This year, the East Hampton Fire Department is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Before the organization of the Fire Department and the advent of pumper equipment in East Hampton, fire buckets like the one pictured here were a primary tool for fighting fires. This bucket, made of leather, was collected in the 1890s by William E. Wheelock, a part-time resident of East Hampton who avidly collected artifacts documenting the region’s early American history. His son donated it and many other artifacts to the East Hampton Historical Society in 1977.

The East Hampton Fire District was formally recognized 125 years ago by the Board of Supervisors of Suffolk County on June 21, 1899. In researching the Fire Department’s history, Gary Zay discovered that a vote was held in July 1899 at Clinton Hall–as Clinton Academy was then known–to elect three fire commissioners and approve an $1,800 appropriation to fund the Fire Department. While the commissioners were elected, the appropriation lost in a close vote, 33 “yeas” to 36 “nays.” Many of the votes against appropriating money came from people who lived outside areas where there was access to water mains to supply the Fire Department. These voters did not want to be taxed without receiving any benefit.

The Home Water Company of East Hampton had only been established in late 1898 with plans for a pumping station (which was located near where Red Horse Market is today), five miles of pipe, and 42 hydrants. By the spring of 1899, the water main went as far east as Ann Parsons’ Boarding House at 21 North Main Street. Three years later, it had stretched to the Dominy Shops at 73 North Main Street and as far west as Cottage Lane.

On April 8, 1900, a devastating fire started along the railroad track near Spring Close Highway, burning over 100 acres of woodland. With no water mains located nearby, area houses were saved, according to the East Hampton Star, only through “the most strenuous efforts of the volunteer bucket brigade and the men with shovels.”