“As the fire grew within the building, the local people came from their home. Fire buckets in hand. In only a few minutes a bucket brigade of nearly 40 people had formed. Buckets were filled in a local well and then passed from person to person until the last person tossed the water on the fire. Working together they doused the fire and the home was saved.”
This is an account of a fire being doused by a bucket brigade in New York in the late 1790s. The buckets the people brought from their homes were similar to the one pictured. These buckets were made of leather and often would be ornately painted. It was common to see these bucks in taverns, next to fireplaces. They would be filled with water that could be used to douse a fire if it happened to spread from the confines of the firebox.
In 1817, it was buckets like this that were used to put the fire out that had engulfed the sign of the George Washington Tavern, which was located at the southeast corner of Main and Beau streets in Washington. During the night a log had rolled from the lit fireplace and caught the floor on fire. It quickly spread and soon endangered neighboring buildings. A bucket brigade formed, and even though the tavern itself could not be saved the fire was doused before it could spread to other buildings.
This bucket belonged to John Wilson Esq. He had an office on North Main Street, and the bucket could have possibly been one of the many used to put the fire out at the tavern in 1817. This bucket was donated to the Washington County Historical Society by Jennie Baird.
Clay Kilgore is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.