Looking at the collection of photos from the Metuchen-Edison Historical Society of our dear town of Metuchen, we couldn’t help wonder what the areas in those photos look like now. And with that this series is born. We start off with the old fire company building in Main street. It fascinates as how much the old building is pretty much preserved up to the intricate window trims and facade tile treatments. You can click on some of the images to see a larger view. Enjoy the photos.
The Eagle Hook and Ladder Company
Fire was a constant threat to barns and houses of Metuchen after the arrival of the first railroad, in 1836, because of the sparks that flew from the locomotives passing through, The community was protected by a water brigade of volunteers equipped with leather buckets, axes and crowbars carried on a hand-propelled cart or “runner” as it was called. Water was taken from wells and streams near the scenes of the fires.
In 1882, thirty-two Metuchen area residents met in the back of Frank Smith’s barber shop and organized The Eagle Hook and Ladder Company. Hooks and ladders were added to the runner. A small shed at Woodbridge Avenue and Main Street near the Presbyterian Church housed the equipment.
A two story brick firehouse replaced the earlier shed at the same location in 1885. Three years later the railroad company bought the land where the firehouse stood on Woodbridge Avenue to build the new Main Street Railroad Station. A new firehouse was then erected at 398 Main Street by the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company.
The company was incorporated in 1888, with Mr. O.F. Browning elected President. Mr. Nathan Robins, Jr., had been elected Foreman in 1886, and after the incorporation was re-elected. A few years later Mr. Robins was made President and remained in that post until his death in 1929.
Water mains and fire hydrants were not available in Metuchen until 1897. The village became Fire District Number One of Raritan Township. A board of five Fire Commissioners administered the funds raised by taxation for fire protection.
In this same year another fire company, The Washington Hose Company, was organized in Metuchen. Rivalry between the two companies arose, each seeking the commissioner’s favor to acquire the hose necessary to use the new hydrants. The Eagle Hook and Ladder Company offered to purchase a horse-drawn hose carriage with their own funds and as a result the commissioners awarded the hose to them. The firehouse was expanded to include a drying tower, bowling alleys and social rooms.
When Metuchen became a borough, in 1900, the Borough Council administered the Fire Department funds raised by taxation. However, little if any assistance was forthcoming from the local government to improve the fire companies. The fire companies insisted that the local government most furnish new equipment, provide an efficient alarm system and grant special police powers to firemen at the scene of fires. These issues were not resolved for nearly three decades after the incorporation of the borough. The two fire companies continued to serve the community independently and were almost entirely financed through donations made by the members and interested citizens. In 1914, The Eagle Hook and Ladder Company purchase a motorized hook and ladder hose wagon with chemical attachments.
Finally in September, 1927, an ordinance to “create, equip and regulate a Volunteer Fire Department” was approved by the Borough Council, providing that the office of the fire chief would alternate terms between members of the two fire companies and that the assistant chief would be elected from the company not represented by the chief. The ordinance also provided that the administrative powers should be given to a board of fire commissioners.
The borough leased the building from the holding company organized by the members of the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company which held title to the building. This arrangement continued until in the late 1940s when modern fire fighting equipment would no longer fit into the firehouse and had to be housed in the borough garage in Middlesex Avenue. By 1953, the borough began work to convert the garage into a building for the Metuchen Fire Department, providing separate space under one roof for the two fire companies.
The Eagle Hook and Ladder Company sold their firehouse in Main street to Benjamin and Joseph Dessel in 1950. The street level became the Metuchen Food Market. The upper floor was rented as meeting rooms and later was leased to the Fugle-Miller Electronics Company and to Alpine Aromatics, a perfume company. This second floor space was subsequently remodeled to become an apartment.
Metuchen Food Market moved to a new location on Lake Avenue in 1952. They leased the street level space of the former firehouse to various business concerns. One of the lessees, Joseph Piazza, who operated a shoe repair shop, purchase the building in 1962. The lower section was partitioned in 1964 to provide two separate business spaces on the street level which have been occupied by several tenants in recent years.
We had so much fun here at the Metuchen Living office creating the above computational rephotography for the fire company we decided to give you a bonus by way of the photos below. Check out these ‘then and now’ photos of select Metuchen main street spots.