As is the case with the town we protect, the Leesburg Volunteer Fire Company has had a long and interesting history. The following are just some of the facts and happenings that have been noted with regard to the Fire Company that illustrate the tremendous growth and change that have occurred, yet the Fire Company endures and thrives:
1788 – 1866
1788, Jan. 7th - Virginia law allows fire companies to be incorporated
The First Fire Company in Loudoun County Va.
On Nov. 13, 1803 the citizens of Leesburg formed the first fire company in Loudoun County and only the seventh in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The petition of the citizens was entered into the County Deed Book and made official. It read:
“We the subscribers Residents in the Town of Leesburgh do agree (according to Act of Assembly) to form ourselves into a fire company…”
There were 48 members in the first company. At this time, Leesburg only had about 500 residents and was not yet an incorporated town. The United States of America was only 27 years old. Thomas Jefferson was in the 2nd year of his first term and the Louisiana Purchase was being finalized. Notice the use of the old spelling for Leesburg.
A Relief Fire Company
On July 29th, 1809 a Relief Fire Company was incorporated with 83 members. This Relief Company was the second Fire Company formed in Leesburg and would have provided extra men to assist the first fire company at large fires.
1813 – The Town of Leesburg becomes incorporated.
The Leesburg Fire Company
The fire company of the town of Leesburg (not the Relief Company) reorganized and became the Leesburg Fire Company on January 30th, 1819 with 79 members. The original document reads:
”enroll ourselves as members a Fire Company under the name of the Leesburg Fire Company and pledge ourselves to by governed by the constitution and bye laws of the old Leesburg Fire Company”
Town Law for Firefighting
1819, Feb. 6th – The Town of Leesburg enacted the following ordinance:
“An Act for the Better Government of the Citizens on Occasions of Fire and Other purposes”
Section 1 - All persons owning homes with in the town were ordered to:
Section 2 - The buckets needed to be procured by by the 1st of May, 1819
The Leesburg Friendship Fire Company
The Leesburg Fire Company became the Leesburg Friendship Fire Company on June 11th, 1821. There 43 members in the initial company. The Relief Company continued to be in service.
“A Law for the Safe Keeping of Ladders and Fire Hooks in the Town of Leesburg”
The Town of Leesburg enacted this ordinance on April 10th, 1822 which basically said that anyone who takes a ladder or a fire hook from the storage area except in the case of fire or the alarm of fire, shall pay a fine of one dollar.
Leesburg Law for the Use of Public Water November 28th, 1823 - The Town of Leesburg enacts the following ordinance:
“A Law Concerning Pumps and Hydrants”
Section 1 - It shall be unlawful for any person:
It is interesting to note that in Section 1 it states “except in case of fire or for the purpose of exercising the fire engines”. At the time this law was enacted, the fire companies of Leesburg operated at least 2 hand drawn, hand pumped fire engines. This is the earliest reference found that indicated the fire company used fire engines instead of relying solely on bucket brigades. Little else is known about the actual apparatus used in town during this time.
Friendship Fire Company Name Change
The Friendship Fire Company was reorganized on Jan. 7th 1826, and a list of the 56 members of the “Leesburg Friendship Fire Company” was recorded in the county deed book. The following year on Oct. 20th, 1827 the company changed its name to the “Friendship Fire Company of Leesburg”. 49 Members are recorded in the county deed book
The First Fire Station in Loudoun County
Building of the first fire station in Loudoun County was authorized on April 30th, 1830 when the County Supervisors gave permission to
“the Fire Companies of the Town of Leesburg to make a shed on the south side of the Market House for the protection of the ladders and fire hooks belonging to said companies…”
The Market House was located on the west side of the court house green facing King St. It was used for various functions for the citizens of Leesburg. According to this order, the “fire shed” would have been along King St. probably across from where Lightfoot is today.
Meetings in the Courthouse
Two years later on November 16th, 1832, the County of Loudoun again gave assistance to the Fire Companies with the following order:
“that the two fire companies of the Town of Leesburg have liberty hereafter to hold their annual meetings in the courthouse”
(Note that again there is reference to more than one Fire Company in Leesburg)
Town Law for Selling Firecrackers
1836, December 23rd - The Town of Leesburg enacts the following ordinance:
“An Act to Prevent the Sale of Fire Crackers in the Town of Leesburg”
This law prevents the sale of fire crackers to “boys and other thoughtless persons” to reduce the “exposure to the great danger of fire”. It also deems them a nuisance and prescribes penalties for violations.
The Union Fire Company
The Friendship Fire Company was reorganized on February 11th, 1851, and the Union Fire Company fire company was created.
From Union to United
As the Civil War drew closer and the Town began to align with the Confederacy, the Union Fire Company became known as the United Fire Company. The first mention of the United was a few weeks later in the council minutes.
September 5th, 1859 - The first mention of the United Fire Company was found in this request by the town council “Ordered that the “Water Works Committee be authorized to have a Tub made of sufficient dimensions for the use of the United Fire Company to be used in the absence of a cistern. Said Tub to be placed upon wheels”. It is possible that this is a request for a new “Hand Tub” fire engine or simply a large tub on wheels to transport water from a distant cistern to the fire engine. This may have moved more water faster than a bucket brigade and over longer distances.
An Engine and Hose Cart
The following entry in the Council Minutes in February 1860, is the first indication that the fire companies had a hose cart as well as engines. It also shows that we have had both the engine and cart long enough to become in need of repair.
“On Motion from G R Head was authorized to put in complete repair the United Engine and Hose”
The Virginia Fire Company
March 16th, 1861 the fire companies were again reorganized and the “Virginia Fire Company“ was recorded in the County Deed Books.
“Virginia Fire Company organized in the Town of Leesburg Virginia. Members who do not belong to Volunteer Companies (13 members) and Members who belong to Volunteer Companies (9 members)”
There were two fire companies within the Virginia Fire Company. The United Fire Company was considered to be a “paid” company because its members were compensated yearly by the town. The Relief Fire Company was not paid but instead made up of volunteers. The United Fire Company had responsibility for all of the firefighting equipment and apparatus and the Relief Company only supplied additional man power.
The Civil War Years
During the Civil War George Fox, the County Secretary, took all of the county records, court orders and deed books to a safe location well away from Leesburg. Fire company information during this time is very hard to come by. The last fire company entry in the Leesburg town council minutes was April, 22nd, 1861. The first fire company entry after the Civil War was on April 1st, 1865.
Look for more historical information regarding the development of fire fighting services in the Town of Leesburg in the coming weeks and months. Thanks to Capt. Jim Fazekas and Master Firefighter Rick Etter for all the work they've done to uncover the roots of our organization.
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