WINDSOR -- I grew up next door to a fire station.
"Didn't you grow up in Gate Cottage at Notchview, the Helen and Arthur D. Budd estate in Windsor?" people ask me.
Yes, and there was a fire station next door. As far as I know, it's still there.
Helen Gamwell Ely (1865-1958) purchased 250 acres of farmland in Windsor in 1909. She refurbished the house and added a large wing in 1914. She converted a barn into the west cottage and built a new gate house.
She was superintendent of the Rochester, N.Y., City Hospital. Her husband, Dr. William S. Ely, was head of the medical staff there. Ely died in 1912, and their only son, Lt. William S. Ely Jr., died in France in 1918 while serving with the U.S. Army Air Corps. A career military officer, Arthur D. Budd (1882-1965) accompanied Ely's body back to Rochester and met the widow. After the war, in 1920, they married in London.
Lt. Col. Budd served with the 311th Infantry in France during World War I. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action near Grandpre, France, in October 1918.
The colonel remained in active diplomatic and military work. He retired 1932, and the couple made Helenscourt and Notch View Farm their home.
"The acres on Helenscourt are as wild as any in the Berkshires," the Berkshire Evening Eagle said on Sept. 24, 1929. "Game of many kinds abounds in the woods and fields. Brooks go babbling on their way to join tributaries of the Connecticut."
The colonel bequeathed the by-then 3,000-acre property to The Trustees of Reservations.
My dad became superintendent of Notchview and other nearby reservations until he retired in 1983. Notchview today is a popular outdoor recreation and cross-country skiing center.
The water supply at Notchview was inadequate in the 1930s, and the Budds put in a new reservoir and built two small, shingle-sided hydrant houses. These were miniature fire stations. Broad doors opened to reveal a fire hydrant, shelves holding coils of 21 2-inch fire hose, red-painted fire axes, assorted nozzles and wrenches.
One of these houses was next to the gate house. The other one was in front of the west cottage, now the Notchview Visitors Center. The one next to the gate house had a siren in the belfry. There was a small metal box on the side of the building. Open the little door and pull the switch and the siren sounded.
I remember the colonel one time pulled the switch to test the system. It worked. He no doubt expected his workmen in the gardens or nearby woods would hear the siren and come running, roll out the hose, attach the nozzles and douse flames.
The trouble is, when the colonel did his alarm test, I don't think anyone showed up. It had been years since his workmen had ‘trained' in their response, much less heard the siren.
There was a third hydrant, near the main house. A hose cart was stored at the main house. The main house also had interior piping and hose coils in strategic locations.
These two little stations (the west cottage one is gone) predated Windsor's Volunteer Fire Department by three decades. The system is no longer operational, Notchview Superintendent Jim Caffrey told me.
Ironically, the main house was burned in a practice exercise for fire departments in 1995. As flames crept through the old dwelling, longtime neighbor Raymond Estes stood out on Old Route 9 and watched.
He remembered the last time there had been a fire there, in a chimney years ago, he said. After it was out, the colonel sent someone to his wine cellar and treated all the volunteer firefighters to a few drinks afterward.
If you go ...
What: Notchview Reservation, 25 miles of hiking or cross-country skiing trails
Where: Route 9, Windsor
When: Daily, sunrise to sunset
Admission: $2, spring to fall.