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April 29, 2003

A short while ago, we were reviewing the interesting history of the Perry fire department. A lot of loose ends were tied up in the process, but I just ran out of time before scanning all the available material. For instance, the Cherokee Strip edition of The Perry Daily Journal, issued on September 14, 1953, contained a wealth of information about the early days of this city, including the fire department. It is interesting reading and it's important enough that it bears repeating, so here's the gift of what I've found. Most of what .follows is gleaned from that edition, published half a century ago. The original author of this information is not known. Parenthetical information has been inserted where it seems to be needed.

Shortly after the opening of the Cherokee Strip on September 16, 1893, the matter of fire prevention was taken up by the Perry City Council. A committee advertised for bids for a chemical engine, hook and ladder wagon, and fire department fixtures. Mayor (John) Brogan called an election to vote on $60,000 for water works bonds. In the early days the water supply was a domestic problem as well as a fire prevention concern. The government had one well dug on the town site in the center of Brogan and Flynn streets. (NOTE: Because the well was there the city reserved portions of all four corners of that intersection to accommodate horse-drawn wagons while water was pumped into barrels or other receptacles. Those corner positions are still reserved on abstracts held by property owners today, I am told. Also note this: Brogan Street originally was named to honor the first mayor of Perry. In recent years the name was changed to Gene Taylor Street to honor a Perry Daily Journal reporter now deceased, who covered city council meetings.)

A spring on east "A" Street furnished drinking water and supplied a laundry resort (?) where one could retire and do the family washing. Wells were dug for residential properties as well as for business houses. Bill Cates, the water man, supplied the business houses from his wagon making the rounds continually all day long.

One of the most destructive fires of the early days burned down four frame buildings on the northeast corner of the square. In an upstairs room of one of the buildings a group of men were having their nightly poker games, and by accidentally upsetting the coal oil lamp, the men set fire to the old frame building. In those days, the bucket brigade did noble service and to this day there is an ordinance of the city requiring two barrels of salt water to be kept in front of each business house for use in case of fire. (NOTE: That ordinance existed in 1953, but surely has been repealed by the codified ordinances now (1996) in existence.) With no fire siren, the warning alarm was given by six-shooters. A .44 gun being, one of the accessories of every business house, saloon and gambling house.

The Perry water and light plant was established by private individuals and operated thus until the city purchased the concern through a bond loan. The fire department soon came to be recognized as one of the most efficient in the State. Henry Beard, later U. S. marshal of the eastern district, was the first fire chief of Perry. The Pabst Brewing Co. presented the city a lone cart, hand-drawn. Then came the water works with a horse-drawn truck; the team of white horses was loaned to the city by C. O. Burch, a livery man.

More about the early days of the Perry fire department will follow this brief sketch.