Posted on | April 17, 2012 | No Comments
I love photographs. Their ability to wordlessly invite our imagination into the visible remnant of a moment in time is wonderful. Sometimes we can look at a photograph and understand its significance without lengthy description, but other times we only see part of a story and additional thought or input is necessary to fill in the pieces, or, we can allow our interpretation of what we see suffice.
I am also a history buff. I enjoy reading stories from the early days of Cache Valley in general, or thumbing through histories specific to the communities of Cache and Box Elder counties and elsewhere. I especially love the stories of people. The early settlers of Utah amaze me. The trials they faced just to survive often take a back seat to more sensational events, but persevering each day in search of a brighter future is the legacy of many an early settler to this area.
One amazing resource for research is the Special Collections archives of USU. What a wealth of information it holds, yes, even about Bigfoot’s roaming’s. I don’t often visit the archives, but when I do I always come away with a gem of information and often it includes photographs – that visible remnant of a moment in time. Those images produce quite a bit of imaginative interpretation, but they also push me on to search for the rest of the story that can’t be explained by looking at the picture alone. Sometimes there is well documented information readily available, other times it proves to be an unsolved mystery.
Being a firefighter, a favorite research topic is fire service history. I have a few books that detail entire histories or brief snapshots of the fire service in specific cities in the United States, but even more interesting to me is the history of the local departments in Cache Valley as they were born and moved toward what they are now.
On this 100 year anniversary of one of Cache Valley’s most noted fires, the Thatcher Opera House Fire, I have been thinking of a photograph I saw several years ago in the archives at USU. In the picture was Logan’s horse-drawn fire apparatus responding to a call on west Center Street, the handwritten note on the photo indicated. It was a rather close-up picture, only a small section of the wagon and the driver’s feet were visible, I believe the dating of the photo was 1907. Just a short 5 years after that photo was made, the era of the horse-drawn fire apparatus in Logan would be over – and the Thatcher Opera House Fire appears to be largely responsible for that progression.
While the firefighters and community members involved in that response were valiant in their efforts and were able to prevent loss to the adjoining buildings, it was determined that enhancements in fire protection were needed as the city had grown beyond the capabilities of the firefighting equipment it possessed. Just three months after the Opera House Fire, and a little more than a month after another costly fire at the Schaub Garage, Logan city officials announced their intention to purchase a motorized fire apparatus and opened a bidding process. In October of 1912 city officials chose one of three bids for the firefighting vehicle and in June of 1913 the new fire engine was delivered.
In at least two of Cache Valley’s communities a major fire was the “fuel” of change for the fire service. Logan’s impetus was the Opera House Fire; Newton’s defining moment was the loss of its meeting house to fire in 1929. The loss affected the community greatly and steps were taken later that year to install hydrants for firefighting water supply and obtain fire hose and a nozzle to attach to these hydrants. There are likely similar stories in the histories of many of the Valley’s towns that brought about enhancements to fire protection. Whatever the cause, the desire to improve fire protection services in the small communities of Cache Valley laid the foundation for where we are now, and that is still the driving force today.