In 1859, a small, strictly utilitarian structure was constructed on Main Street in Hollis, New Hampshire. It had three one-room stories, two facing Main Street, and all three facing the Town Common. The building was built as a firehouse, and used by the volunteers of the Hollis Fire Department to store their various equipment, which included two hand-pumped "engines," one drawn by hand called "The Defender," and another horse-drawn called "The Always Ready."
The "Always Ready" was a beautiful sight of gleaming brass and iron when drawn through the streets of town. The pride the firemen of Hollis had in this first horse-drawn engine transferred its name to the building that it occupied. In 1862, with the Civil War raging and some of the members of the Fire Department already in the Union Army, the Fire Company allowed the Soldiers Aid Society to meet in their building to roll bandages and gather together "care" packages to be sent to the Hollis soldiers. It was a beginning of a relationship that would continue until the last of the old soldiers of the Civil War faded away.
In the 1870's, two uses were made of the Engine House that foreshadowed its future. A small lock-up and tramp shelter was built in the Engine House basement and the hearse purchased by the town was stored along with the town fire equipment. In addition, in 1874, District No. 1 grammar school occupied the building for its summer term.
The centrally located engine house made it attractive for a variety of social gatherings. In December of 1871, the firemen staged an "oyster supper," and a year later, a "Levee" was held. By 1892, the upstairs was leased by the John H. Worcester Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. Every Memorial Day, the soldiers and the firemen joined together for a commemoration program that was to become very special to the town of Hollis.
The "Always Ready" Engine House was superseded by a new firehouse attached to the town hall in 1950. At this time, the former Engine House was turned over to the Veterans of WWII and became the Donald Petry American legion Post No. 89. An army was again occupying the "Always Ready," now sometimes known as the G.A.R. Hall.
In 1971, another change was in store for The Engine House. The Hollis Police Department had outgrown the Police Chief's home and, because there was already a tiny jail cell in the "Always Ready"/G.A.R. Hall, many in town thought of it as a logical temporary choice for the Police Station. It was over 15 years before a new, larger Police department was located on Silver Lake Road. Abandoned again in 1987, time had run out for the former Engine House. The Town Meeting of 1988 voted to allow the selectmen to dispose of the building.
Alarmed Hollis citizens headed by Mrs. June Litwin came together to "Save The Old Engine House." They joined with the Hollis Historical Society to resurrect the old building with a thorough renovation, returning it to the style of the "Always Ready" Engine House. As the oldest public building in town, it was worth saving. Despite its unpretentiousness, during its nearly 130 years, the former Engine House had worked its way into the heart of Hollis. It had truly been an "Always Ready" building, always there to serve when needed.
FIRST FLOOR EXHIBITS
The "Defender/Always Ready" Pump Engine. The major fire equipment exhibit on view on the first floor of the museum is a combination of the first hand drawn pump called "The Defender" purchased in 1834 and wooden parts from the horse drawn "Always Ready" purchased about 1858.
"The Defender" was a hand pulled engine that was filled by the bucket brigades and then hosed onto the fire. In 1834, when the equipment was purchased, Hollis had a volunteer fire department that consisted of about 60 men that served at local fires filling buckets with water from any available source. These included ponds, brooks, and the town pump. The water was handed down to those who kept the pump filled for the hose men who directed the 75 foot stream of water on the fire. School boys were trained to pull the engine to the fire and on one occasion, always eager to leave classes, they arrived at the fire before the Company No. 1 men.
"The Always Ready" was the first horse drawn engine in Hollis. It saw service until about the 1920's when Hollis purchased its first motorized fire engine. "The Always Ready" engine was dismantled during WWII and donated as scrap metal for the Allied cause, but its wooden parts were retained and used to refurbish the aging "Defender" which had been retired to a local barn for safekeeping.
THE HOLLIS HEARSE
Also located on the first floor of the museum is the Hollis Hearse, which was purchased in 1858 by the town selectmen from George Kenny, a Nashua carriage maker. The hearse was used to provide transportation for deceased Hollis residents from Nashua undertakers to the Hollis cemeteries. A handsome vehicle with etched cranberry windows and an upholstered interior, it ushered many a Hollis citizen into another world in style. This hearse was used until the 1920's when it was retired for more modern, if not more elegant, transportation.
In 1985, the town Selectmen discovered the hearse remains in a shed in the East Cemetery and gave it to the Hollis Historical Society, which embarked on a campaign to restore it to its former beauty. Mr. Sam Rogers became the Fairy Godfather to this Hollis "Coach" by chairing the Hollis Hearse Restoration Committee.
The Hearse had no pole, wheels, or lamps. Its paint was peeling; its upholstery gone; and some of its lovely cranberry windows had been vandalized. Replacement parts came from all over the country. Wheels were made in the Daniels Wagon Factory, Rowley, Mass; lamps were bought at auction in Pennsylvania and refurbished; cranberry windows were duplicated at Renaissance Glassworks in Nashua. The hearse was taken to Ohio in a horse trailer and restoration completed by Ivan Burkholder of Woodlyn Coach, a museum quality restorer, who had done work for the Kentucky Horse Park. It was returned to Hollis in 1988 on a truck loaned by Carroll Spaulding, a local resident.
The Hollis Hearse has been transformed from a pumpkin to a Cinderella Coach and is ready for hire for funerals and parades.