The early settlers of Marlborough were a law-abiding citizenry; the existence of the stocks beneath the stairs of the meetinghouse where good people on their way to Sunday worship could view the miscreant paying the penalty for his crime – probably of shooting a bird on Sunday, blaspheming or speaking against the government – and the boldly lettered “DRUNKARD” sign firmly affixed to the back of the weak-willed imbiber attest to the fact that our forebears were not disposed to trifle with law and order, and the enforcement thereof. The Village elders, and later the Selectmen of the Town were judge and jury, as well as arresting officers. But it was not until 1858, very nearly two centuries after its establishment that Marlborough saw anything resembling a definite Police Department
established. On May 15 of that year, George H. Warfield was appointed Special Police Office with all the powers of a Constable. Seven years later, in 1865, the Town by-laws then adopted provided for a sufficient number of police officers to be named to ensure maintenance of law and order, and to arrest any violators of the law. Twenty years later six men were listed as Constables, including one Jeremiah Keane who served as Chief of Police at that time; their combined salaries for that year totaled $3,197.19.
When Marlborough became a city in 1890, the title Chief of Police was replaced by that of City Marshal, until 1925 when the City Council passed an ordinance restoring the title of Chief to the head of the department. The position of Chief was an appointive one, however, and no particular experience was required of the man the Mayor chose to name head of the Department, until the year 1947 when the citizens voted to give the Chief of Police Civil Service status, although all other members of the Police Force had been under Civil Service since 1900.
That same year, the first Police Cruiser, a horse-drawn wagon was purchased and used until 1913 when it was replaced by a patrol wagon and ambulance. The department now has two ambulance-type cruisers, provided with two-way radios, resuscitators and first aid equipment. There are at present, in addition to Chief Clifford A. Scott, four sergeants, 16 regular patrolmen and seven reserve officers.
A photographic section, teletype communications system, installation of additional police emergency call-boxes and a Safety Program for our schools are among recent innovations.
The Marlborough Fire Department was established in 1831 when a secondhand “hand tub” fire engine was purchased by public subscription and a company of volunteers was formed to, operate this equipment. Three years later, the citizens added another engine and soon after a third one, so that there was a hand-tub for each of the three villages of the town. In 1849 the town itself bought three new engines but engine houses and fire companies were the problem of the citizens of each village. These engines were named the “Torrent” in the East Village, the “Okommakamesit” in the West Village and the “Eureka” in what is now Hudson. Officers of thee companies were the town’s leading citizens and company membership was by election of carefully screened
candidates. The companies were efficient and great rivalry existed; there were also social clubs that promoted dances, dinners and fairs by which they obtained money for the upkeep of equipment, the surplus going for uniforms. In 1853 the State Legislature passed an act that these companies could be maintained at public expense and the men in the companies could be paid; three dollars per year was the base pay and this was turned into the company treasury by the members.
In May of 1860, a ladder company was organized, equipment bought and a building erected. The Company was named the Union Hook and Ladder Company; Clarence Brigham, who died on March 9, 1960, at the age of 102, was elected a member of this company and was its last surviving member.
All fire apparatus was drawn by hand and horses were not used until 1889, the same year the public water system was constructed; previous to that date, water was pumped form wells and brooks, each house having its own well, with many shallow cisterns, built by the town for storing water for fire prevention and for firefighting. Occasionally one of these old cisterns is encountered when a street is dug into for reconstruction of drains and sewers.
The ladder company was the elite of the fire department; its social functions were elaborate and the meeting room in its building was carpeted and finely furnished. To this company was later added a hose reel to supplement the hose carried by the engine companies. There were many “Firemen’s musters” when companies from surrounding towns would go into competition for running time and for distance of spurting water. As sporting events these continue to the present day with old tubs manned by fire buffs. The old Okommakamesit tub is now owned by a club in the town of Marblehead, MA. The ladder company could not find a place in those tub competitions, but made up for it by its superior social role and its more elaborate uniforms.
With the introduction of the public water supply system in Marlborough, the water pressure at street hydrants was high enough to enable the city to dispense with engines and hose companies were substituted. These were horse-drawn and of course required permanent fire drivers to care for the horses, usually a single horse to each company. The hose truck wheels were shifted to runners for the winter months. In the changeover to horse-drawn apparatus the ladder company was able to maintain its social prestige, as the truck could not be placed on runners for the snowy seasons and consequently had to have much more horsepower. No one could ever forget the three-abreast matched white horses drawing the ladder truck, particularly when the horses were attached to the hose reel vehicle and taken out for daily exercise
along the Main Street. The “hooks” were something!
By 1910 the horse drawn ladder truck had been supplanted by a motorized piece of apparatus, with solid rubber tires. Soon after all of the fire fighting equipment was motorized and all horse drawn vehicles gave way to the gasoline-powered conveyances and no more are sparrows seen in flocks along our streets.