By BRIAN FUNK Staff

A special commemorative Edition of the Gazette June 9-11. 2006

Much of Galax's original buildings are gone, lost to fires that ravaged the

downtown in the early 20th Century.

The unfortunate combination of wood frame buildings and flame heat and light led to

frequent blazes. When the owners rebuilt, they went with brick and stone.

The Galax Volunteer Fire Department formed in 1912 to protect the town's property

and citizens, and has played a big part in its history.

Lora Melton of the department's auxiliary has compiled a history of the fire

department after organizing 94 years of photos and memorabilia into a scrapbook
For Galax's Centennial, Melton is working on an exhibit of fire department history

to be displayed at the Galax Public Library during Fire Prevention Month in

October.

Prior to the department's founding in 1912, fires in Galax were extinguished with

bucket brigades, Melton explained. "Citizens responded with buckets and drew water

from public wells and did their best to extinguish the fire."

A double line would form from a water source to the fire, and filled buckets would

be passed up the line to the fire. People would throw water at the fire, then pass

the empty bucket back via the second line to be refilled.

"To alert people of a fire, church bells rang and the factory whistles sounded,"

Melton said.

Edd D. Perkins was nominated as the first fire chief. The department began with 16

volunteers divided into two companies of eight men. Besides buckets, the department

had a couple of two wheeled hose carts with a hand pump and water storage tank.

"The firemen would split into pairs to operate the wellhead to pump water to the

storage tank on the carts. It took a fire company of eight men to pull each pumper,

pump the water and hose a fire," Melton said.

Hand pump wells were located at the Central Hotel and the Waugh Hotel.

The carts were housed on Oldtown and Webster streets. When the fire department

received a call, the men would go to their respective companies and get a hose

cart.

"Each company would race to the scene to see who could arrive first," Melton said.

"One time the two companies collided at the intersection of Main and Oldtown

streets."

The Town of Galax suffered several devastating fires in its early years. Businesses

that were destroyed included the Central Hotel, R.L. Roupe's building, the Ward

Brothers' building, the Red Star Hotel, Galax Furniture & Lumber Company, Harris

Hotel, Dr. D.W. Bolen's Boarding House, Mrs. J.W. Bolen's Millinery Shop and M.L.

Bishop Livery Stables.

This devastation prompted the town to organize a water system, which went into

operation in 1914.

It consisted of a IOO,OOO-galIon reservoir and a pump house on Gilmer Street. Water

was pumped to the holding tank on a daily basis and water lines were laid from the

reservoir along the streets supplying homes and fire hydrants.

The hottest fire on record was on Dec. 15, 1915, when The Galax Furniture & Lumber

Company burned to the ground.

The pump house failed to supply enough water and pressure to bring the fire under

control. The factory was a total loss and was never rebuilt.

In 1923, the fire department reorganized with Ralph Todd becoming the new chief.

The firemen modified a Model T Ford to pull the hose cart.

In 1929, work began on the first firehouse on Center Street and the town built a

300,000- gallon water reservoir. The first meeting in the firehouse was in January

1930.

Lance M. Todd became the second official fire chief "in October 1929 and held the

office until 1940.

Galax bought its first official fire truck in 1931, a Model A Ford pumper that is

referred to today as "Granny" and still makes parade appearances.

The first July 4th carnival was held in 1933, starting an annual tradition. The two

Galax fire companies used to engage in "water battles" during the carnival, later

joined in the contest by Hillsville and Independence fire departments.

In 1936, Galax Grade School was destroyed by fire. Classes were held in the First

Methodist Church until the school was rebuilt.

According to The Gazette in 1937, "Galax has one of the best equipped and most

efficient fire departments of any town its size in the state."

Christmas was a special time for the Galax Fire Department. Members collected

candies, toys and food and gave out treats to children of the community at the

firehouse on Christmas Eve.

A newspaper article from the late 1940s said the firefighters bought 500 pounds of

candy, 3,000 oranges and 15 bushels of apples.

In the early 1940s, the fire department began doing rescue operations. Firefighters

took first aid classes and responded to drownings and wrecks, Melton said.

One of the biggest disasters worked. by the fire department occurred on Jan.

13,1947, when an Eastern Airlines plane crashed in the Providence community in

Grayson County. Eighteen passengers were killed and one survived.

In the fall of 1947, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Galax Volunteer Fire Department

was started. Mrs. Gussie Thomas was the first president.

The auxiliary sold dogwood buttons as a fundraiser for the Virginia State

Firefighter's Relief fund to help firefighters that were hurt in the line of duty.

Dogwood trees were planted at various locations around Galax in memory of deceased

firemen.

The Galax Ladies Auxiliary hosted state auxiliary zone meetings in 1949, 1952 and

1960. Five women from Galax have served as officers for the State Auxiliary.
In 1950, the town switched to a dial phone system, which changed the way the

department was notified for fire calls.

"Prior to this time when a fire call came in, it would come in to the telephone

switchboard operator, who would get the information and sound the alarm," Melton

explained.

"When the firemen arrived at the firehouse, they would call the operator to find

out where the call was."

In 1950, a dispatcher was hired to handle the calls and sound the alarm.
"Before the firemen had radios, they were notified by the town siren and by the

ladies calling the men who lived too far away to hear the siren," Melton said.

In 1951, Vaughan-Bassett Furniture burned and damages were more than $1 million.

"This was one of the worst fires in Galax's history," Melton said.

The fire department's only fatality happened in 1951, when Raymond Fisher fell from

a ladder during a fire call.

In 1952, the first aid and rescue division of the fire department was organized

with its own officers. The department had been performing rescue operations prior

to this, using a 1940s Ford panel truck with a boat rack.

The Ladies Auxiliary bought an ambulance and first aid trailer by raising money' at

various fundraisers.

 

This photo from the early 1920s shows members of the Galax Fire Department in front of the old Bluemont Hotel, most recent­ly the site of Wachovia Bank on Main Street. From left are (front) Walt Anderson, Ralph Todd, Walter Matthews and Clarence Todd; (second row) Tom Trimble, unidentified, Bill Boaz, Garland Anderson, Emmon Todd, Dan Anderson, Badger Witherow, Gabe Lundy, Walter Elliott, Herman Webb, Jim Anderson, Sid Dotson and George Calloway; (back row) Paul Phipps, Lance Todd, Fernoy Worrell and Lester Diamond. On the porch at right are (from left) Jane Giersch, Miss Crosswhite and Ava Sutphin.

 

 

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