Williamstown firefighters brought an antique hose cart to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center on Saturday morning. The cart was found in a local barn.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A recently discovered piece of Williamstown history is on its way to recovering its former glory, thanks to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center.
On Saturday morning, a hose cart dating back to the late 19th century was delivered to the WACC, housed at the Clark Art Institute's Stone Hill Center, by members of Williamstown's call volunteer fire department and the Gale Hose Company, a benevolent organization of current and former firefighters in town.
The John Benjamin Gale Hose Cart No. 2 was discovered by a local historian in the barn of Williamstown resident Maurice Filler, where it had been forgotten for decades.
Filler returned the cart to the Gale House Company, which contacted the historical preservationists at the WACC about restoring the artifact.
"The cart is in a non-restored condition and is worthy of careful conservation," the WACC's Hugh Glover said. "Being well-crafted in the 1890s and stored for many decades since then means we can preserve the painted wood and metal surfaces using modern-day conservation materials and wisdom.”
Glover was on hand Saturday to receive the hose cart and explain the restoration process and some of the decisions the Gale Hose Company may have to make along the way.
"There are two trains of thought," retired Fire Chief Edward McGowan said. "Do you restore it to the original condition, or do you just clean it up? If you clean it up, the monetary value is more."
The cart in its current condition has been appraised between $1,500 and $2,000, McGowan said.
The firefighters on Saturday marveled at how well the cart has held up despite the fact that it has not been stored in climate-controlled conditions. Much of the original paint is still in evidence, as well as what Glover indicated probably is gold leaf — although that will be examined in the conservation process.
Glover is the conservator of furniture and wood objects at the WACC. He said he will work on parts of the cart, and metal specialists will be called upon to address other aspects.
The cart was manufactured by the Boston Woven & Rubber Hose Co. of Kendall Square in Cambridge, whose name is printed on the artifact, along with name "J.B. Gale No. 2." The apparatus would have been pulled to the scene of a fire by four to eight firefighters.
The cart is possibly one of two donated to the-then newly established hose company in 1895 by John Benjamin Gale, a Williams College graduate and president of Williamstown National Bank. According to "Williamstown: The First Two Hundred Years," the company was formed after a fire at the Boston Finishing Works (later General Cable) on Water Street. Gale donated two carts and 1,000 feet of hose; however, the district also purchased two more carts along with other equipment. The company was named in 1897 after Gale, who died in 1906 at age 82.
McGowan is asking that anyone who may have photos or newspaper clippings that depict the hose cart in action contact the Williamstown Fire District. Such images could be helpful in restoration as well as placing the cart in historical context.
The Gale Hose Company has no definite plans on where and how to display the cart once it is restored, McGowan said.
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