Volunteer Fire Department

In the mid-1920s the need for a dedicated fire department was pressing upon business owners, who were faced with excessively high premiums for fire insurance.

The department, and firetruck, was five miles away in the village of Geneva. That distance, coupled with the abundance of tightly packed wood frame structures in the commercial district, made for rates that ranged from $1.93 to $3.87 per $100 insured. The rates had been raised by the Cox administration during World War I; business owners had been paying 33 cents to $1.10 before the increase.

The state insurance rate bureau required a minimum of 1,000 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose on two “substantial reels to be located in a properly designed house free from serious exposure,” stated a letter from the bureau to the township in 1925. “A volunteer fire department should be organized under the direction of a chief, to consist of 8 to 15 members, permanent residents of the community. The chief should be a responsible party to be held accountable for the proper maintenance of equipment. … the most desirable arrangement would be to provide a suitable motor driven truck for carrying the hose and it should also be provided with large chemical tanks, several smaller extinguishers and also ladders. However, we will agree to accept the hose reels as our minimum requirement.”

In May 1925 a dozen businessmen, led by hotel owner Sidney Ramsey, held a meeting at the Rose Cottage to discuss the property owners’ disadvantage in regard to fire protection and premium rates. The resort community was still part of Geneva Township, which did not have funds for the purchase. The delegation offered to endorse notes to purchase the equipment, the legality of which was called into question. Also questioned was the delegation’s insistence that other funds be raided for the fire protection account.

Trustees did not have the legal authority to secure bonds for a purchase without the consent of voters. And the earliest the issue could be placed before them was the November 1925 general election, too late for the 1925 resort season. Further, since the entire township would have to pay for the truck, those in the south side of the district was against keeping the truck at the resort, or voting for the issue at all. Lake residents and businessmen pointed out that the resort paid most of the taxes collected in the township.

More than firefighting equipment was at stake in this discussion, however. The resort town was moving toward incorporation as a village, and the township was not in favor of the exodus.

The delegation was determined to get the equipment in place by July 4, warning that if a fire were to start in the resort town’s commercial district, the entire tinderbox would be gone within two hours.

In early June the delegation cut a deal — property owners ordered the equipment and guaranteed payment, with the stipulation that if the township failed to take over the obligation, the resort would withdraw from the township and incorporate as a village, which would be responsible for the note.

Ramsey suggested that two fire trucks be purchased, one that would go in the township’s town hall, a second for the village. Only one was ordered — a 1924 Dodge chassis on which the Graham body would be mounted, a “special job” for the factory. Shortly after placing the order, the delegation learned that the fire truck would not be done until near the of the 1925 season, rendering all the discussion a rather moot point.

Nevertheless the property owners petitioned the state to create a fire district. Petitioners were Emory Tyler, Clarence Hoskins, Arthur Bowers, Durwood Bowers, Charles Warner, Sidney Ramsey, Clarence Hoskins, Charles Craine and E.M. Pop Pera.

The “fire hall” for this new truck was to be Emory Tyler’s barn on the north side of Lake Road. Tyler said he didn’t use the barn except for some storage on the first level, and he’d be willing to clean it out so the resort would have a place to park the new truck. His offered was accepted and in return the other men at the table gave him the unpaid job of fire chief. No one, including Emory, had any firefighting experience, however.

The barn was used by the department until 1935, when the Works Progress Administration built both a fire hall and town hall for the village, on South Spencer. The old barn is the tasting and dining room of Old Firehouse Winery. The department moved from South Spencer to a new facility at South Warner in 1971.

Profits from bingo games at several parlors on The Strip funded the department for several decades,  until unreasonable restrictions imposed by the state made it impossible to keep the parlors open.

Village Council assumed jurisdiction of the department in 1927, after incorporation. The department was incorporated as a non-profit charitable organization on Feb. 7,1949.

The department got into the rescue and ambulance service in 1939. Its first “ambulance” was a 1941 Plymouth station wagon; a proper ambulance was purchased in 1951.

Fire chiefs:

Emory Tyler: 1925-1930
James R. Boles: 1930-1943
Frank Branford: 1943-1960
Harry Holden: 1960-1970
Larry Brunner: 1970-1972
Tim Boyce: 1972-1974
Edward C. Andrus: 1974-1989
Larry Brunner: 1989
Jim Bartlett: 1989-2008
Tim Mills: 2008-




Our guests remember:

Pirl Beach

I spent the summer of 1942 in Pirl Beach (at age 16) and worked part time for the manager pulling weeds and such. Also swam every day. My Pittsburgh relatives had reserved a cottage there for many years. My aunt and cousins stayed. My uncle commuted weekly in his Buick. The Pirl Beach manager used a Model T Ford truck for his chores.

Ken Ford

Memories of Ford's

Most of my summer childhood memories are at Ford’s! My parents met there right at the picnic table. We vacationed there every summer along with my grandparents and great aunt and uncle until they passed away. We made amazing friends there that we still vacation with on Putnam Drive!! I could never thank the Payne’s enough for my childhood memories. Playing Indians in the huge back yard, solving make-believe mysteries, playing release and listening to everyone playing penny poker when my sister and I should have been sleeping. I now bring my son to Geneva every summer. He is the 5th generation at Geneva!

Sara Turner Campos

Chestnut Grove

My extended family and I vacationed at Chestnut Grove from 1948-1964. Being from McKeesport, it was a dream come true to go there every summer. I currently live in Michigan but go back occasionally. Not too long ago, I found a post card of some of the cottages where the swings and horseshoe pit were and a local artist is making me a 24×36 painting of it. I can't wait to see it! So many wonderful memories and so few things left as reminders. It is nice to know that others still remember and care.

Michelle Turner ( a Chestnut Grove Kid)


We vacationed every summer at Idle-A-While in the late '50s and early '60s, partially because my aunt was the receptionist there. I often got to ring the bell summoning guests to breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining room, which was staffed by co-eds from various universities. Evenings were spent playing bingo, fascination and other games on the strip or bridge and poker back at Idle-A-While. Great memories.
John Bloom

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