September 19, 2014

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Artist memorializes Wellington Fire Department’s early days

WELLINGTON — A new 13-foot mural on Wellington Town Hall commemorates the odd circumstances revolving around the formation of the Fire Department in 1881.

Nine days after the Fire Department was created, the first fire broke out. But the fire wagon, complete with red leather fire brigade buckets, was unavailable for immediate use.

It was being painted with the mayor’s name, E.G. Fuller, on the second floor of the Doland Carriage Shop. It didn’t have any wheels, and the brakes and tongue had been removed so it could be placed into the elevator.

“Within 20 minutes after the bells started ringing, the firemen had replaced the wheels, tongue and brakes, and the engine was ready for use,” Terry Mazzone wrote in a story on the 100th anniversary of the department.

The new mural has been painted on the north side of Town Hall in the alcove where fire engines used to be kept, said Scott Markel, vice president of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society.

A new home for the Fire Department was built across the alley in 1951, and the department moved into the former International truck garage on Kelley Street in 1971, said Fire Chief Mike Wetherbee.

A fire alarm in the early days was probably pretty thrilling for village youngsters, as the engine was pulled by “a team of spirited black horses,” the fire chief said.

Wetherbee said the department takes pride in the fact it that was the first fire district in the state in 1970.

Former Wellington Solicitor Harrison Comstock, who died last November, lobbied along with other village and township officials before the Ohio General Assembly, which eventually allowed communities to band together to form a joint fire district.

“The guys who have seen it really like it,” Wetherbee said of the mural completed recently by Camden Township artist Ron Stevanus.

Stevanus said he used top-of-the-line paint over two coats of dark primer, so “it should last quite a while.”

He also used his unique self-taught style — which borders on the primitive — to create a mural at the site of the former cheese warehouse owned by G.W. Crosier on North Main Street next to the Spirit of ’76 Museum.

In its peak year of 1875, Wellington shipped more than 6.4 million pounds of cheese and 1.1 million pounds of butter, according to Main Street Wellington.

A mural depicting Archibald Willard’s famous “Spirit of ’76” painting also decorates the American Legion Post on Main Street south of downtown.

Markel said Wellington Council approved the design of the newest mural featuring the Fire Department on Town Hall. The $3,000 cost was covered by contributions from the American Legion, the sons of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Wellington Firefighters Association, the charitable organization formed by firefighters in the Wellington Fire District.

Stevanus said he used an old photo of a firefighter as inspiration for the proud fireman standing in front of the fire wagon. A tan firehouse dog rests at his feet in the mural.

To the rear of the fire wagon is a hose cart that still exists in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., Markel said.

What became of the first fire handled by the fire district on Jan. 30, 1881?

The fire destroyed the A.H. Palmer Building, which housed the S.E. Peters grocery store and Mrs. Palmer’s dressmaking shop, as well as the Bunce Candy Stand and the Wooley Hardware store, according to Mazzone’s account included in the fire district’s history.

The post office was nearly destroyed, and the fire forced equipment to be removed from the Wellington Enterprise newspaper and stock from Wight Jewelers.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.