Chester Historical Society throws future of Yosemite Fire House into question

Yosemite inside

Yosemite Fire House on 103 North. Shawn Cunningham photos.Shawn Cunningham

By Shawn Cunningham
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The future of an iconic Chester structure is in question as the organization that has been responsible for it for nearly 38 years has expressed a desire to shed that responsibility. At a meeting on Thursday Jan. 22, Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch told the society’s membership that the Yosemite Fire House had become “a serious drain on the society.”

Calling the fire house a “wonderful old building,” Patch said that “It’s got no land, you can only park three cars there.” The lack of parking makes its use as a museum difficult, but the biggest problem is the upkeep – including lead paint remediation and repainting, a job that Patch estimated at $250,000.

“We don’t have pockets that deep, we don’t have grant writers,” said Patch

Nails protrude from siding above the sliding door.

Nails protrude from clapboards  above the sliding door.

A treasurer’s report delivered at the beginning of the meeting showed the historical society has a general fund of $3,758.26, a fire house repair fund of $4,103.28 and $15,551.55 in a fund for erecting a monument to Gen. Merritt Edson. Currently, the society spends $1,200 per year for insurance on the fire house and $23 per month to be connected to electric power.

The group was given the property by Pember and Gertrude Hazen in 1976. The Hazens owned the Chester Rexall Drug Store on the Green and the red brick house at the corner of 103 and First Street. The Hazen deed conveyed the property for use as a museum or other historic purposes. The deed goes on to say that if the property is not used as a museum, the “heirs and assigns” have the right to take it back.

At the meeting, Patch and others said that it had been several years since the building had been open to the public and, making the situation worse, are the fallen, upstairs ceiling and the accompanying “bird poop.”

The back of the building sits along a branch of the Williams River.

The back of the building sits along a branch of the Williams River.

Several members asked if partnerships with the town or other organizations to pay the expenses of keeping the building would be a solution. Patch said that even if the building costs were taken care of, the fire house needs a lot of work. “Somebody needs to own that building,” said Patch, who then suggested contacting the owner of the former Hazen property to either have them take the property back or to give the historical society a quit claim deed so it would be free to dispose of it. “I’d like to see it as a public building,” said Patch, “the Town could do more with it.”

Former fire chief Harry Goodell suggested putting the situation in front of the Select Board, the public and the full membership of the historical society to help find a solution. “You’ve got 3,000 people in Chester and just a handful here,” said Goodell. “You need to let the whole membership know before there’s a vote on this.”

Patch felt that simply paying the bills and doing restoration work on the fire house would not solve the problems the building poses for the society.

“You can polish a turd,” said Patch, “but it’s still a turd.”

A search of deeds for the property make the question of ownership even murkier. The original deed — from Joseph R. Richardson deed dated Jan., 2 1880 — sold Fire District #2 the land where the Yosemite Fire House had already been built (circa 1873)  and stood for several years.  But the deed stipulated that if Fire District # 2  were to cease to exist or the fire house was not used and occupied as a fire house, the “land” would revert to whoever owned the parent property. There is no mention of the ownership of the actual fire house building.

Thus, when the Yosemite building stopped being used by the combined fire services, Pember and Gertrude Hazen had the right to take the land back, then offer it to the historical society. But the question that will need to be explored is whether the building went with the land, or if the Town of Chester (through its fire department) is (and for decades has been) the owner of the Yosemite fire house.  This may take a little time to iron out.

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  1. JT Dunn says:

    How did Yosemite Fire get its name?