The Willowvale Bleachery was one of the major industries to organize in the Sauquoit Valley. From 1881, when this company was formed, it grew from year to year, and in 1922 the Bleachery Company built a men’s club house for the pleasure of their employees.
The club house (then Fred’s Foodland) consisted of a large auditorium, lounging room, library, pool and billiards tables, bowling alleys and men’s room consisting of showers and lockers. In the Southwest corner of the club house a space was provided for a Reo Speed Wagon fire truck.
Because the Bleachery Fire Company was classified as a private fire company, they were not eligible for membership in The Oneida County Firemen’s Association. Many of the members were dissatisfied with this set up and wanted more voice in the election of officers. Mr. John Dyer, assistant manager of the Bleachery at that time, was very interested in the fire company and agreed with the men’s wishes. By virtue of his position in the Bleachery Company, he was able to convince the powers-that-be to let the men form a fire company.
Initial Officers and Members
The officers and members at that time were as follows:
- President: G. Raymond Golterman (Superintendent of W.B. C)
- Vice President: Howard Marks (Local Merchant)
- Secretary: O.C. Holdridge (Bleachery Foreman)
- Treasurer: Floyd Robb (Superintendent – Silk Mill)
- Chief: Frank Groff (Silk Mill Foreman)
- 1st Asst. Chief: Charles Emeny (Bleachery Foreman)
- 2nd Asst. Chief: David Johns (Bleachery Foreman)
- 3rd Asst .Chief: Almond D. Skinner (Bleachery Foreman)
(26) Charter Members
- Henry Arnold
- Charles Burns
- George Burns
- Arthur Clough
- Charles Gage
- Jess Dougherty
- J.R. Dyer
- Charles Emeny
- Edgar Evans
- Jerry Farrell
- G.R. Golterman
- Howard Green
- Frank Groff
- Ormon Holdridge
- Ora Hunter
- David Johns, Jr.
- Howard Marks
- Gerald McNally
- Roy Roberts
- Almond D. Skinner
- Evan Thomas
- Russell Thomas
- Reginald Toomey
- Floyd Townsend
- Richard Williamson
- Frank Young
In December 1924. J. R. Dyer was elected as President, serving until 1936. Floyd Townsend passed away December 7, 1980. After 1924, the members of the Willowvale Fire Company could participate in the annual Oneida County Firemen’s Association parades and other functions.
During the late hours of June 10, 1926, the siren was sounding the alarm of fire. The firemen responding to the alarm were shocked to find the clubhouse on fire. They were able to drag the fire truck out of the building, but it was so badly damaged that they could not use it. Calls were sent out for aid, and the City of The Bleachery Company restored the club house to its former excellent condition and replaced the damaged fire truck with a 500 G.P.M. FOAMITE CHILDS PUMPER with 200 feet of 11/2″ hose and 500 feet of 21/2″ hose. This piece was built in Utica, NY. Utica responded with one truck and the service of Utica Fire Chief Sullivan who directed fire operations and finally brought the fire under control; extensive damage was done.
For the next few years the firemen diligently responded to fire alarms, and to help with operating costs they would hold what was then called a Lawn Fete. They would sell hot dogs, ice cream and ran a few wheels of chance. This event was held annually on Bleachery property.
In 1932 we were hosts for the Oneida County Firemen’s Association annual convention. The fire company did not receive much financial gain from this event because the county as well as the whole nation was just about recovering from the effects of the 1929 stock market crash.
For the next few years, to keep interest in the fire company and to project ourselves in the community, the Lawn Fete event added raffle tickets and Bingo. In March, the Fire Company held a St. Patrick’s Day dance at the club house auditorium. This became an annual event which was well supported by the residents of the Sauquoit Valley.
The years during World War II were busy years for the fire company. The fire company was involved in the civil defense program, which meant taking special courses in firefighting under and during enemy air attacks. Also, several members completed extensive training in First Aid and Oxygen Therapy. Four members of the fire company became qualified first aid instructors and taught the subject to many fire companies in the County. It was at this time that the Oneida County Mutual Aid System was developed. It has since grown to be a very important part of every fire company in the county.
In connection with this specialized training, the state Civil Defense officials conducted air raid drills which were held in the evenings and were conducted without any visible lights. The club house was used for headquarters during the drill.
The firemen converted the club library room into an emergency room with Dr. Edwin M. Griffiths and Mrs. Thomas Parry, R.N. in charge. The firemen converted a used hearse into a squad car, which was used to transport simulated injured victims to the emergency room where the doctor and nurse corrected and informed the first aid squad of any errors in the care given the patient during transportation.
So that the community could rest at night, the firemen were divided into squads of two (2) men who would stay at the firehouse from 6 P.M. to 6 A.M. ready to alert the community via the siren in the event of an air raid attack. This was the first time a telephone was installed in the fire house. The Willowvale Fire Company was highly praised for their excellent efforts in this program.
During the latter part of World War II, the firemen erected an honor roll containing the names of all men in Sauquoit Valley who served in the armed forces. It was dedicated in 1944. For a few years following World War II, interest in the fire company waned as people resumed personal interests which had been prohibited under rigid war restrictions (such as the rationing of gasoline). Coupled with the waning interest, in 1946 it was rumored that the Bleachery Company was planning to move the plant out of New York State. This caused confusion in the Sauquoit Valley. The employees of the Bleachery were worried about employment when the plant closed, and a few interested firemen were concerned about the future of the fire company.
1944: Richard H. Aldinger was elected as the Chief of the Fire Company. He remained Chief until 1957 Byron Jones, the President of the fire company, had passed away. Many firemen were approached to take the office of President. All refused. The last man to be asked to take this Office was Clifford Dougherty who, with some reluctance, agreed to accept the fire company presidency.
In January 1947 Cliff was installed as President of Willowvale Fire Company. In his acceptance speech, which was very brief, he made the statement, “Let us work together”. This was not an idle statement, and he immediately appointed a committee to work with him. After a few meetings with this committee, he informed the Bleachery that the fire company was considering forming a fire district. The Bleachery, controlling over 50% of the assessed valuation, informed the fire company that they would vote this plan down. Cliff then found out that the fire company, with the approval of the town board, could form a protective fire district. A request was made to the New Hartford Town board who felt that the request should be studied.
About this time Washington Mills formed a fire company of their own. They also urged the town board for their approval to form a fire district. The town board suggested that the two fire companies involved should get together and discuss the situation.
In the meantime, the Willowvale Fire Company had the underwriters inspect the fire truck. The underwriters reported the truck, and especially the pumper, was below standards. Informing the Bleachery of this report, they reluctantly painted the truck and rebuilt the pump. The second underwriters’ inspection approved the truck only as an auxiliary pumper. While many meetings were held between the town board and the two involved fire companies, the Willowvale Fire Company was not giving up. Their interest in the community was still strong, and they had always been concerned about water supply in areas not having hydrants.
1948: Members read in the Reader’s Digest of a fire company in the State of Maine that was transporting water by a tanker, so it was decided that the Willowvale Fire Company should purchase one. The fire company bought a used 2,000-gallon TEXACO TANKER. We were the first fire company in New York State to use a tanker. Many years later, in 1973, WFC was recognized for being the “Pioneers in Tanker Service.”
The Ladies Auxiliary was formed and chartered in 1948. By holding public suppers, etc. they contributed much auxiliary equipment to the fire company.
The town still had not decided on the requests of both fire companies so many more meetings were held. Due to pressure from many organizations, the town board held a meeting; many spoke on the subject of fire protection. It was strongly felt from remarks from members of the board that the Washington Mills fire company would be given priority. At that moment, a personal letter from Cliff Dougherty to the town board was read. That letter is placed in this document in full as follows:
February 1, 1950
Members of the Town Board New Hartford, New York
Three years ago, I became President of the Willowvale Fire Department; not because I was a favorite choice of the company, but because just about every member of the Fire Company felt we were up against a stone wall. I was the seventh member asked to take the job, and when I said yes, was handed a hand full of resignations. As I think back it seems every member felt the Fire Company should call it a day and dissolve.
Our truck was obsolete, hose rotten, and everything in general ready for the scrap pile. While the powers-that-be claimed everything was in good condition, all the firemen said it was worthless. To satisfy myself on this question I requested the underwriters to test the equipment.
Needless to say, we had only 2 lengths of hose that would hold water (100 feet) and the pumper refused to lift water even 18 inches. The Bleachery, then and only then had the truck repainted and the pump rebuilt. They also bought and gave the fire department 2000 feet of 2 1/2″ hose. Some of this was new and some from their closed State Street Mill. The truck was laid up for about 5 months and then turned over to us. We then asked the underwriters to test and approve the truck. After spending an entire day with the rebuilt truck, they decided it was all right for an auxiliary pumper, but absolutely no good as a dependable piece of equipment. All this time we had urged the town board to set up a fire district so we could purchase and maintain a new truck. The Little Town Club of Washington Mills also requested a fire district and Fire Department in Washington Mills. Officers for a Washington Mills Fire Department were later elected and committees named. Two different Washington Mills grouped, to study the problems with the Willowvale Company. After these long and extensive studies, the most practical answers always seem to be the same:
- One centrally located fire house well equipped
- One well-trained group of men able to cope with any emergency
In my opinion the best location is near the Bleachery Club House as there is more available man power near this location 24 hours per day than any other section of the Sauquoit Valley.
In case of electric power failure, power to blow the siren can be taken from the Bleachery Company. It may also be possible to secure heat and lights from the Bleachery Company. It would be impossible to save over one minute with a firehouse in Washington Mills on a Washington Mills call. It may be possible to lose five minutes.
About $30,000 had been set aside by Oneida County to install radar alarm system over the entire county, with telephone service by wireless between fire truck and stations. I understand there will be an additional cost for switch boards in each fire house of about $500.00 (Five Hundred Dollars) to be paid by each company. Can a new station in Washington Mills fit into this picture and at what cost?
But why go on with what over three years of study show? Already new groups are forming in an effort to reach a sound conclusion, which I am sure will only be considered sound when they decide in favor of the minority.
And so today after weeks that run into years, what have I accomplished in regard to building a good fire department?
First, I, by complaining and giving what appeared true facts to public, have developed the warped mind of some poor soul into a pyromaniac. There is little doubt but that when he is caught the rest of his life will be spent in confinement. His family life will be destroyed, his friends gone, his parents, wife and children, if any, scorned by the entire community, the scandal of the town Yes, but look at the cost. Already there have been five large, well established farms destroyed, along with large percentages of their herds, and machinery. While I have not checked the total loss to date, there is no question but that it will run well over $200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand). The pyromaniac to date has not been caught, and he can well destroy three times this amount. The entire area is in an uproar over the terrific losses and many of the Willowvale Firemen are working countless hours, night and day, in an effort to stop the losses. To think back to the days when I asked the town board for $.91 per $1000 assessed valuation or about $2.50 per home per year. It was then considered a prohibited cost. We have already spent $200,000 and there is little doubt but that $500,000 will go up in smoke before we can afford $25,000 for a proper building with a truck capable of doing the work.
I am very sorry that I ever tried to bring the Willowvale Fire Department up to modern standard; it can never be worth the price some will be forced to pay.
S/Cliff Dougherty, President
After the reading of what has since been termed a historical letter, there was complete silence for many minutes. Everybody realized that this man was sincere and was simply concerned about the safety and wanted the best fire protection for the Sauquoit Valley.
1950: The board voted to call a public meeting for the purpose of entering into a contract with the Willowvale Fire Department for fire protection. On the 16th of March, the public meeting was held at the club house. They voted that a protective district be formed and a contract with the Willowvale Fire Company for fire protection was signed in said district. This created new interest in the Fire Company. A committee was appointed to canvass the area for pledges to help finance the purchase of a new fire truck. Eight thousand dollars ($8,000.) was realized from this drive.
The members hosted the 51st Anniversary Oneida County Volunteer Firemen’s Association convention as the Willowvale Fire Co. Inc on August 11th & 12th.
The fire company also ordered a 500 GPM/300 Gallon Tank F.W.D. Pumper with 300 feet of 1 1/2″ hose, 1,000 feet of 2 1/2″. Delivery was taken in 1951, but would not fit in the current fire house. The F.W.D. was housed in at Halligan & Roberts in Washington Mills. Because it would not fit, Ronald Throop of Washington Mills was retained to design a new fire house to be built on land donated by the Bleachery Company.
1953: The members later built a 4-bay fire station on Oneida Street. The first bid on the new fire house was $24,000 in 1951. In January 1955 the first annual meeting was held in the new fire house.
1954: In November the fire company took delivery of a 1943 Mack fire engine from Griffis Air Force Base. Purchased for $352, it had a 300-gallon water tank and a 3-piston pump. This used class 125 Crash Truck was bought complete with a 20-gallonFoam Solution tank. It had the advantage of high pressure and in some instances more mobile due to its size.
1955: The fire company adopted Section 209G of the General Municipal Law. This allowed the formation of the Fire Police and their Duties within the fire service.
1956: In June the WFC took out a loan for $1,000 from Oneida National Bank for the purpose of purchasing new uniforms. In November the fire company resolved to join the Oneida County Mutual Aid plan.
1957: James L. Harrigan was elected Chief of the Fire Co. Chief Harrigan served as Chief until 1974. Past Chief Harrigan passed away on January 17, 2000.
1958: In April, the new ($24,000) White ladder truck/pumper was tested (alongside Whitesboro’s New pumper). This 50’Aerial Ladder and 750 GPM pump was the first of its kind in our area.
1959: An International Stepvan was purchased and converted into a salvage and emergency truck.
1961: The members installed fire phones in two firemen’s homes. Then they renumbered the houses in the area using the Niagara Mohawk Power Co. numbering system. It was completed in 1964
1965: The fire company bought a White Engine equipped with a 1,000 GPM pump and 1,000 Gallon supply tank, which added much to improved fire service to the area. This engine replaced the F.W.D. that was sold just after the White was put in service.
1970: A committee was set up to resolve the subject of having a fire station in Washington Mills. Land was purchased in 1971 and the fire company contracted Agripole to build Station #2. The Washington Mills Fire Station was dedicated in December.
1973: Originally shared with the US Post Office, the one stall station housed the larger apparatus that could not fit in the current station. Before 2000, it was enlarged to 2 bays where both the new Salvage 9 and Engine 4 where housed.
1974: Charles G. Kuhn, Sr. was elected as Chief of the Fire Co. Chief Kuhn served until 1979. He passed away on June 8th, 2007.
1975: A 750 GPM Mini-pumper was purchased. Because of it efficiency and mobility, this truck is the first to move to the fire. It can be used to flush streets of gasoline and oil after automobile accidents.
Along with ordering a new mini-pumper, also in 1975 the fire company fought barn fires, searched for a lost 13-year-old boy, pushed for local fire training (vs. travelling to Montour Falls), and spent free time competing in drill competition with other Oneida County fire departments.
1976: WFC put into service the first Salvage 9 for the fire company.
The year saw not only fires but also a rescue at the Cassville Field Days when 20 Ferris wheel riders. First the multi-department response secured the unstable Ferris wheel then aided in the rider’s rescue. They also fought fires in our district as well as mutual aiding neighboring departments. One such mutual was to a fatal fire in Sauquoit where a 4-year-old died.
1977: To keep up with appearances at county parades and other functions, new department uniforms were purchased.
1979: Harry R. Waller was elected as Chief of the Fire Company. Chief Waller served until 1981.
1980: The fire company keeps up their interest in youth of the valley by supporting high school bands, poster contests, little league, and scouting. Response times improved with members using scanners at their homes. In addition to basic fire training, members specialized in initial fire attack, hazards, and Niagara Mohawk training. Two members became Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) while an additional 15 members became CPR trained
1981: William J. Hughes was elected as Chief of the Fire Company. Chief Hughes, aka, “Car 300,” faithfully served as the WFC Fire Chief for thirty-one years until December 31, 2012, when he decided not to seek another term. Chief Hughes passed away on May 22, 2021.
2000: The WFC hosted the Oneida County Volunteer Firemen’s Association convention to commemorate our 50th Anniversary.
2001: At the February Installation Dinner, Martin Shephard was awarded a trophy thanking him for his Fifty-Three (53) years for active service as a volunteer firefighter.
Until 2005, the WFC maintained its main fire house on Oneida Street in Chadwicks where 2 Engines, one tanker, and a rescue were housed. Station 2 was located on Chapman Road in Washington Mills where Engine 4 and Salvage 9 were housed.
2005: WFC moved into a new 1.5-million-dollar station across the street from their Station 1 to continue providing the best service possible to the Town of New Hartford. This new station houses all the fire apparatus and equipment in its 5-stall station, which is connected to the “hall” where meetings are held and Bingo fundraising occurs each week.
2013: James Kuhn was elected Chief. Chief Kuhn served as WFC Chief until December 31, 2017.
2016: WFC acquired a new Pierce Impel Pumper; Engine 3.
2018: Wayne R. Smoulcey was elected Chief of the Willowvale Fire Company. During his tenure, Chief Smoulcey made it a priority to upgrade the technology used in the firehouse and our apparatus. He was responsible for integrating Mobile Data Terminals (MDT’S) into Engine 3, allowing our firefighters to view real-time updates while responding to calls. Prior to being elected Chief of the WFC, Chief Smoulcey was diagnosed with both Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma and Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma cancer. Chief Smoulcey underwent numerous forms of cancer treatment while continuing to be a part of the daily operations of the Fire Company. He worked on many projects and continued to attend weekly drills and monthly meetings until April of 2019. After courageously battling two different forms of cancer for nearly seven years, Chief Smoulcey passed away on May 22, 2019. He was surrounded by his family and close friends. As a tribute to his many years of service to the WFC, the radio designation of “Car 300” was officially retired at the 2019 Memorial Day service and Chief Smoulcey is now remembered as “The Last of the 300’s.”
2019: The Board of Directors created the position of Deputy Fire Chief and eliminated the position of Second Captain. First Captain Noel K. Ames was elected to this newly created position.
2020: Ronald J. Dittmar, Jr. was elected Chief. Prior to being elected by the membership, Chief Dittmar served as interim chief from May through December of 2019. Chief Dittmar stepped down in December of 2022.
WFC acquired a new Midwest 2,000-gallon Tanker/Tender; Tanker 1. Firefighters Thomas and William Smith, and prior to his passing, Chief Smoulcey, were an integral part of acquiring $100,000 in grant funding for this piece of apparatus. As a tribute to him, a decal that reads, “Chief Wayne R. Smoulcey, Last of the 300’s,” was imprinted on both sides of Tanker 1.
2023: Noel K. Ames was elected Chief. Prior to being elected by the membership, Chief Ames served two years as Assistant Chief and a year as Deputy Chief.
PRESENT DAY: WFC now consists of two Class A Engines, one Salvage, one Tanker, one Rescue, and one Squad. Photos of all of our current and retired apparatus can be found in the “Apparatus” tab at the top of our home page.