15 Water Street
Shortly after Kemptville had been incorporated in 1857, the Village had purchased a hand-pump fire engine for its newly formed volunteer fire department. It is uncertain where the fire engine was housed during that early period.
On May 13th 1872, much of Kemptville’s downtown commercial core on the south side of the Creek was destroyed by a fire, which started in a “machine shop and shingle mill belonging to the late Ambrose Clothier,” 1 The fire progressed south along the east side of Prescott Street, jumped Water Street and destroyed the Kernahan & Wood store on the northeast corner. That building is identified on the 1861-62 H. F. Walling map. 2 The map also shows the adjacent lands to the east, where the former Kemptville Town Hall and Fire Department were subsequently located, as being vacant at the time. These apparently vacant lands (Lot 2 on the North West Side of Water Street) were purchased, just over a year later by the Town of Kemptville. The deed (Instrument No A-290) for this transaction was signed on September 16th 1873, and was registered on September 27th 1873.
The local Tweedsmuir history records that the fire hall was built on this site in 1874. In 1881, in order to increase the efficiency of the fire department, the Village Council decided to purchase a new steam engine. However, the new pumper was an 1884 vintage Silsby Steamer, indicating that it did not arrive in the village until that date. Both vehicles appear to have been housed in the building on Water Street, which also functioned as the Municipal Office, Town Hall, Police and Fire Stations. The (revised) 1908 Fire Insurance Map of the Village shows the building with a “70" foot tall hose tower on the rear (Creek) side. The notations “Town Hall” and “Hose Tower” were noted on the building. The 1917 Fire Insurance Map shows the same building outline with the notes; “Police & Fire Station” and “Hose Tower.” The 1928 Fire Insurance map again shows a similar building outline (the rear wing appears slightly larger on this plan), with the notes: “Fire Station,” “Off.” [i.e. Office], “Court Hse. 2nd “ and “Hose Tower.”
The Tweedsmuir History suggests that the hose tower was built soon after the purchase of the Silsby Steamer, thus dating it to about 1884. The tower appears to have been built by two local carpenters, Edmund Jones and John Murphy. The history and construction of the tower is recorded as follows;
“It was a square tower with stairs and landings alternating along its sides, until the top of the tower was reached. [sic] Early this century the town purchased a resounding bell weighing a ton and cast in 1898. It was suspended under the canopy built over the roof of the tower, and its vibrant thunderous peal reverberated to the limits of the village beyond.
In 1935, this tower, built to help fight fires, was itself, a prey to flames when the west side of the town hall caught fire from one raging in the Parkinson Store-house close to it. Considerable damage was done, and for a time, many feared that it would be so burned that thus weakened, that the heavy weight of the bell would cause the tower to topple over and cause great damage.
Fortunately, the fire was extinguished and in time, repairs were made. But other changes came about, consequently the tower was of very little use; its blackened, burned beams and frame were showing the wear of time and the tower was no longer safe.
As a result, the council decided to raze it, and a wrecking company moved in, lowered the huge bell, then severed the ornamental top, and lowered it. After several storeys were severed, local men took over and completed the demolition.” 3
The demolition of the hose tower occurred in 1957. The details of this fire are recorded in the Minute Book of the Kemptville Fire Company:
“September 16, 1935
At 10:00 a.m. alarm rang for Fire in A. Parkinson Store House close to Fire Station. Chemical and Steamer responded. Steamer being placed on Johnston’s Dock and two lines of hose laid to service of Fire. Engine taking 14 minutes to raise steam enough to give any water. Owing to this delay Town Hall & Hose Tower caught, badly burning top of tower also cornice windows & roof of Hall.
Cause of Fire Plucking chickens with Wax. Wax boiling over on stove.
Losses A. Parkinson Estimated $3,200.00 Covered by Insurance
Town Hall $4,000.00
All Firemen responded except H. Dool
H. Crobar working from time of call to almost Six p.m.
E. M. Elliott, Sec’y”
The Water Street property also had a fire-dock at the Creek where the fire engines could be filled, and the Municipal Scales used to be located in front of the building. 4
The building is two storeys in height, rectangular in plan with a hip roof. It is constructed of rough- cut, rough-coarsed limestone, and features segmental-headed arches over the door and windows, with cut stone voussoirs and cut stone sills.. The four corners of the building have cut stone quoins. The stonework has been parged over, and the parging is not included in the designation.
Originally, there were two large garage door openings in the west end of the south facade of the building to accommodate the fire engines, however, these have been blocked in. Some of the original six-over-six window sashes are still in existence. The two front doors at the main street level are also original. The eaves feature a deep flat and unadorned frieze and wide flat soffits. The original eave details have been covered over with modern materials which are not included in the designation. The present roof cladding is also modern and is not included in the designation.
1 “Kemptville Past and Present ” - J. Carr Anderson, Editor, Originally Published by The Kemptville Telegram (23 March 1903), March 1991 edition.
2 “Historical Atlas of Leeds and Grenville” based on the 1861-62 H.F. Walling map
3 “Tweedsmuir History” for the Town of Kemptville
4 “A Boyhood Memory of Kemptville” - Melvin Weedmark (Oxford-on-Rideau Historical Society) 1996