City of thomson Departments

Fire Department

Memories of By-Gone Days

By J.A. Boatwright

The mayor went to Augusta, saw a fire engine, and finally talked the Town Council into ordering one. Everything was fine until a visitor from another state reminded them that there was no water to put out the fires . The fire engine dealer recommended cisterns.

I want to say right now that Thomson was soon to have more cisterns than any town in the United States. Everybody in town wanted one; there were about 20 feet square and 10 feet deep, and since Thomson was built in a bottom, they soon filled up.

These cisterns bred mosquitoes by the millions. The mayor had to find a way to get rid of them, so the same helpful out-of-towner said that bullfrogs would eat them. There were already bullfrogs in the ditches around town, so everyone began hunting them to put them in the cisterns. People from out in the country brought in bullfrogs, and we soon had more frogs than any town in Georgia. Frogs multiply like fish, and sometimes you could not see the water in the cisterns for the frogs. Did you ever hear and old bullfrog going "Butter-rum, butter-rum" at night? You can hear them for half a mile. My friend, every night in my town, you could hear 10,000 at a time. How on earth we ever slept I'll never know.

Our fire engine was the talk of the town; it was heavy and had to be pulled by men on a rope that led out about 50 feet, on a windlass. They organized a volunteer fire department, but didn't many join. It was a devil of a job, pulling that heavy engine through the sand and mud, to get to a fire. It had a smoke stack the size of a 50 gallon barrel, and twice as high. They used excelsior and kerosene to get a real quick fire, and the sparks, smoke and flames coming out of the stack looked like a volcano erupting, while coming slowly down Main Street. I don't see what kept the engine from setting the whole town on fire.

There were no phones, and some of the firemen lived a good distance from the engine house, so the alarm was spread by everyone getting out of the house and shouting "Fire" as loud as he could. Mr. Boatwright says, "Have you ever heard seven or eight hundred men, women and children all yelling 'Fire' at the same time? My friends, it's worth hearing." The population of Thomson was not over eight or nine hundred at the time, so it required 100% effort on the part of the residents.

One cold winter afternoon the earth was covered with snow, and it was still falling. We had a fire over near the Baptist Church. Firemen pulled the engine as far as the railroad crossing, but they could not go any further. They were bogged down in the snow, so they went to Mr. Adkin's lumber yard to get his team of oxen. When they finally got to the fire, there was nothing left but the chimney. I want you to picture in your mind, what a sight that was: the earth covered with snow, and still snowing, the oxen chewing their cud, and moving on, pulling the engine; the engine sending forth smoke, sparks and a big blaze into the air; there were hundreds of people slowly marching along to see the chimney, and then turned around and marched back in the beautiful snow. I wish this could be in pictures, so you people could see what I saw 55 years ago.

Years ago, if it looked like the next house was going to catch fire, they got out all the wool blankets, spread them out on the roof, and wet them good. All the homes were covered then with heart shingles, and just a spark would set them on fire.


Excerpts from "A Handbook of History McDuffie County Georgia 1870-1970" by Pearl Baker.