and the replacement of rotten sills. The tower needed support that it had never had. Rot had invaded many structural members, some of which were inadequate from the start in 1830.

High up on the north side is a rather formal, Federal-style doorway, obviously the house's front door. Had it once been reached by a flight of stairs? Architect Bero analyzed the inside of the north wall of the basement and discovered that the original foundation had later been penetrated by windows and a door, perhaps at the time when jail cells were installed. So the ground outside had been drastically lowered, cut away for basement access and leaving the front entrance up in the air.

The main floor has both a regular door and a wider pair of doors which open onto a ramp by which fire-fighting equipment could enter and leave. The top floor is now a single space.

Proceeding slowly, conducting fund-raising drives and using the profits from the annual Grape Festival (sponsored jointly with the Naples Rotary), the Society has stayed in the black. Work on the main floor should be completed this summer. Then will come the long-awaited moving-in, the retrieval of donated objects from storage, and the creation of exhibits and events which will make accessible to the public the history of Naples, a quintessential American small town that is at once typical and unique.

© 2000, Beth B. Flory, President of the Naples Historical Society
Index of articles by Beth Flory

Sources of Information

1 The Naples Record newspapers over the years.

2 "Fire Companies," a paper by Naples historian, Jane Mills, no date.

3. Sanborn maps for 1893, 1906, 1911, 1930.

4. John Harrington's senior research paper for Naples Central School, based in part on interviews with residents. March 10, 1975.

5. Office of the County Clerk, Canandaigua, New York.

6. Conversations with Gladys Dunton and the late Mary Capron.

7. The Constitution of the Morgan Hook and Ladder Company.

8. The archives of the Naples Library and the Naples Historical Society.

9. The Historic Structure Report of the Morgan Hook and Ladder Company by Bero Associates, Architects, 1995.

10. Seymour Sutton's Annals of Naples, undated.

11. Bruce M. Gelser, The Settlers of Naples, 1790, 1990.

All illustrations furnished by Beth Flory

[Illustrations will be posted shortly]
Map from The Settlers of Naples, 1790

The route of the raceway, taken from an 1859 map and added here, is traced with parallel dashes. The 1859 map shows the mill race running beneath Naples Mill, now William Vierhile's Mill Museum, indicated by an open rectangle just above Cross [Street] on the map.

A later map, probably from 1905 - 1910, shows the water channel beginning at Strowbridge Pond, shown above north of Vine Street. The dark rectangle marked in the corner of the intersection of Mechanic Street and Mill Street is Simeon Lyon's house, built in 1830, that became the firehouse in 1891 of the Morgan Hook and Ladder Company.

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