Memories haunt razed fire hall in Kittanning
KITTANNING — For a century and a half, the tall red brick building along the 200 block of South Jefferson Street had been a hub of activity – first as a church and later as a social focal point housing Hose Co. 1 fire department.
Now all that remains is a gap in the street and a diminishing pile of bricks being hauled away to make space for a tire service parking lot.
Yet it is likely that memories of the building will live on in the community long after the space is cleared of rubble for AAAA Tire.
Sean Westlake, owner of the tire service, bought the condemned building from the borough in March for $1,000.
A portion of the building appeared in the 2002 movie “The Mothman Prophesies” which had been partially filmed in the borough, Westlake said.
Days before its demolition in May, Westlake picked through the fallen plaster and debris which littered the floor. He held up a 19th Century gas light fixture which had been found in the rafters.
The corroded stamped tin ceiling above his head and the remains of a wooden staircase were just some of the last visible reminders from the building's former glory days.
“This building is packed full of history,” Westlake said.
In addition to the light fixture, Westlake said he found empty bottles from Elk Brewing Co. which had been located along Oak Avenue.
An old suitcase containing a jump pack and instructions also was discovered in the dilapidated structure.
The three-story building was originally a Presbyterian Church under the leadership of the Rev. Joseph Painter and was erected around the mid-1850s.
Pete Harmon, a borough police officer and local historian, said a fire damaged the church building near the turn of the 20th Century.
Rather than reinvesting in the structure, the congregation instead decided to sell it to the borough in 1900.
According to information provided by Harmon, the fire hall was dedicated on Oct. 8, 1900 – a little over a decade after the company formed in 1889. And it became much more than a fire station, it was also a social hub for the entire community, Harmon said.
A 1914 edition of an Armstrong County History notes: “The interior (of the hose house) is handsomely decorated and contains a dance hall, parlors, engine hall and pool tables on the ground floor.”
Harmon said that local artist and Co. 1 firefighter Bill George, had painted murals on the walls of the second floor depicting people dancing.
Esther Choncek, whose grandfather was one of the first firefighters to serve at Hose Co. 1, recalled attending dances at the fire hall while she was a junior at Kittanning High School.
“I remember being so nervous,” said Choncek.
“And I remember walking up those wonderful wooden stairs.”
She also recalled the French dance instructor Francois Lefevre who taught classes at the fire hall.
“One of my friends still remembers how great some of those Ford City boys were at dancing,” she said.
Hose Co. 1 was the first fire department in the borough and was established on the lower end of town, said company President Paul Holzwarth.
The current fire station at 208 S. Jefferson St., is right next to where the original building stood.
He said Hose Cos. 4 and 6 were founded later and were located on the upper end of town across the railroad tracks, which is now part of the Armstrong County Rails to Trails corridor.
Holzwarth recalled that when he joined the department in 1960, a local man named Casey Hurst lived on the third floor of the building.
The fire company let Hurst stay there as a sort of caretaker until his death in the early 1970s, said Holzwarth.
“They (the firefighters) watched out for him and he watched out for the fire house,” he said.
And although some residents think Hurst was a character known as Casey the Clown, that is not the case, said Holzwarth.
At one time while Hurst was still living, the fire company organized a street fair, said Holzwarth.
Some of the guys came up with a gimmick to help promote the event, painting signs with a figure called Casey the Clown – which ended up making Hurst pretty mad.
Holzwarth said the firefighters drove around town with a Casey the Clown sign on the back of a fire truck and blared music from a phonograph to advertise the street fair.
Those painted signs, which were housed in the recently razed building, now hang in the current Hose Co. 1 fire hall next to the empty lot.
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Armstrong Junior-Senior High School to receive National Day of Prayer blessing
- Armstrong County Health Center celebrates decades of care
- Kittanning councilman’s property removed from sheriff sale list
- Feds to Ford City: 60 days to repay $581,000 grant default
- Burglary suspect arrested in Kittanning
- Life skills students enjoy prom festivities in Manor
- Spices make the difference for thriving Armstrong County chip company
- High school vandalism captured on video in Ford City
- Armstrong candidates tackle issues during forum
- West Shamokin students get lesson about driving under the influence
- Ford City family’s war collection being featured at Pittsburgh museum