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During a violent afternoon storm on August 7, 1882, lightning struck the wooden steeple of the Presbyterian Church and set it afire. The church then was on the north side of Broad St. between Bedford and Summer. Atlantic Hose Co. quickly laid hose to the belfry but hydrant pressure was not sufficient. The Gulf Stream hand engine was brought up to help with pressure. But pumping as hard as they could, the firemen could not get up enough pressure to make a dent in the high flames.
A mutual aid call was made to Norwalk who responded with their new steamer engine. Stamford Borough Freeman were so impressed with the Norwalk steam fire engine’s performance, that on September 19, 1882, they resolved to purchase Stamford’s first steam fire engine. The first horse-drawn steam pumper arrived Feb. 3, 1883. It was made by the Button Engine Works of Waterford, New York.
Stamford became a staunch believer in Button fire apparatus, purchasing two or three hand pumpers, its first hook and ladder truck, its first steam fire engine and possibly some smaller units from Button, followed by several units from American Fire Engine Co. and American LaFrance, successors to Button.
Button started in Waterford, N.Y. in 1831 as John F. Rogers & Co., acknowledged as the founding of the great American LaFrance Company. In 1834 it was known as Wm. Platt & Co. The plant was acquired in 1841 by Lysander Button and went through several name changes: Button & Blake (1858), Button Engine Works (1865), L. Button & Son (1868), and Button Fire Engine Co. (1882). In 1892, the company was merged with three other fire equipment makers (Ahrens, Silsby, Clapp & Jones) to form American Fire Engine Company, which later merged with LaFrance.
Stamford’s second steam fire engine, an American LaFrance was purchased ten years later, in December 1892.
Time For Some More Help!
On February 4, 1904, the Stamford Town Hall burned. Then on December 14, 1904, of the same year, the Opera House on Atlantic St. fueled another spectacular fire. With two catastrophes back to back, the Borough again faced the reality of inadequate apparatus. So in May, 1905, the city purchased its first chemical unit, a combination chemical and hose wagon that required two horses to move it. Then on October 3, 1906 , Stamford’s third steamer engine was purchased under the leadership of Chief Harry Parker. The city purchased Amoskeag Steam Works largest steam fire engine (No. 796) . It was capable of pumping 550 gallons per minute. It also weighed a whopping 6000 lbs. fully loaded and required three horses to draw it. It was built in Manchester, New Hampshire by the Amoskeag Steam Factory. When it arrived in Stamford, it was assigned to No. 2 Station, on the South End. It was also one of Amoskeag’s last steam fire engines ever built. They stopped manufacturing steam fire engines the following year, in 1907.
According to an October 12, 1906 Daily Advocate article, not everyone was enamored with the Amoskeag initially. In fact, City Official’s, who had preferred another type of Engine, probably the Button / American LaFrance, were clearly unimpressed with its maiden demonstration.
The original Button steam engine, going on 24 years old, was put in reserve, to be traded in on a new engine in 1913.
After being removed from service in 1916, the Amoskeag engine was moved to a storage garage behind South End Station where it sat for a long time and began to fall into some state of disrepair.
The Amoskeag Was Saved By A Private Investor
But the Amsokeavg Steamer was destined to become Stamford’s best known steamer engine, preserved and displayed in public functions for decades later, thanks to John Rubino of Rubino Brothers on Canal Street. John Rubino purchased Stamford’s Amoskeag Steamer from the City in December 1951 for $325.00. It was moved to the old Civil Defense Firehouse on Lockwood Ave. where it was cleaned up, repainted and used in parades within the City for over a decade, all while under the private ownership of Rubino Brothers.
In it’s later years, it was stored at the Sound Beach fire house in Old Greenwich for a period of time.
Between October 7, 1958 and October 28, 1956 the Stamford Museum (and Nature Center) held an exhibition called “100 Years of Firefighting”. The exhibition had features both indoors and outside under a large tent. There were fourteen private collectors, the Museum of the City of New York, eighteen volunteer companies and the Stamford Fire Department contributed objects, memorabilia and/or engines to the exhibit. There were 8 engines under the tent, one was considered to be the oldest in the US! Also under the tent, we suspect was the old Amoskeag Steamer Engine.
The Stamford Amoskeag Lives On
The Rubino’s held on to it until John’s passing in 1968 at which time it appears it was sold yet again to Clarks Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Clarks Trading Post made the long trip down to Stamford to purchase the steamer, sight unseen. According to Clark family memories of the trip, they thought they were buying a fully professionally restored and operational steamer engine. But on arrival in Stamford, they discovered that John Rubino and Firefighters, on a limited budget had restored it themselves, painting over the bright nickel steam vessel with silver paint. They had also painted bright red over the original striping. And it was not in operating condition. Although not what they expected, the Clark family purchased it anyway and brought it back to New Hampshire where it is on display for all to see today, exactly as it was back in the 1950’s.
Without a doubt, we owe a great deal of gratitude to the Rubino Brothers and Clarks Trading Post for saving this historic piece of apparatus. Without either, this piece of Stamford Firefighting History would have been lost to time.
Special thanks to Dan Burke, son of former SFD Captain Dan Burke
at the Stamford Historical Society for the newspaper clipping below.