When the Owego Hose Team set out to restore the iconic Baker Fireman’s Fountain, no one realized the journey they were undertaking. Nor could they imagine the final result that was on full display in downtown Owego this past August at the fountain’s rededication. Standing protectively over the village in Courthouse Square, the historic landmark drew hundreds gathered to pay tribute.
The Baker Fireman’s Fountain, depicting a firefighter holding a child, is often described as the symbol of Owego and its community-minded residents standing for the spirit of volunteerism that makes the community great.
The fountain was given to the Village of Owego and its firefighters by Frank M. Baker as a memorial to his son, George Hobart Baker, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1913. Both men had been members and chief engineers of the Owego Fire Department.
The elder Baker was instrumental in organizing the FASNY and was Secretary from 1874 to 1884. Frank M. Baker also served as President in 1884 and 1885. In addition, he was President and Founder of the Central New York Firemen’s Association (CNYFA) in 1893.
Originally purchased for $2,000, the 105-year-old fountain underwent a complete restoration led by the Owego Hose Team. They also raised all funding for the project and spearheaded the conservation work. The zinc fireman statue cradling a baby has been repaired and repainted with its existing colors including white trousers, blue coat and black fire helmet by Robinson Iron in Alexander City, Alabama. The base of the fountain including the fountain pool walls, pedestal stem, and upper bowl were restored and repainted to the fountain’s original dark green color.
Erected in 1914, the fireman and baby were originally bronze in color with a dark green fountain base. In 1953, local painter and World War I veteran Harry McCoy repainted the fireman with blue trousers, white coat and red helmet for $10 in preparation for the Central New York Firemen’s Convention held in Owego that year. The fireman was later repainted to its current colors in the 1960s.
Other components of the renovation included a memorial walkway of inscribed bricks and walkaround; stamped concrete sidewalks surrounding the fountain honoring Owego’s five Fallen Firefighters; and a new William G. Pomeroy historic marker in front of the fountain.
Four 1,000-pound stone benches surround the walkaround, so visitors may sit and enjoy the fountain. The memorial walkway and brick walk around concept are modeled after the Walk of Honor at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The same brick type used at the Emmitsburg Memorial from Glen Gery Bricks was used in Owego.
The ceremonial lighting of the fountain took place in August, prior to the rededication, with the flipping of the switch bringing the fountain to life. Other contributors and Baker family members, some of whom traveled as far away as Texas and Arizona to attend the festivities, were given an original brick and certificate from the fountain’s foundation. These bricks were manufactured from the Brick Pond in the Turtle Town area of the village and were in place for 104 years prior to the fountain’s removal last year for its restoration.
A rededication ceremony was officiated by Past President and Life Member of Croton Hose Co. No. 3 Jim Franz. A highlight of the ceremony included a wreath-laying in honor of Owego’s five fallen firefighters led by Past Owego Fire Chief Ken Easton as a bagpiper played. The oldest living Baker descendent Frieda Baker, who turned 99 years old this September, joined two of the Baker family’s youngest generation, Anna and Sara Gavin, in turning the fountain water on to complete the ceremony.
Following the ceremony, a firefighter’s parade took place downtown. Local antique fire apparatus from the area, along with the Owego Fire Department and Owego Hose Team units, headlined the parade. Hose team members proudly carried a life-size cardboard cutout of the fountain fireman atop their 1969 Mack pumper.
A firematic hose race took place on lower Front Street with three teams from Owego and a team called “The Shenanigans” made up of Tioga County Firefighters. At the end of the hose race, an after party took place at the Rainbow Trail.
One attendee remarked, “One of the most nostalgic sights of ‘home’ to a returning Owegoan is the stalwart fireman fountain.” The fireman stands proudly again as a testament to the community who rallied to save it.