Springfield Township, Delaware County, PA

1920 – 1940

The First 20 Years

In 1920 Springfield Township was mostly all farms, the smallest property was one acre, but that was rare – for 75 to 120 acres were generally the size.

It was on March 2, 1920 that a dozen men met at the home of D. Britton Chambers, of Rolling (now numbered 19 S. Rolling Road), and passed a resolution “that the gentlemen present proceed with the formation of a volunteer fire company to be known as the Springfield Fire Company, and that immediate steps be taken to obtain a charter.”

On June 10, 1920, the Springfield Fire Company was chartered in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. D. Britton Chambers was named President and Joseph W. Sloan was the first Fire Chief. Dr. George Speirs was Vice President; R.D.; Sheetz was Treasurer; Edmund Thompson was Secretary; and Harry Mumford was the Assistant Secretary.

H.J. Makiver was named solicitor of the new organization, and the directors elected included: Mr. Chambers, C.B. Bolles, Edward A. Wintermute and Clarence H. Campbell, four-year terms; Joseph W. Sloan, R.D. Sheetz, M.S. Pancoast and Charles Donovan, three-year terms; William A. Allison, Frank C. Birch, William P. Bender and Peter Hackett, two-year terms; and Albert Evans, George Speirs, Francis T. Reinhart and A.E. Schmitt, one-year terms.

The first fire alarm system in the township, when firefighting was done with leather buckets, consisted of three steel locomotive rims which were rung by hitting them with a ten pound sledge hammer. One was located at Springfield and Rolling Roads, the second near the present Saxer Avenue trolley station, and the third was on Baltimore Pike near Swarthmore. The one at Springfield and Rolling Roads was later moved to the 300 block of Orchard Road.

In the early days of the Township, firemen often included chimney cleaning in the their work of protecting homes, for wood fires produced an accumulation of sap which clung to the flues and caused a fire hazard. Donations for this service were added to the treasury which the volunteers were struggling to swell. The financing of the new firefighting organization in Springfield tells a novel story of how the early volunteers used every method available to raise money for their fire company. From the first fair at “The Commons” (Windsor Circle) on September 9, 10, and 11, 1920, to turkey raffles, tag days, chancing automobiles, dances, minstrel and vaudeville shows, sauerkraut suppers, right through the “Queen Pageant” in 1927, the members labored to raise money so their fire company could build a firehouse that would allow them to maintain and expand its service to the community.

Joseph W. Sloan served as the first Fire Chief for three years. Before the first firehouse (a one story building with a gabled roof) was built in late 1920, the original Dodge fire engine was housed in the garages of Dr. George Speirs (now identified as 400 Saxer Avenue) and Mr. Teddy Gilday (now identified as Prince’s Automotive at N. State Road & N. Rolling Road). The original firehouse, which had cost approximately $2,500, was built on the property purchased by the volunteers, on Saxer Avenue near Powell Road.

M.S. Pancoast became the second President in 1921, the year the flagpole was erected at a cost of $10.00 near the newly constructed firehouse. A few months later the members approved the purchase of badges for the volunteers at a cost of seventy-five cents each. This was the year the Women’s Club of Springfield was granted permission to meet in the firehouse, and a guidon was presented to the Springfield Fire Company by the Assistant Chief of the Llanerch Fire Company, for the largest attendance at their annual fair.

Sixteen volunteers answered the call at the old Johnston Quarry, on Saxer Avenue, in August, 1921, when an unknown cause destroyed a powder shed there. The following year, Harry Mumford was named as Fire Chief, replacing Joseph Sloan who resigned in April 1922. A new alarm system, consisting of an electric siren mounted on a steel tower near the firehouse, was put in service in September, 1922. Old records show that the firehouse was painted and double thick glass installed in the doors in 1922, all for the sum of $50.00. The Springfield Farms Improvement Civic Association was granted permission that year to hold their monthly meetings in the firehouse. In September of that year, the fire company purchased a Ford car for $499.30 to be chanced at its annual fair.

In 1922, the school teachers at the original Central School were given a key to the firehouse in order that they could use the telephone in an emergency, since there was no phone in the school. The school children of the old school house enjoyed movies in the new firehouse, at the request of the School Board.

Acting in the capacity as the first civic group, the fire company is on record as registering complaints in the early days to the “shortline” authorities about their cutting down of trolley service on Baltimore Pike. The poor condition of Burmont Road was called to the attention of the Upper Darby Commissioners and the Garrettford Fire Company, as being a “source of danger in case of fire”, by the members of the Springfield Fire Company.

At a meeting in April, 1923, Mr. Chambers spoke at length on fire hazards as a result of lightening in connection with the establishment of radio aerials. That month fires were reported at Miss O’Hara’s sanitarium on Woodland Avenue (now the location of the E.T.Richardson Middle School), a fire at Bennett’s tenant house (now identified as 142 North Rolling Road). The Swarthmore Paper Mill donated $50.00 to the fire company for its assistance in fighting a fire there.

In October, 1923, the Springfield Citizen’s Association received permission to use the firehouse as a polling place at election time. It was in that same year that Charles Cope was named the third President of the company, with Harry Mumford still the Fire Chief.

Springfield became a first class township on June 13, 1924. Springfield was a five-ward township, with a population of 4,000. The commissioners included M. Pancoast, Harry Marshall, Dr. George Speirs and A. Akerman. John Calder was elected part-time secretary and paid $600 a year. Commissioners were paid $100 a year. William A. Allison was elected first township treasurer. Total receipts from all sources were $60,901.87. All of these men were members of the Springfield Fire Company. In that year the first Captain of Police was Peter J. Kreinbihl, assisted by two patrolmen (Harvey Williamson was one). William Morgan was the Justice of the Peace.

On behalf of the newly formed township Board of Commissioners, Dr. Speirs made application to the fire company on January 23, 1924, for use of the firehouse for meetings, which was granted at a rental cost to the township of $200 annually. That same year the original Central School was closed and the new school was opened on Saxer Avenue near Powell Road (present site of the Volunteer’s Memorial Field). A month later the fire company met with Commissioners to discuss fireplugs in the township, and police protection. That same month, in a change from the usual, the fire company entertainment committee raffled a breakfast room suite and 50 pounds of coffee at the Valentine’s Dance on February 16.

The fire house was filled to capacity with the arrival of the newly purchased Seagrave 750-gallon pumper in 1924, at a cost of $12,000. At a meeting shortly after the arrival, it was Roland Carter who made the motion to plan for a new and larger fire house.

Sadness darkened the group’s activities when D. Britton Chambers, the first president, passed away in the spring of 1924. A bronze memorial plaque was unveiled in the fire house on February 11, 1925. This plaque was salvaged during the demolition of the old fire house in 1981, and mounted in the main entrance of the new firehouse, where it remains today.

By 1926, the fire company members floated a bond issue to raise $40,000 for the construction of a new fire house, with George Butler acting as the solicitor for the bonds. E.S. Hann was named chairman of the building committee. The new fire house, which was completed in 1927, included a hall and a stage for conducting minstrel shows. The fire company rented office space in the new station, to house the Township administrative offices. A new fire siren was installed on top of the hose tower on the new building. The Springfield Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary later donated an air horn system that was used as a secondary alarm. The Ladies Auxiliary later disbanded. The air horns were used until the fire house was demolished in 1981.

Joint Fourth of July celebrations with the American Legion were started in 1926, the year that the Legion was granted permission to hold meetings in the firehouse. M.S. Pancoast was serving his second term as president in that year, and a special purchase by the group included 20 blue caps and shirts for the crew.

The old school grounds across Powell Road were used that year for the annual fair, and in May of 1926, the Springfield Fire Company first joined the Pennsylvania State Firemen’s Association. George Miksit is credited with having installed a coal stove in the firehouse at that time.

When the police department was organized in the 1920’s, they occupied space on the first floor of the fire house, on the Powell Road side of the building. Cells for the police department were built in the basement of the fire house. Prior to this, certain volunteer firemen were called to handle duties as the first sworn Township Police Officers. During the 1940’s these members became the Fire Police Officers.

The Springfield volunteers were treated to dinner on February 22, 1930. It was a George Washington Birthday Banquet given by the citizens of Springfield Township. The program book stated, “Dinner & Entertainment is tendered by the citizens, recognizing that the volunteers service is a material benefit to the community, and rendered personal sacrifice and danger without expectation of personal gain.”

A Seagrave hose and ladder truck (known as a city service truck) was purchased in 1931. In 1934, after several years of financial difficulty, the fire company sold the fire house to the township. This was part of a financial agreement between the township and the fire company, whereby the township would purchase the fire apparatus that was specified by the fire company, and provide an annual operating budget to maintain the operation of the fire company. In 1937, a Dodge 500 GPM Buffalo Pumper was purchased, and in 1939, a Pirsch 750 GPM Pumper was delivered. The latter was built by the Peter Pirsch Company in Kenosha, Wisconsin.