1911 Fifth Annual Convention of the Delaware County Firemen’s Association and parade

If the weather on Memorial Day, 1908, was so wet that many of the plans for gala housing festivities for Wayne’s two first motor driven fire engines had to be abandoned, the weather on Friday and Saturday, June 9 and 10, 1911, more than made up for it.

These were the dates chosen long in advance for the Fifth Annual Convention of the Delaware County Firemen’s Association, to be held in Wayne, with the Radnor Fire Company as hosts. As far in advance as February 24, “The Suburban” announced community plans for “the greatest demonstration of firemen and equipment that has been seen in this county for many years.”

By May 26 plans had developed to such an extent that the paper announced that “the eyes of Eastern Pennsylvania are now on Wayne, for the coming parade promises to eclipse anything heretofore held in this part of the sate, excepting in Philadelphia.” And with the cooperation of other Delaware County fire companies, as well as of many other neighboring companies, this promise was more than fulfilled when both Friday and Saturday dawned clear and bright.

When the first convention of the Delaware County Firemen’s Association was held in 1907, there were but nine companies represented. Four years later membership in the Association had increased to 29 out of a potential 35 throughout Delaware County. The Association was at that time the largest one-county organization not only in Pennsylvania, but in the entire United States. Charles S. Salin, of Ridley Park, was the president.

In charge of local arrangements for the 1911 convention were Charles M. Wilkins, chairman; Martin Mulhall, treasurer; Charles E. Clark, secretary; with George Lentz, Nathan P. Pechin and David Henderson serving on the committee. Eugene C. Bonniwell–now a Philadelphia jurist–was president of the Radnor Fire Company and Fred H. Treat, treasurer, while Charles E. Clark was the Fire Chief.

Early in May a mass meeting, presided over by Mr. Bonniwell, was held in the Saturday Club, to lay tentative plans for the Convention before the community and to enlist interest and support, financial and otherwise. It was estimated at this time that about $2,000 would be needed to made the affair a success.

With the convention lasting two days, it was necessary also to provide for the entertainment of some of the firemen as the guests of the well-known “Main Line Millionaire Fire Company” as Wayne’s group was often called, though the Bryn Mawr Company had originally been so named. Not only was it necessary to plan for the entertainment of the firemen, but also for the members of the Ladies Auxiliaries, who in many cases would accompany them. This responsibility was assumed by the members of the Saturday Club.

Although the parade was not scheduled to take place until Saturday afternoon, the convention opened on Friday night at the Wayne Opera House, with Mr. Salin presiding at the business meeting. Following an invocation by Rev. Joseph F. O’Keefe, rector of St. Katharine’s Church, Mr. Bonniwell gave the welcoming address, followed by the presentation of a handsome floral key to President Salin. The main speaker of the evening was President Judge Isaac Johnson, of the Delaware County Courts.

In his talk on “Civic Duties of a Citizen Fireman”, Judge Johnson compared the work of the volunteer fireman to that of the soldier, since both risk their health and their lives for the preservation of the lives and property of other people. The former even do so, he stated, without any thought of pay or remuneration of any kind. Exercises closed with a prayer by the Rev. H. E. Walhey, of the Wayne Methodist Church.

Both by night and by day Wayne proclaimed its welcome to its visitors by its gala appearance. By night thousands of colored electric lights glowed in the business section and at the arches at the Railroad Station and on the grounds of Dr. Robert P. Elmer’s home opposite the fire house, where a court of honor had been built.

Places of business and residences throughout the town were decorated with flags and bunting for the five-mile march of 1500 firemen and musicians “over the broad, beautifully shaded avenues of Wayne and St. Davids”. The community was “one mass of light and night as well as color by day.”

Members of visiting fire companies began to arrive in Wayne by 9:30 on that bright Saturday morning. They continued to arrive steadily until 2:30 o’clock, when the three special trains chartered from the Pennsylvania Railroad came into Wayne station. All day mounted aides met each company, not only at this station, but at the Wayne-St. Davids station of the Philadelphia & Western. Upon arrival each company was escorted to its place of formation in the parade.

At four o’clock, to the music of many bands, the parade got under way with Captain Leonard Haskett, of the Radnor Township Police Department, riding at its head. With Captain Haskett were six of his own men as well as four members of the State constabulary, from the Wyoming Station at Wilkes Barre. Next in line was President Salin of the Delaware County Firemen’s Association. Immediately behind him rode and marched those visiting firemen who were not in the Delaware County district. First of these were 65 volunteers from the Malvern Fire Company in their gray uniforms, drawing the hose cart of their company and accompanied by their 27 piece band.

Next in line were the firemen from Haverford, with their Fife and Drum Corps of 17 pieces, followed by the Bryn Mawr Company, at whose head marched their handsome Chief, Israel H. Supplee, who had previously taken several prizes in other parades as the “largest and best appearing fireman”.

The Bryn Mawr contingent included 62 men in their blue uniforms, with their handsome steamer and combination truck. Then came the Autocar Company of Ardmore, “few in number, but mighty in action”. Merion Number 1 with their auto truck and hook and ladder also sent 20 men from Ardmore. berwyn Fire Company, 30 strong, with the Morstein Fife and Drum Corps of 15 pieces, was also in line.

Among the most interesting pieces of fire apparatus in this First Division of the parade was the “Darby Ram”, said to be the oldest piece of fire fighting apparatus in existence anywhere. With it was an old hand engine and leather hose of many generations past. In contrast to this was the new $7,000 auto truck of the Montgomery Hose and Steam Fire Engine Company of Norristown, which made its first public appearance at this parade, and which formed the last unit in the First Division, the Second being made up of Delaware County Fire Companies.

(To be Continued)