Portsmouth Fire Department, Federal Fire Society and Mechanic Fire Society Host Fire Department Historical Exhibit Open House June 3

May 22, 2023

In honor of the Portsmouth NH 400th anniversary, the Federal Fire Society and the Mechanic Fire Society, both of Portsmouth, commissioned special traditional leather fire buckets for the Portsmouth Fire Department and presented them to Fire Chief William McQuillen in a ceremony on May 5. The three partners are also hosting open house events to showcase the city’s fire department history through artifacts, early fire engines, photographs and informal talks at the Central Fire Station, 170 Court Street in Portsmouth. The next open house takes place the same day as the Portsmouth NH 400 Grand Parade, Saturday, June 3, 2003.

The Department and Societies have combed their respective collections as well as the collections of other community organizations, including Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth Athenaeum and Portsmouth Historical Society, to assemble an exhibit with articles reflecting the rich history of firefighting in Portsmouth for more than two centuries.

The program on June 3 runs from 1 to 5 pm and includes:

  • 2 pm  1870 Kearsarge Steam Fire Engine No. 3: Its History, Return to Portsmouth and Restoration, a talk by Christopher J. LeClaire, former Fire Chief of Portsmouth Fire Department
  • 3 pm   1938 Seagrave Combination Fire Engine No. 3: Its History in Portsmouth and Restoration - A Family Affair, a talk by Joe Horvath, current owner.
  • 4 pm The History and Role of Fire Societies in Portsmouth, a talk by Alan M. Robinson, current member of Mechanic Fire Society
  • Ongoing; The Forgotten Art of Making Traditional Leather Fire Buckets, a demonstration by Andrew Arsenault and Peter Lamb, current member of Federal Fire Society

The final of the three open houses occurs on Saturday, July 29, from 11 am to 3 pm.

Each open house includes an exhibit of:

  • The fully-restored 1870 Kearsarge Steam Fire Engine No. 3 which served the City of Portsmouth during the late 1800s and early 1900s
  • Weather permitting, the restored 1938 Seagrave Fire Engine that served the City of Portsmouth during the mid-twentieth century (from a private collection)
  • The 1872 Eureka No. 1 hand pump Fire Engine, formerly owned and used by the Franklin Pierce Veteran Firemen's Association of Portsmouth at fire musters between 1909 and 1962 (courtesy of the Creek Athletic Club) 
  • A display of firefighting equipment, clothing, and memorabilia from the Department’s collection, including an early Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph machine used to send and receive fire alarm messages
  • A display of memorabilia and collectibles from the collections of the Federal and Mechanic Fire Societies and their members, including a series of menus from the annual meetings of the fire societies spanning more than 120 years
  • A display of current and historic leather fire buckets from both fire societies and other Portsmouth historical organizations
  • An exhibit of more than two dozen enlarged historic photographs relating to the history of firefighting in Portsmouth from the collection of the Portsmouth Athenaeum

In addition, each open house will include opportunities for Q&A with members of the Fire Department and Fire Societies.

CAPTION: The President of the Federal Fire Society Tom Watson (left) and President of the Mechanic Fire Society Tim Driscoll, at right present commemorative fire buckets from their societies to Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill McQuillen in honor of the Portsmouth NH 400th.  


Federal and Mechanic Fire Societies present commemorative fire buckets to Chief McQuillen.