In its 140 years of service, the Millis Niagara No. 1 Firehouse has saved thousands of lives and withstood two fires and a lightning strike. On Saturday, after two decades of restoration, the rescue of the station itself was revealed and reopened as a historical museum and community hub.
“Ironically, the fire station was not immune to fires itself,” said Historical Commission Chairman Nathan Maltinksky, donning a bright red button-up during the grand reopening ceremony at 6 Exchange St.
Maltinksky spoke to more than three dozen residents in front of the newly-restored, mustard-painted firehouse with maroon siding, and pleated American flag fans draped under every window.
In 1936 and 1953, two fires “ravished” this structure, leaving it in need of repairs, he said. After it was re-purposed to house town offices, it fell out of use again in 1998, and “into disrepair.”
“Though the building is no longer in use and overlooked by many in town, some community members saw the firehouse as a structure worth saving,” said Maltinksky.
By the hands of about 15 Historical Commission members and no general contractor, the rescue of the historic Niagara Hall built in 1879 was competed after 20 years of work. Their effort was recognized in a ceremony attended by local dignitaries, like state Rep. Shawn Dooley, the Millis Fire and Police departments and Greater Boston Firefighters Pipes and Drums.
The firehouse with an American flag swaying above the entrance awning features a miniature museum on the first floor. The original engine room where the fire wagons were stored now showcases historical artifacts, ranging from old fire hats, boots, badges, ropes and photographs taken over a century ago. The second floor, which features two restored historic murals and several Clicquot Club soda artifacts, will be available for town and private functions for a fee to support the Historical Commission.
Former Selectman Jeff Hardin was the mastermind behind the project, devising it in 1999 as “a Millis landmark, worthy of becoming a living-history museum and community event center,” said selectman Chairman Loring Barnes Edmonds. She declared Saturday, May 5 as “Niagara Hall Millis Fire Station #1 Rededication Day,” according to a proclamation to soon be framed inside the firehouse, “an anthology of the history and the stories that this beautiful building tells.”
“Today begins a very exciting, new chapter, and this will become a center of community activity for our town, so we’re absolutely thrilled,” said Edmonds.
The firehouse, originally called “Niagara Fire Engine Company No. 4,” was formed April 28, 1857 in East Medway, purchasing its first engine in August 1857 – a two-cylinder Hunneman handtub fire engine, according to the Historical Commission website.
According to a Medway Town Report from Feb. 1, 1878, the firehouse was constructed by Elijah Partridge for $675, featuring a single entrance and a tower for hanging hoses to dry.
After the Town of Millis was incorporated in 1885, the engine and firehouse were purchased from Medway and renamed “Niagara No. 1.”
Funded by local fundraising and $297,000 worth of Community Preservation Act funds, restoration began in 2010 by first restoring the front of the building, said Maltinksky.
“If you added up the value of (all the volunteers’ time) it would almost match ($297,000),” he added.
“You (would) see (the volunteers) down here every weekend, painting, scraping...for as long as I’ve been coming to Millis,” said Dooley, R-Norfolk, a former firefighter. “It’s amazing, and it’s a testimony to their commitment to this town’s history.”
The firehouse, said Millis Fire Chief Rick Barrett, was a hot spot for firefighters to chill at the end of the day for “some camaraderie, to hang out and talk to their friends.”
“As the stories go, ‘If you need something done, go down to Niagara (Firehouse) and they’ll take care of it,’” said Barrett, “and I’m proud to say we’ve carried that on.”
To honor the 43 firefighters who have died since its beginning, Barrett read aloud their names, the Box 15 bell rung to remember them.
Those interested in donating historical artifacts to the firehouse or renting the hall can email Maltinksky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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