|Protecting life and property for 125 years is a great accomplishment and August 6th of this year the Reliance Fire Company No. 1 will reach that milestone.|
Philipsburg’s first fire company was organized August 6, 1881. On September 13th of the same year, the company was named the Reliance Host Company No. 1. This company was in existence until the latter part of 1882, when it had to disband, when the fire apparatus, hose, etc., fell to the care of the borough officials as the property of the people.
On October 9, 1883, a reorganization was effected. The name of the company was changed to Reliance Fire Company No. 1.
This company is still in existence and on June 20, 1889, they filed an application for a charter through the medium of their attorney George W. Zeigler, which charter was granted by Jude A.O. Furst during the August term of court 1889.
In the Complete History of Philipsburg published in 1895, it is stated, “This company has had a very creditable career as volunteer firemen, and deserves much credit for their valiant service.”
The history states, “The company owns the following apparatus and Silsby manufacture: Class 4, steam fire engine, three hose trucks, 1500 feet of cotton hose and one village hood and ladder truck, and occupies their own building situated on Second Street, between Presqueisle and Beaver.”
This building was built in 1889 at a cost of $2,000 from the proceeds of a fair held by the company in September 1889. The net proceeds of the fair, managed by the ladies of the town and lasting one week, were $2,100.
The company later moved into a barn structure which was made into a fire hall complete with bell and belfry at the back of Rosie Pearce’s home. This hall was situated where the Pioneer Tap Room is now located.
The Reliance firefighters were using this building for their fire hall when the town hall was erected. Following its completion, the company moved there with its equipment.
In the edition of the Daily Journal dated August 13, 1946, there is an article composed by Randall H. Graham recalling the early history of the Central District Volunteer Fireman’s Association. The front page of this edition of the Daily Journal is covered entirely with news of the 54th convention of the Central District Volunteer Firemen’s Association, being held this week.
In his account, Mr. Graham relates “The borough fathers decided that both the Reliance and the Hope Fire Company, which had been organized in 1887, should be housed in the borough building. The lower part of the building was partitioned off and each company given one side. This was not satisfactory to the Reliance members and they started building their own building on Second Street, between Presqueisle Street and the Bicycle Club, about where the rear of the Hotel Phillips now stands.”
“Charter members of the company told me”, continued Mr. Graham, “that during the building period it was just too bad if anyone carelessly left any loose lumber lying around, because it would eventually end up in the Reliance building.”
“The problem, when the building was completed, was how to get the Reliance equipment out of the borough building and into the newly built fire hall. This resulted in a false fire alarm being turned in. The fire companies answered the alarm, but Reliance, instead of coming back to the borough hall, went on past and took their equipment into the new building.”
Mr. Graham’s 1946 article continues: “About 10 years later the Reliance built the building it now occupies and moved there.” (This is now the location of Mike’s Cleaners, beside the United Presbyterian Home.) “The members each took a $100 share and financed the building and the purchase of their own steam engine, as they broke loose from the borough. There was an awful scrap at the time and it looked as though the Reliance may be disbanded, but the bigger part of the young businessmen of the town belonged to the company and it finally won out in the fight with the borough authorities.”
“The Reliance then bought white helmets, red shirts, white neckties, dark pants, and paraded with their four wheeled cart with a high hose reel and made a wonderful appearance – one of the greatest sights I have ever seen. The company usually took the prize for the best appearing unit.”
Mr. Graham told how they got their city service truck (hook and ladder). He said, “I was coming home from Johnstown one day and saw a crowd of people in front of a house there. I stopped and went in and saw Tyrone’s new hook and ladder truck. I came home, went to the Reliance hall and told them that’s what we needed. When I told them it cost $9,600 they just laughed at me. WE started a bazaar though, and in four nights we cleared $11,900. I was chairman of the committee. We had a show at the theater and cleared another $840. We had money for our machine and we donated $1,000 to the borough for the fire alarm system.”
In 1955, Reliance Fire Company decided to build a larger building at 315 N 3rd Street due to the inadequate size of the building located on Presqueisle Street. Reliance Fire company still resides at this location.
No story of the Reliance Fire Company would be complete without telling about their bingo. During the years to raise money the company held dances, bazaars, charity drawings, celebrations, and miscellaneous enterprises. Finally they turned to bingo.
David Ferguson told me their bingo was originally started in their building, next to the Hotel Philips, in the year 1930. He said they collected a penny for each card and played eighty games each night it was held. Prizes given were bags of sugar, canned fruits, vegetables, and shirts.
“In 1932, we expanded by obtaining use of the community building on 15th Street and through the good services of the community league, and the goodness of Mrs. Lawshe Baird, we continued our penny bingo at this new location.” Mr. Ferguson said.
“Our bingo was popular and we grew and soon we were paying $5 on regular games plus having jackpots. Many winter nights we would all get at close as we could around the big potbellied stove in this cold building. In 1945 we plunged, and started building a new community building on 15th Street, which was completed in 1946 at the cost of approximately $60,000. We had planned to use this building for the community for dances, bingo, parties, etc.” Mr. Ferguson continued. “However, just at this time one of the biggest fires in Philipsburg totally destroyed the Lerner Clothing Factory, situated where the A&P is now located. At the request of the Chamber of Commerce, in order to keep this industry in our town, the Reliance agreed to allow this clothing factory the use of our new building at a very nominal rent, this saving jobs for over 100 people. Later this clothing business moved and we then rented the building to the Automotive supply Co. The fire company never did use that building for their bingo, but moved into the second floor of the V.F.W. building on Front Street, where we continued our bingo. In 1964 we purchased the Rice property across from the A&P on Third Street and after extensive repairs, buying tables and chairs, moved our bingo there in July 1964. We have successfully maintained our bingo in the building to the present time.”
Mr. Ferguson stated that some of Reliance Fire Company’s accomplishments include: donations to the company’s pet charity, Centre Clearfield County Society for Crippled Children, $40,718 and other causes $7,093; building and furnishing a new fire hall on Third Street, which was completed in 1955 at a cost of over $90,000 and with roof repairs, etc., have an investment of over $200,000 in the fire hall; allowing the Pennsylvania State Police use of the building for drivers’ tests, free of charge, until just recently, due to inflation, they applied for rent and now get a nominal amount for this service. When action was being taken to build a medical center in 1973 the Reliance loaned $10,000 at 5% interest to the medical association to help get the center started. In 1974, not having sufficient room for all their equipment, they build a new building next to the bingo building on Third Street at a cost of $15,670.
The Reliance Fire Company is a patriotic organization, opening all meetings with the pledge of allegiance to the flag. During World War II, they purchased $13,000 United States Bonds; 67 members served their country in World War II.
Over the years, the fire company spent thousands of dollars for extra equipment which was needed and the borough could not afford to buy. The Reliance paid $8155 to help the borough pay for what is now the newest piece of equipment Philipsburg has, which arrived in December 1967. Later, the company added several thousands of dollars more of extra equipment on this pumper.
Philipsburg hosted the Central District Volunteer Firemen’s Association convention in the years 1893, 1900, 1905, 1908, 1915, 1918, 1921, 1932, and 1942 and Reliance played a prominent part in the business and celebration for these conventions. Reliance has also purchased and kept in service at their own expense a Pontiac station wagon, a second hand LaFrance Pumper, bought at a cost of $4000. This was purchased primarily for pumping contests but is always maintained in good shape in case it is needed for a large fire.
These volunteers have contributed many hours through every month to fire schools, pumping and ladder practices, besides answering the call to fires at all times an in time of flooding having helped many persons by pumping out cellars. December 1980 the Reliance had a Christmas party at the bingo building for children of the Moshannon Valley. Despite inclement weather, it was so successful that it was planned as an annual event. Some of the largest Philipsburg fires according to Mr. Ferguson, were the Opera House, Grant Block, Seven Starts and 100F building, Philipsburg Hardware, Sixth Street school building and the Lerner Clothing factory.
In the early days, old-timers stated there was a great deal of friction between Reliance and Hope fire companies, but this is not so today, Mr. Ferguson said, a good spirit of cooperation exists between the 2 companies.
To volunteer their services to their fellow citizens is perhaps the greatest attribute that can be obtained by any organization. The prime object of the Reliance Fire Company has been the protection of life and property from fire and accidents, in all kinds of weather, under many hardships, and always confronted with the possibility of injury and even death, these volunteers for 100 years have always answered this call to duty.
Some of Philipsburg’s older citizens will always remember Aunt Sally Gowland and Howard (Babe) Cole. Aunt Sally was everyone’s aunt and Babe was everyone’s friend. They were in all the parades, sometimes Babe walked, each in their fire company uniforms. Aunt Sally was named as an honorary member of the fire company and was never more proud as when she was perched on the big trucks during parades.
In the Illustrated Souvenir History, printed in 1909 there is a paragraph which states, “The fire companies are special objects of pride and admiration on the part of the people of Philipsburg. Their rosters have always contained the best men of the town, and the zeal and fervor which have always characterized their work as the outgrowth of an unselfish desire to do the right thing in the right way for the protection of the town.” I think this could refer to the Philipsburg fire companies today.