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The Early History of the Gloucester City Fire Department Bells, Fire Department and Police Department



By Ed Walens

Gloucester City built its first Fire Department headquarters in 1879 on Bergen Street – where the  police station is now. 6a00d8341bf7d953ef022ad39db3a9200c-500wi

The fire hall was built on a lot adjacent to the old City Hall, which is now the new City Hall.

After 1879, several fires took place without the knowledge of some firemen because there was no alarm bell to let them know.

Some concerned Gloucester City businessmen decided to approach City Council and ask that a fire alarm bell be placed in the tower of the fire hall.

The Councilmen liked the idea, and wasted no time planning for the installation of a fire alarm bell.

They purchased a large bell that would be heard in every corner of the town.

The alarm would be set off by electricity, and Council decided to put the bell in the City Hall tower because it was higher than the cupola on the fire hall.

City residents were very pleased with the new bell.

The firemen were beside themselves with excitement, and kept referring to the bell as a “she.” The bell became a female.

There was a city-wide celebration and christening ceremony on September 8, 1891, the day of the bell’s installation. “She” was placed in position in the City Hall tower at noon.

At the afternoon christening Martin Coyle, a Civil War veteran, broke a bottle of champagne on the bell and named her “Mary.”

During the christening, workmen were stringing wires from City Hall to the alarm boxes located in various sections of the City.

At 9 p.m. on November 16, 1891, the firemen and the residents of Gloucester City had a big thrill.

The alarm sounded for the first time for a fire on Ridgeway Street.

The firemen responded quickly, placed streams of water on the fire, and soon brought it under control.

The house belonged to a Richard Batezel and Thomas Popland, and the damage came to about $1,000.

For 49 years the alarm bell faithfully served the brave Gloucester firemen.

In 1940 the old City Hall and fire hall were torn down to make room for the new building there today.

The fire alarm bell was silenced, and a strange thing took place -- it vanished without a trace.

Another tangible piece of Gloucester was lost forever.

This is the final story of the “Bells of Gloucester.”

Some of the bells are still around, and a few belong to the ages.

They may not have been as famous as the “Liberty Bell,” or the bells of “Notre Dame,” but they served the people of Gloucester City well. Thank heaven residents still hear the magnificent bells of St. Mary’s ring out everyday.

And, thank heaven for the historians like Albert Corcoran, Harry Green, Louisa Llewellyn, Jack Corcoran and David Munn for putting Gloucester’s History into printed words.



An ordinance to establish a fire department in Gloucester City was passed by Common Council July 5, 1878. It was signed by Mayor William H. Banks, President of Council, Philip H. Fowler, and G. William Barnard, Recorder.

After the passage of this ordinance there shall be appointed, five persons citizens of Gloucester City, three from City Council, one from each district, for the term of one year, who shall be styled the Fire Commissioners of Gloucester City. Also appointed was one fire marshal, Patrick Mealey, assistants John Graham and John Lafferty. Department members were Henry Gilmore, Andrew Mosser, James Foster, Joseph McAdams, Lawrence Conlohan, James McMahon, Sr., James McMahon, Jr., Joseph Berry, Herman Klosterman and William Shimp.

source of information for the Fire and Police Departments

The apparatus comprised one book and ladder truck, fire ladders, six fire extinguishers, six hooks, thirty-six buckets, axes, rope, grappling irons etc. There was no water works until 1883. The mill had their own fire dept. Water was pumped from private wells and passed from hand to hand in buckets.

In 1878 a horse carriage was purchased from Union Home Co. of Lancaster along with one thousand feet of hose. The book and ladder and hose carriage were pulled by the members all holding a rope attached to the vehicles. The first hose house was built of wood in the rear of the City Hall on Bergen Street and was replaced by one mad of brick. The present fire house is the third one to be used.

A part of the original fire ordinance states that immediately upon the alarm of fire during the night it shall be the duty of the respective policemen of the city to give notice thereof by crying fire or ringing a bell, and mentioning the street or direction where it may be and if any policeman shall neglect to do so he shall forfeit and pay a fine of ten dollars.

The fireman received no pay  but were exempt from the assessment of private property to the amount of five hundred dollars and were members of the firemen’s relief fund.


Prior to 1868 when Gloucester became a city, law enforcement was in the hands of constables whose duty it was to arrest and bring to court the offenders.

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When Gloucester became a city under the charter and by laws for governing the city in article 20, it was stated that it shall be the duty of the constable or constables appointed in said city, to preserve and maintain at all times the peace and quiet of said city, to arrest and imprison offenders against the ordinances of said city or the laws of this state, and to perform such other duties, and under such penalties, as the common council of said city shall from time to time prescribe.

In 1882 the city police dept. consisted of William H. Banks Mayor and Chief, John Cavanaugh, janitor of city hall and in charge of the city jail. The policemen, who received an annual salary of 600 dollars, were William Byers, James Truax, Thomas Lenny and Isaac Marple. Special policemen were Lawrence Culahan, James McMahan, Robert Cattell, James Gilday, James McMahan, Jr. and Thomas Kelly.


RELATED: Gloucester City History

PART THREE: The Battle of Gloucester; Frigate Augusta

PART TWO: Hugg's Tavern and The Marriage of Betsy Ross

PART ONE: Early History of City of Gloucester City