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Brawls, bucket brigades showed need for police, fire services

The village of Homewood is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its incorporation this year. This is the third in a series of articles that shed a little light on life and times in the village’s early years. In this article, local historician Jim Wright looks at the founding of the village’s police and fire departments.

Editor’s note: The village of Homewood is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its incorporation this year. This is the third in a series of articles that shed a little light on life and times in the village’s early years.
  The Steiner pumper makes its way along Ridge Road
  during the 1942 July 4 parade. (Photos provided
  by Homewood Historical Society)

After Homewood’s incorporation in 1893, in addition to infrastructure improvements, the village board also addressed the police and fire protection needs of the community. 

  August Oberin, Homewood’s
  first constable.


That year, the board appointed a constable whose duties were to maintain the peace and enforce the laws and ordinances of the village. Except for handling an occasional petty break-in, little police work needed to be done and the constable worked “part time” on an as-needed basis.

August Oberin was the first village constable appointed and most of his time was spent breaking up fights and controlling inebriated revelers at village dances and picnics. 
Balls and dances were regular affairs held at village taverns through much of the year. Young “toughs” from other communities frequently “crashed” dances and picnics in town, which generally ended up in a fight between any number of the “out of towners” and the Homewood “boys.” 
  Walter Gleason was
  Homewood’s first full-time
  police officer and its first
  police chief. 


This problem became so commonplace that anyone sponsoring a large picnic or dance was required to get a permit from the village and pay a fee, part of which was used to hire a “special policeman” to patrol the event. The village board appointed a number of special policemen to assist the constable in controlling these affairs.

The Gottschalk Pavilion and grounds, built by Henry Gottschalk on land he owned —  currently home to the Extreme Scene Skate Park on Harwood Avenue south of 183rd Street — became a notorious venue for this type of hooliganism. 
Usually more than one special policeman was on hand to quell any disturbance. Despite police presence at these affairs, fights took place, but they typically were broken up before they got too far out of hand. 
By 1902, village fathers recognized the need for a full-time police officer and Walter Gleason was hired for the job. Within a few years, Gleason was appointed to the post of police chief, a position he held until his retirement in 1951. 
  Homewood’s first fire 
  marshall, and later its 
  first Fire Department chief, 
  wasblacksmith Willam


In addition to police protection, the village board concerned itself early on with preventing and controlling fire in the community. One of the first ordinances the board passed was “An Ordinance Regarding Nuisances and the Prevention of Fire” and outlined a number of steps residents should follow for fire safety. 

In July 1893, the board solicited volunteers in an attempt to organize a fire department. 
There was little interest amongst townspeople in this proposal, as they appeared to feel the old method of fighting fires was fine enough. 
In about 1880, August Steiner, a Homewood blacksmith and mill owner, built a hand drawn fire pumper for protection of his property. The pumper was also used throughout the village. 
  The Steiner pumper as 
  appears today. The 
  pump and other parts
  from the original still 
  remain, although the 
  machine has been 
  restored twice and some 
  parts have been replaced.


This “engine” was housed in a small building near the intersection of what is now Ridge Road and Harwood Avenue. When a cry of fire was heard, all able-bodied men, women and children turned out to operate the engine and form a bucket brigade to supply water to it. 

Although the attempt to bring more structure to the firefighting efforts of the citizenry failed, the village board did appoint blacksmith William Buggert to the post of fire marshal. 
He was charged with the responsibility of directing the firefighting activities and, most importantly, was required to see to it that the Steiner hand pumper was maintained in good order and in a constant state of readiness. 
In early 1896, a large fire consumed Homewood’s first business buildings located at the southeast corner of Ridge and Harwood, then occupied by a hardware store and a tavern owned by George Mertens. 
This disastrous fire served as the catalyst to renew efforts to organize a fire department. 
On Jan. 6, 1896, an ordinance was passed establishing a fire department and, in a town meeting held on Jan. 18, 26 men volunteered to serve on the department.
William Buggert continued to serve as fire marshal and by 1897 funds were appropriated to build a new fire barn to house the department’s apparatus. This building was built on the village lot behind the village hall, which had been erected three years earlier.
As the 1890s drew to a close, Homewood residents could reflect with pride on the progress made in their community during the decade. Substantial improvements took place in the decade, which served as a foundation for the growth and development that would occur in the village after the turn of the 20th century.

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