ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


       Also part of History of Watertown Fire Dept


Phoenix Fire Company

Organized 1876


Phoenix Fire Co, No. 2, 127 N Water St






Ever since the Phoenix Fire Company was organized in 1876 and they moved into the new firehouse on the west side, we knew those dumb Irishmen thought they were a better fire company than we, the Pioneer Company, the original Watertown fire company was. 


The Phoenix guys were always bragging about how their pumper, a Silsby machine using a rotary pump, could get up steam and throw water before our piston-pump Ahrens.  They always made of point of letting the people know that the first one at the scene of a fire was the Phoenix Company (many times they were not, but they said nothing about that), and we, the Pioneer Company, being composed of fine, modest men, never bragged about our expertise.


Charles Kerr, charter member, fire engine driver.




Proper tribute to the Centennial Fourth of July.  The two fire companies with their beautiful steamers, surmounted with brilliant floral decorations, made a splendid display, and were greatly admired.  The Phoenix boys with their Silsby machine came out in their new and beautiful uniforms for the first time, showing a fine appearance by the side of their gaily dressed comrades of the Pioneer Company.      WR



Proceedings of a regular meeting of the Board of Street Commissioners, held August 21, 1876 . . . Motion by Com. Woodard; That the City Treasurer is hereby requested to loan to the city general fund from the school fund, until January 1, next, the sum of $310 for the purpose of purchasing a site for an engine house on the west side of Rock river, and paying freight for the Silsby fire engine.  Motion carried.   WD





The tower in course of erection for the Silsby engine house in the Fourth Ward [1] looms up and will soon be finished.      WRep, 12 12 1877

[1] The Phoenix fire house on North Water.  Same as Engine House No. 2




The Committee on Public Buildings verbally reported that the tower to Engine House No. 2 was built and finished in a good and workman-like manner (excepting the cistern which could not be completed on account of superfluous water) and recommended that the tower may now be allowed to be used by the Fire Department.  Recommendation adopted.  Whereupon Alderman Flinn moved that the Clerk issue orders in the amount specified in the contract ($480) in favor of Squyres the contractor, excepting and retaining therefrom the sum of 15.00 until the cistern shall have been completed to the satisfaction of this Board.  Motion adopted.



The opening and reception by the members of the Phoenix Fire Company last Saturday evening was a pleasant affair and called together a large number of our citizens to inspect the building and rooms of the Phoenix boys.


The building, from top to bottom, had been swept and garnished and placed in the most home-like and neat condition showing extra good taste in its arrangement.  Of course, the Silsby, under the magic hand of Charlie Straw was as bright as a dollar with everything pertaining to her ready for service when required


The Company’s meeting room was a surprise to everyone; its fine tasty appearance, its floor nicely carpeted and the walls decorated with handsome pictures, principally representing scenes in the life of an American Fireman not forgetting, however, the excellent crayon of Chief Marshal Schulte from the pencil of J. B. Murphy, and a present to the company from Straw & Murphy.  The Phoenix mastiff was on hand and enjoyed the thing equally with the other members.


We were glad to see the boys had the nucleus for a library on their table and we hope they will be able to increase the number of their books until their collection becomes quite large.  Those having volumes to spare could make good use of them by presenting them to the Phoenix library.


The Phoenix boys were unremitting in their attention to their guests throughout the evening and proved themselves to be gentlemen as well as prompt, efficient and gallant firemen when duty calls.




      Engine room in apple pie order


A most interesting and pleasant feature connected with the observance of the Fourth here was the splendid reception the boys of the Phoenix Fire Company extended to their friends during the day.


In the undertaking of course the boys had the cooperation and assistance of their lady friends, and to the presence and good offices of the fair ones no doubt can be attributed no little share of the success that attended it. 


The Silsby engine, always beautiful, this time shown with additional luster and splendor, and was tastefully decorated with handsome floral trimmings.  Everything in the engine room was in apple pie order indicating the services of good housekeepers about the premises. 


But upstairs in the meeting room the climax was capped and the zenith of one’s idea of perfection reached, for here was the eye captivated with furniture, pictures, fixtures and adornments fitted for a parlor, while the sumptuously spread board of dainty edibles, with a profuse accompaniment of lemonade, was truly a sight for the beholder and sufficient to arouse within every breast a most inspiring feeling of patriotic ardor.


The Phoenix boys and their helpmates were adequate to the occasion and spared no pains to make it pleasant for all their callers whom It may well be judged were not few nor far between.  This affair was certainly a very happy event of the day and those who were fortunate enough to attend the Phoenix boys reception on the Fourth of July, 1879, will have reason to long remember it.      The Watertown Republican, 09 Jul 1879





Name of Wm. Schulte, second Fire Chief, noted on the Silsby steamer


1887       PORTAGE FIRE CO


But even with the intense rivalry between us, we never allowed that to interfere with our work and when the State Firemen’s Tournament took place in Watertown, we cooperated wonderfully, functioning, usually, as one team.  In fact, all the fire companies participating got along beautifully; all except those backwoods rubes from Portage. 


They were especially obnoxious during that tournament in 1887.  Their newspaper, the Portage Daily Register was made available to us and we laughed among ourselves when we read the excuses the Portage paper offered for their “fire laddies” not doing better in the contests, especially one of the first contests in which Portage came in fourth.  Although other contestants protested vigorously about the officiating, protested almost to the point of fisticuffs, the “Silsby boys” (as the Portage paper referred to their fire company), the Portage laddies, according to the Daily Register, “displayed gentlemanly behavior, as was their nature.”  There was, the newspaper reported, not a more polite, congenial, cooperative group than those Portage boys. 


When a rung on their ladder broke during a hook and ladder contest, and they came in fourth, being bested by Fort Atkinson, they were reported to have been the very essence of good sportsmanship.  They “did not a word of kicking”.  A nicer group could not be found.  But, the Daily Register said, it should be noted that the Portage boys would have done better in all contests had they worn “gauze shirts, canvas shoes and other light-weight clothing as the competition did.”  They were clearly the most deserving of any group in the tournament.  Had trophies been awarded for niceness, gentlemanliness, civility and/or similar traits, clearly, the boys from Portage would have won them all.  It literally made us sick to read about them.




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Built alongside the Rough & Ready dam in 1847 by Heber Smith, Luther Cole and John Richards.  It burned to the ground in 1888.


[article] Everything went along smoothly until about noon the first day when we found ourselves in an embarrassing situation.  At 11:30, in the midst of the contests and festivities, the fire alarm was sounded indicating that the Rough & Ready Mill at the upper dam about two miles from the tournament grounds, was on fire and needed help.  Our Pioneer Company along with the Phoenix Company immediately sprang to the rescue and rushed the Silsby and Ahrens pumpers to the blazing mill, and proceeded to pump water on the blazing wood -- I should say we tried to pump water.  Almost immediately the leather hose on one pumper burst and then the hose on the other pumper burst leaving the Watertown boys standing there helplessly watching the fire consume the mill, and hearing the caustic comments of our fellow-firemen.  The Beaver Dam hook and ladder company, which had responded to the alarm with their equipment, set up their pumper and rendered a great service in saving adjoining property.  It was all highly embarrassing for us.  Those leather hoses were known for their propensity to burst at critical times; why couldn’t they have waited for just one more fire?


And did the boys from Portage gather around the Watertown boys, slap them knowingly on their backs while uttering words of help or at least condolences?  Not on your life!  Instead, those peace-loving, uncomplaining Portage boys, not wanting to cause any trouble, not kicking about anything, loudly offered the observation that, on their arrival at the site of the fire, only the third floor was ablaze and it was because of ill-directed work and poorly maintained equipment that the mill was a total loss.  They let it be known that with their fire chief and their single steamer they could have “discounted the two Watertown squirt-guns and the whole department”.  Rather harsh words, to be sure, but well-meant because they were, as the Portage paper had pointed out, peace-loving, congenial men, not prone to kicking or taking part in any “rumpus”.


When the day was over and we had a chance to reflect on the day’s happenings, we found it difficult to forget the cutting remarks and behavior of the Portage crews.  We tried to put the memories behind us and concentrate on improving our performance based on what we had learned in the course of the various contests, but it rankled to recall that we had essentially been called incompetent, and our pumpers had been called squirt guns, a epithet especially disconcerting since one of their pumpers was a Silsby, almost identical to ours.  It was very disconcerting to recall that they bragged that their single Silsby pumper could have outperformed our two machines had the hoses not burst.


So it was with a great feeling of satisfaction that the firemen as well as a great many citizens of Watertown read in the Watertown Republican a lengthy report of a fire which had destroyed the only flouring mill in Portage.  Every Watertown fireman as well as many, many residents of our city read or had read to them, the paragraph from the Portage Daily Register which said:


Upon arriving on the scene of the fire, the Silsby took water at the platform on the river bank nearby, and was red hot -- prepared to pump the Wisconsin River dry, if need be -- but there was a delay of half an hour before the hose was gotten into position so that the stream of water could be thrown.  For some reason the Silsby boys did not turn out with their usual alacrity, and as there were very few other men present because of the stinging cold, the hose was not handled with customary rapidity and effect.  This company has received severe censure from the local newspaper for not turning out more men.


Although we couldn’t see them, in our mind’s eye we firemen knew the entire population of Watertown was nodding their collective head in agreement with the editor of the Watertown Republican who had entitled the above article:  Chickens Come Home To Roost.”  Written and contributed by Ben Feld.



07 10       D. & H. Kusel secured contract for placing the new roof on the Phoenix engine house.    WG



03 19       John Glaser, a member of the Phoenix Fire Co. for over 20 years, elected Chief, Fire Department   WG



-- --           DISTANT VIEW

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        Fire Dept No. 2 (Phoenix Fire Co. Wagon/Cart)



Well Known Mason and Former President of Bricklayers and Masons Union Succumbs Today.


Felix McLaughlin, well known brick mason and former president of the Bricklayers and Masons Union in Watertown, died this morning following an illness of several months duration in the family home, 301 Montgomery Street.  Death was due to a complication of diseases which resulted in the hardening of the arteries.


Felix McLaughlin was a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. John McLaughlin, and was born in Watertown July 17, 1859.  He was educated in the common schools and when a young man learned the bricklayers trade, which he followed all his life until stricken.  For a portion of the time he was engaged in contract work.  He was a former member of the Bricklayers and Plasterers Union and served as president of that body.


He was also a member of the old Phoenix Hose Cos. for many years and served as chief of the department, and out of respect to his memory the flags on the engine houses were today displayed at half-mast.


He also served as street commissioner, and in all positions filled them acceptably.


He was a man of warm impulses, generous, and possessed of a genial nature which made him many friends who deeply deplore his death.


He was united in wedlock with Lena Quentmeyer of this city, who preceded him in death several years ago, and is survived by one son, R. F. McLaughlin, of this city.  Five brothers and two sisters also survive: Frank, Watertown, John, Charles, Joseph and William, Milwaukee, Mrs. Mary Griswold and Mrs. Lizzie Beaulieu, Chicago.  Two grandchildren also survive.


NOTE:  Felix McLaughlin was Fire Chief from 1894-95 and again in 1897.     Watertown Fire Department, 1857-2007, Watertown, Wisconsin – Ken Riedl




Permanent spot to be chosen soon for city relic.


The city street department has completed the removal of the bell tower from the top of the old West Side engine house which was recently moved turned back to private owners in accordance with an agreement made with the city at the time the property was transferred to the municipality.


George Shephard, Street Commissioner, said today the entire tower was removed at the base since it was set up on top of the building as a separate unit when it was built.


The bell was recently given to the Watertown Historical Society by the city council and will be placed on the grounds of the Octagon House.  The bell weighs 1555 pounds.


The tower and bell have been moved to the Octagon House but a permanent spot for setting it up is still to be selected.          WDTimes


NOTE:  The bell on the grounds of the Octagon is said to be from the old city hall building on N. First Street.







Firehouse Lanes has been sold to Watertown Investment and Redevelopment Company, LLC (David Schroeder, president).  Randy and Gloria Kuckkan, owners of the buildings and business, said they will continue to operate the bar and grill into early 2019 before closing permanently.  However, they said the bowling side of the business will end this summer, shortly after the closing.  The six lanes, pinsetters and other related equipment will be removed and sold and the bowling side of the business will permanently close.


The group has also purchased the former Tom’s Tap at 121 N. Water St.  Tom’s Tap had not operated as a business for several years and in recent years was used as housing only. The long term plan is to raze both buildings and have them prepared for development when the right situation comes by.


The closing of Firehouse will bring an end over a century of bowling at that location, and leaves the city with two bowling establishments, Watertown Bowl 18, 102 W. Cady St., and Watertown Bowl North at 766 N. Church St.  Both businesses are owned by Diane Mallow and family.


Early records indicate Firehouse Lanes originally became a bowling alley over a century ago, in 1916, when it was formed by the Maertzke (Maerzke?) family and it has been in continuous operation since that time.  The Kuckkans have owned the business since December of 1991 and then three years later they purchased the real estate from Bob Krebsbach and Jerry Dusso who had operated the lanes in the past.





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Cross References:




                Letter from Ernst Wood, 1909

                Charles Cech, proprietor of tannery, dealer in leather, shoe-findings, hides, pelts, etc., was a member of Pioneer Fire Company, No. 1.

                Jacob Kopp, member of


                Watertown Fire Department file


Contribution from Garden Guy:


The Phoenix Fire Company was before my time, but I remember the station on Water Street. Used to go there and look through the windows.  It was like a museum.  The horse harnesses were suspended on the ceiling and dropped on the horses when they hooked up on the engines.  They kept the horses down below the station.  I remember one of the drivers, Bill Spear.  Later he had a team of horses for the sprinkling wagon to wash the streets.  We used to go to the corner of Jones and Dewey Avenue where he filled the tank from the fire hydrant.  It always overflowed.  There was a gas engine on the back of the water wagon for pressure to the sprinklers. Sure brings back memories.

Cross Reference:  Drivers of sprinklings taking water from hydrants . . .





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History of Watertown, Wisconsin