First Bucket Brigade
Marine's Rumpsey Hand Pumper Circa 1886
The old "Cataract" hand pumper which once furnished fire protection to the village of Marine. This historic machine, now on display in the village, is being inspected by John Lindgren. Photo taken in 1938 by the Minneapolis Journal for the town's centennial celebration.
Marine Mills in 1902. In 1917 the name of Minnesota's first lumbering town was officially changed to Marine on St. Croix. This photograph was taken by John Runk of Stillwater and shows the fire hall (with tower) built in 1888. To the left is Ed Carlson's livery stable which burned about 1911. On the hill is the Orange Walker house, completely destroyed by fire May 1954.
Mayor street.jpg
Town Mayor & Fire Captain Glen Mills Rides down Judd Street with the 1886 Handpumper in the 2004 4th of July Parade (note the same picture angle from 1902)


The Stillwater Lumberman noted in February 1883 that Ole Anderson's Marine Tannery, reputed to turn out "as fine leather as can be found in the state", burned to the ground. In August of this same year the Village Council took notice of the many costly fires and decided the bucket brigade was not adequate. The Village Recorder was instructed to obtain information and estimates on a hand pumper for the village. No further mention of a hand pumper appears in the council records for almost two and a half years. Unfortunately, it took another serious fire to jolt the Council to take action on this necessary piece of equipment. On February 26, 1886 the first brewery in Marine, an adjoining saloon and the residence of John F. Wichman were destroyed in a fire. "It was feared that the mill and lumber of the Marine Lumber Company, a short distance away would go up in smoke." Had there been a strong wind, this fire would have wiped out a major portion of Marine. On the day of this fire, the Village Council held a special meeting and appointed Councilman John Bevins to make the trip to St. Paul and fine a suitable hand engine and 500 feet of hose.


The following month, Councilman Bevins brought back his report. (including his round trip expenses to the 'city of $6.25) On April 10, 1886 the Council voted to purchase a hand engine at a cost of $1,060.00. This original hand pumper can still be seen and is displayed in the village. Financing fire equipment was as much of a problem then as it is now. The village paid $300 down on the hand pumper and signed two notes for the balance at 8% interest. The village was without funds when the second note came due however, payment was made and the final payment was made about three years later.


With the coming of this new fire protection, the Marine Fire Department was officially organized. The first fire warden was appointed at a salary of $10.00 per year and the engine was housed at the Marine Lumber Company at a yearly rental of $36.00.


The first recorded fire fighting action by the new pumper took place on November 28, 1887, at the old Marine House. The Marine House, "probably the first frame building erected in Minnesota" was a popular stopping place for tourists after 1840 and also housed a saloon, drugstore and post office. The fire was caused by a defective flue in the kitchen and completely destroyed the building. Even though the Marine House was a total loss, thanks to the new hand pumper the fire department was able to save surrounding buildings from the same fate. With such a wonderful new engine, the village held an election June 30, 1888 to approve a bond issue to build an engine house and village hall. The $2,000.00 bond issue was passed and the official election canvas showed the cotes: "In favor of bonds 46, Not in favor of bonds 42 and Not in favor of anything 5" The Stillwater Messenger noted the election as a spirited contest. Of the $2,200.00 total cost of the project, $2,000 was for the building, $100 for the furnishings and $100 for the land purchase from James S O'Brien. The village hall and fire station held and elaborately planned dedication ceremony/ball on December 1, 1888.


The new fire engine proved to be a good investment for the village. Records show fewer total loss fires and residents recalled many undocumented cases when the hand pumper enabled firemen to quickly put out small fires before they become out of control. Occasionally however, there were still serious fires. Fire destroyed the four story St. Croix Hotel on September 3, 1892, two different creameries went up in flames and Dr. Anders Soderlind's drugstore burned in January 1901. The drug store fire is remembered by many Marine residents, the oldest active member of the Marine Fire Department. The roll call book of the fire department shows that Mr. Anderson joined the department on July 9, 1886. One of Otto's favorite tales is of the livery stable fire during the summer of 1911. The stable seemed doomed and sparks were flying across the street toward the village hall when a cry was hear, "We have to save the village hall, there's a dance Saturday night!" Throughout his service, Otto Anderson witnessed or fought most of the fires except for one, On May 1954, he slept through a the spectacular fire of the Orange Walker "white house" just a few doors away from his own home.


Fire fighting equipment in past and present years need constant repair and replacement. In January 1897, the Village Council "voted to get the wheels of the fire engine examined and fix if necessary." a week later, to quote from the record exactly as written, "the committee on the fire engine reported that they had already the ingine wheels fixt in food order." In 1900, people were still borrowing equipment form the fire department and the Council decided to get tough and "send Mr. Carlson a bill for $6.00 in payments for a set of sleigh runners belonging to the fire engine and appropriated and used by the aforesaid Mr. Carlson without permission." The runners were immediately returned.


While the Village Council provides some funds for the fire department, the department itself carries on many fund raising projects throughout the year. On July, 1885 the Stillwater Messenger stated that "No city or village has sustained its reputation for patriotism better than Marine Mills on the natal day." The same newspaper on June 20, 1891 noted that the Marine Fire Department "will hold a rousing celebration on July 4 which would include boat races, athletic sports, red lemonade, burnt powder, dancing and ice cream. Also on that day, a brand new engine will be dedicated. This new Ford engine, purchased at a cost of about $4,000.00 will make the Marine Fire Department one of the best equipped volunteer fire departments in the state. In addition to the new fire engine, the fire department had an auxiliary trailer pumper which can be towed to any location. It also had a portable pumping unit that could be carried by one man to pump from the river or from numerous pool and reservoirs maintained by the fire department. One final addition to fire department equipment was a resuscitator unit for use in drowning, smoke inhalation, heart attacks or other emergencies requiring oxygen or artificial breathing.


From the first bucket brigades to the present modern equipment, the Marine Volunteer Fire Department has given the best possible protection to the residents of Marine and the surrounding area.


Chronology of fires compiled from St. Croix Valley newspapers by James Taylor Dunn, Chief Librarian, MN Historical Society

Facts concerning fire department from minutes of Marine Village Council meetings 1875-1913