At the beginning of the twentieth century the area now called Bala-Cynwyd and Merion was in the throes of the great building boom. City residents were making their permanent homes in this choice “Country” site. The majority of those newcomers were young married people. The newly acquired homes represented the bulk of their worldly goods. Most of them had been accustomed to City fire protection. The lack of any fire equipment in the immediate vicinity made them a bit nervous. A group of old residents had been discussing the lack of adequate fire protection for several years.
Mr. Luther Parsons, whose fine carriage shop was located in Academy, Mr. James Dolan, Postmaster of Academy, Mr. Sam McConnell, Mr. William Note, Mr. DeForest Ballou, and Mr. Thomas Chadwick, met regularly in the Union Republican Club, at Academy, to discuss the issues. The problems were specific. First, the need was urgent. Second, the nearest accessible protection was in Ardmore. Third, Communication facilities were nonexistent, so property burned out of control before help could be acquired. These men knew there was only one thing to do – provide for protection locally.
They organized themselves into a committee to canvas the area for funds to purchase equipment. The people were responsive to this committee’s appeal. Contributions ranging from one dollar, to two hundred dollars were received. This initial campaign for funds brought in a little over $5,000. It is said Mr. Parsons alone collected $3,000 of this amount. The collecting having proved fruitful, these men thought it was time to bring the whole thing before the people at a public meeting. It was for the people’s protection, it was the people’s money, and it was their responsibility to organize and handle this money.
The following account found in the “Ardmore Chronicle” which was dated Saturday, March 21, 1903, gives the whole story:
“The Union Fire Department of Lower Merion, Senator Roberts Elected President, Other Officers and Committees.”
“A meeting of citizens of Academy, Bala-Cynwyd, and Overbrook was held last Friday evening in the rooms of the Union Republican Club of Academy for the purpose of organizing a volunteer fire company. The meeting was called to order by George D. Emerson, who stated the object of the meeting, with Postmaster James H. Dolan acting as secretary. On motion of DeForrest Ballou it was agreed to form a fire company and these gentleman were appointed a committee to draft a preliminary plan for organization- Hon. A. B. Roberts, E. G. Reyenthaler, Albert Faunce, John Lonagan, and W. J Phillips, Jr.. Mr. Lonagan desired to be excused on ground he was somewhat old but Senator Roberts’s remark, “we youngsters want the old fellows” caused Mr. Lonagan to stand.
The meeting took a recess, and on re-assembling the committee recommended the following, that the Association be known as the “Union Fire Department of Lower Merion” and the officers shall consist of a president, three vice- presidents, three captains, and nine managers.” The report was accepted and the following persons were nominated and elected. President- A. B. Roberts, Esq. Vice- President- DeForrest Ballou, George C. Meeser, Harry Gardiner, Treasurer- William 1. Phillips,Jr., Secretary- William Tyndal, Chief- Luther C. Parsons, Captain of Equipment- George N. Emerson, Captains- James H. Dolan, Samuel McConnell, Thomas Chadwick, Managers- E. G. Reyenthaler, Jr., S. E. Kuen, H. A. Ingram,Croft Register, James E. Briggs, Thomas D. Mowlds, Jonathan W. Thomas, G. Knowles Perot, T. Williams Roberts.A committee consisting of DeForrest Ballou, A. H. Ingram, S. E. Kuen, was appointed to obtain a charter and prepare a constitution and by-laws.
Meetings of the new community organization were held weekly at the Union Republic Club House.
By July 1903, they were able to report the following progress. Two reels of 500 feet of hose each and a hose carriage were purchased at a cost of $600. One reel was kept in the basement of the Bala Public School and the other at Cynwyd. A Chemical engine manufactured by Holloway of Baltimore had been contracted for; this engine to be delivered by August the first and to cost $1,550. Along with it was 500 feet of pressure hose not included in the cost of the engine. Before this date, ground and building were secured for the storage of apparatus.
The large stone stable, together with the ground on which it stood, on Montgomery Avenue near J. W. Thomas’s grocery store, was secured from E. L. Hedden, at a cost of $2,100.
The barn was to be torn down and a new engine house was built. Stone from the demolished barn was to be used. Possession of premises was taken on August first, 1903. The plans for the new engine house called for a building 50′ by 50′, two stories high. The first floor was to contain an engine room 25′ by 45′, club room and parlor. The second floor was to have a public hall with seating capacity of 480, and standing room of 800. The approximate cost of the building was $7,000. The overall expenditure amounted to about $1,200. This great progress in such a short period showed the eagerness of the community to meet the problem of adequate fire protection in a wholehearted cooperative spirit.
In the meantime, the committee for petitioning for a charter, and the constitution had been at work. This charter and the incorporation of the organization was granted by H. K. Weand, October 5, 1903. The name of the Corporation was the Union Fire Association of Lower Merion. The purpose stated was for support of fire engine, hook and ladder, hose, or other equipment, for the control of fire. The business of the Corporation was to be transacted in Lower Merion Township, particularly in that portions known as Bala-Cynwyd, Overbrook, and Merion, which had no fire Protection.
The Corporation was to hold and own real estate for using and enjoying it as a Fire, Engine, and Hose House, and a meeting house for the transaction of business of the Corporation by its members.
Phenomenal progress has been made since the first year of our incorporation. Our organization’s name and goal remain the same, to provide fire protection for the citizens of Bala-Cynwyd and Lower Merion Township. This has only been possible by the unceasing efforts of the dedicated members, the generous contributions, and the wholehearted cooperative spirit of the community at large.
In 2003, we celebrated our 100th Anniversary. Currently, we operate 3 apparatus: Engine 28, Ladder 28, and Pipeline 28.