Main Street 1897…! Whatever thoughts that may conjure up, the view from the corner of Afton Avenue may not have been so different from Main Street 1997. Certainly there were more trees, and power poles were few and far between, but on a stroll through town we’d recognize many of the same buildings. We’d also meet people whose family names appear on the active register of the Yardley-Makefield Fire Company today, names such as Cadwallader. In fact, it was the fire at Cadwallader’s Store, on the corner of Main and Afton, that prompted the meeting of concerned citizens on December 14, 1897. When the meeting finished, the Yardley Fire Company had been formed and the first one hundred years had begun.
The story goes that the Cadwallader fire was eventually put out and the town was saved by the gallant actions of two men, William Baird and James Casey. They rode to Trenton with four horses and brought back a steam pumper. With water from Lake Afton, the fire was quickly extinguished. Sixty years later, in 1957, those same waters were used again. This time it was Leedom’s Lumber yard. The 75 foot reach of the Fire Company’s first ladder truck, bought for $40,000 just three weeks before, the lake, and the cool calm direction of Fire Chief John Ziaylek saved the town.
John Ziaylek, the Grand Marshal of the 1997 Centennial Parade, was Chief for twenty years starting in 1953. It was a time when the surrounding fields of Lower Makefield were being turned over to houses. It was a time of change. John is credited with being one of the prime movers in Bucks County towards modernization of the fire service. Radios were fitted to fire trucks under his leadership and the whole community looked to him in times of emergency and disaster. The Leedom’s Lumber fire came just two years after the devastating flood of ’55 when the bridge to West Trenton was washed away. Then, just as before and since, countless hours of volunteer labor from the Fire Company and the Auxiliary went toward the protection of life and property. As recently as 1996, in January and June, when floods hit both Yardley and Lower Makefield, rescue after rescue took place. The fire houses gave warmth and shelter to many as the men and women of the YMFC brought the first one hundred years of the Company to a close.
Unlike the modern and mechanized Company we see today, a hundred years ago, each man had to bring his own bucket. Those were the days of the Bucket Brigade. Fires were fought by chains of men passing pails of water to the hardy souls on top of the fire. In 1899, onlookers screamed to Deputy Chief William Baird as he and his crew fought the basket factory fire on Afton Avenue. They ignored the shouted warnings to leave the roofs of houses that had been ignited by the factory fire. They stuck to their job and saved the day