The Morgan Hook and Ladder
A Restoration Project in Naples, New York
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
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
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
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
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
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,
5. Office of the County Clerk, Canandaigua, New York.
6. Conversations with Gladys Dunton and the late Mary
7. The Constitution of the Morgan Hook and Ladder Company.
8. The archives of the Naples Library and the Naples
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,
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.