From the 1800's to the 1950's, Brewster and entire area around it in Putnam County was composed of farms. The majority of these farms raised cows for milk. (I personally remember going to five barn fires in a single night in the late 1970's when Homer Stephen's was Chief). The milk was transported by train to New York City. In 1856, Gail Borden received a patent for condensed milk. He opened plants in Wassaic and Brewster to produce his Eagle Brand condensed milk. When financier Jeremiah Milbank became an equal partner in the New York Condensed Milk Company, sales began to improve. In 1864, Gail Borden's New York Condensed Milk Company built a milk factory in Brewster, New York. This was Borden's first successful commercial plant. It was the most advanced milk factory of its time (Photos #2 & #3). During the Civil War his company prospered by supplying the Union Army via railroad with condensed milk. The condensed milk was considered a tremendous success among the troops of the Union Army. More than two hundred farmers supplied 20,000 gallons of milk daily to the Brewster plant. Condensed milk could be shipped hundreds of miles without refrigeration. This had previously been impossible. Gail Borden died in 1874.
Deceased Chief and Historian Ed Schneider wrote the following: "Samuel M. Church was a member of the Brewster Fire Department (BFD) then known as The Protection Fire Company in the late 1800's. He was the stepson of Gail Borden of the Borden Milk Factory. In 1888, Samuel Church and his step brother, John Borden, who was in charge of the Borden Milk factory in Brewster, traveled to Elgin, Illinois. There they retrieved the Gail Borden Hose carriage which we have today.........Any cost to take the Hose Carriage to parades by train was paid by Samuel Church........Samuel M. Church was born in 1842 and died in 1902. He is buried in Milltown Cemetery. When he died he left The Protection Fire Co. (B.F.D.) $200. "
In 1870, Protection Fire Engine Company No.1 was organized. It was based in the Old Town Hall which is currently the Southeast Museum. The first real firehouse was built late that same year and was opposite the Baptist Church on Main Street (Photo #4). The Hose Cart is prominently displayed in that photo. At some point in the mid-1900's, the BFD Borden Hose Cart was loaned to the Town Hall Museum in Brewster (Photo #8). This was to allow it to be displayed to the public in a protected area. In the late 1960's, the BFD wanted to parade the BFD Borden Hose Cart in the approaching 100th year BFD Parade Centennial. A couple of people in the Town Hall as well as a local politician were not cooperative in releasing the hose cart. They threatened to keep the front doors locked! Chief Chuck Doyle (Photo #9) made a threat concerning the cost to the museum of replacing the doors if they were not unlocked. One day the BFD showed up to liberate the hose cart. A large group of firefighters were needed to get the heavy cart down the front stairs without damage. A rope was tied to the rear of the hose cart and wrapped around a long, large metal pipe. The metal pipe was fastened behind the door to act like a brake. Some firemen guided the hose cart by holding the wheels as they proceeded down the stairs. Other firemen acted like they were the rear brakes on the rope as they slowly releasing small sections of the rope from around the metal pole. The hose cart is surprisingly heavy. It is reported to weigh over one thousand pounds. The hose cart was successfully liberated.
The liberated hose cart was paraded in the Brewster Fire Department's Centennial 100th Anniversary Parade (Photos #10 to 15). It also was transported to several other parades. It was displayed at the Kensico Dam in Valhalla with other antique fire apparatus. The hose cart won "Best Restored Horse Drawn Apparatus" in 1980, 1981,1982, and 1983. It won "Best Appearing Parade Carriage" in 1992 and 1993 (Photos #17, #18, #28). Whenever we took the Borden Hose Cart to a muster, it won awards. It was at the Kensico Dam (Photo #18) where the picture of it was taken which graced the 1993 Firehouse cover (Photo #1).
In 1995, the 125th Anniversary Parade took place. Bill Rieg was Chief, Tom Palmer 1st Assistant Chief, and Rick Reuther 2nd Assistant Chief (Photos #19, #20, #21). The Hose Cart was pulled by several members including future Chief Phil McMurray Jr. (son of Phil McMurray Sr.; whose father is one of those pictured in photo #10) through the village during the 125th Anniversary Parade. Other members of the BFD acted as the "brake". it was necessary for some of the members pulling the cart (like horses) to go to the brake positions at the rear. Joe Freeburn, one of the "brake" people claimed his shoes were burning from the friction trying to prevent the cart from being a runaway. I can attest to it not being easy being a member of the "brake" team.
In the early 2000's, the hose cart was sent to the Pennsylvania Dutch area. The wooden wheels were checked as well as any other maintenance issues that were needed. When it returned, it was stored in a special area in the back room of the firehouse. At one point, the membership voted to send the Hose cart to the Fireman's Home Museum. The Board of Directors, who have a fiduciary responsibility, decided not to. The reason was that the Fireman's Museum would not agree to allow the BFD to take it to any parades. In retrospect, it was a good decision. The Borden Hose Cart would have only been displayed at most a few months of the year at the Fireman's Museum. It could also have been sold. Now it resides on one side of the Brewster firehouse (Photos #27 & 29). The public can view the hose cart through clear panels from the exterior of the building.
The year 2020 was supposed to the 150th Anniversary Parade and the celebration of the Brewster Fire Departments' 150th year. However the COVID pandemic occurred (Photo #22) and it was postponed until 2021. In the 2021 Brewster Fire Department parade, the Borden Hose Cart was pulled by horses Jake and Jim (Photos #23 & 24). The driver, Dan Blumberg, from Rock Hill Farm in Brewster drove the Hose Cart and controlled the horses. The Hose Cart was followed by the 1938 Chief's car, the then present Chief's car, the membership and other apparatus.
Phil McMurray Jr.
Phil McMurray Sr.
A special thanks to Frank Becerra for proofreading this article.
The author has been a member of the BFD since 1976.