Editor’s Note: Sunday, March 24, was the 130th anniversary of the signing of the articles of incorporation for the city of River Falls. The following are excerpts from a series of articles written in 1985 by Tim Ericson, formerly of UWRF, and now (1985) with the Wisconsin Historical Society, detailing the early history of River Falls. “With the establishment of the River Falls Fire Department in early June, 1885, the council adopted the first in a series of tremendously important long range improvements. Ordinance Number 21 not only gave formal organization to community firefighting efforts, but gave to the department enormous power in the prosecution of its duty. A fire warden was permitted to “enter any building or premises within the City between the hours of sunrise and sunset” for the purpose of looking for potential fire hazards. The council further ordered that the warden’s instructions ‘shall be obeyed and complied with by the persons directed … at their own expense.’ In the event of an actual blaze the department’s power was even more absolute. The ordinance dictated that it was the ‘duty of every citizen present at any fire … to obey the orders of any person duly authorized to make such order for the purpose of extinguishing such fire.’ Persons in charge of church or school bells were required to ‘cause the same to be rung continuously at each fire alarm for 20 minutes unless the fire shall be sooner extinguished.’ Finally the chief engineer could, with the consent of any two council members, actually order the destruction of any building if, in their opinion, it was ‘necessary for the purpose of checking the progress of the fire.’ Within weeks the fire department was formed, electing as its first officers W.S. Armstrong, Foreman; W.H. Nichols, First Assistant; W.H. Tozer, Second Assistant; G.E. Bishop, Secretary; and Otto Anderson, Treasurer. The Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company Number one did not have long to wait for its first trial by fire as a blaze at the depot warehouse was discovered five days after the first organization meeting. It was minor, but ‘fire marshals Armstrong and Tozer immediately began an investigation which led to the arrest of Chas Hoffman upon the charge of arson.’ One of the benefits of adopting the ‘Fire Limits Ordinance’ was to break a destructive cycle of constructing wooden buildings in the downtown district. Many could remember an evening in April 1878 when a fire in the rear of Cameron’s Bakery spread to adjoining buildings and destroyed an entire block of the village before it was finally extinguished. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of such disasters, many businessmen were forced to rebuild with severely limited funds, and the last expensive material for the purpose was lumber. Therefore, most simply built new wooden stores over the blackened ruins of their former place of business and hoped that fate would spare them a similar misfortune. With the adoption of Ordinance Number 27, the council ordained that any new downtown construction be of brick or stone and promised stiff fines for those who were reluctant to comply. The ordinance did not apply to existing buildings, they would either fall victim to fire or be torn down before the measure could be enforced, and buildings were seldom torn down. In time Main Street would be completely altered, from a long row of wooden shops to more substantial and safer brick or stone buildings.”     --Pat Hunter, archivist phunter@rivertowns.net

Editor’s Note: Sunday, March 24, was the 130th anniversary of the signing of the articles of incorporation for the city of River Falls.The following are excerpts from a series of articles written in 1985 by Tim Ericson, formerly of UWRF, and now (1985) with the Wisconsin Historical Society, detailing the early history of River Falls.“With the establishment of the River Falls Fire Department in early June, 1885, the council adopted the first in a series of tremendously important long range improvements.Ordinance Number 21 not only gave formal organization to community firefighting efforts, but gave to the department enormous power in the prosecution of its duty.A fire warden was permitted to “enter any building or premises within the City between the hours of sunrise and sunset” for the purpose of looking for potential fire hazards.The council further ordered that the warden’s instructions ‘shall be obeyed and complied with by the persons directed … at their own expense.’In the event of an actual blaze the department’s power was even more absolute. The ordinance dictated that it was the ‘duty of every citizen present at any fire … to obey the orders of any person duly authorized to make such order for the purpose of extinguishing such fire.’Persons in charge of church or school bells were required to ‘cause the same to be rung continuously at each fire alarm for 20 minutes unless the fire shall be sooner extinguished.’ Finally the chief engineer could, with the consent of any two council members, actually order the destruction of any building if, in their opinion, it was ‘necessary for the purpose of checking the progress of the fire.’Within weeks the fire department was formed, electing as its first officers W.S. Armstrong, Foreman; W.H. Nichols, First Assistant; W.H. Tozer, Second Assistant; G.E. Bishop, Secretary; and Otto Anderson, Treasurer.The Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company Number one did not have long to wait for its first trial by fire as a blaze at the depot warehouse was discovered five days after the first organization meeting. It was minor, but ‘fire marshals Armstrong and Tozer immediately began an investigation which led to the arrest of Chas Hoffman upon the charge of arson.’One of the benefits of adopting the ‘Fire Limits Ordinance’ was to break a destructive cycle of constructing wooden buildings in the downtown district.Many could remember an evening in April 1878 when a fire in the rear of Cameron’s Bakery spread to adjoining buildings and destroyed an entire block of the village before it was finally extinguished.Unfortunately, in the aftermath of such disasters, many businessmen were forced to rebuild with severely limited funds, and the last expensive material for the purpose was lumber.Therefore, most simply built new wooden stores over the blackened ruins of their former place of business and hoped that fate would spare them a similar misfortune.With the adoption of Ordinance Number 27, the council ordained that any new downtown construction be of brick or stone and promised stiff fines for those who were reluctant to comply.The ordinance did not apply to existing buildings, they would either fall victim to fire or be torn down before the measure could be enforced, and buildings were seldom torn down.In time Main Street would be completely altered, from a long row of wooden shops to more substantial and safer brick or stone buildings.”  --Pat Hunter, archivistphunter@rivertowns.net

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for taking part in our commenting section. We want this platform to be a safe and inclusive community where you can freely share ideas and opinions. Comments that are racist, hateful, sexist or attack others won’t be allowed. Just keep it clean. Do these things or you could be banned:

• Don’t name-call and attack other commenters. If you’d be in hot water for saying it in public, then don’t say it here.

• Don’t spam us.

• Don’t attack our journalists.

Let’s make this a platform that is educational, enjoyable and insightful.

Email questions to darkin@orourkemediagroup.com.

Share your opinion

Avatar

Join the conversation

Recommended for you