As far as can be determined, the first fire company in Camden Village was organized in 1847, and known as the “Hydrant Fire Company #1.” That went out of operation shortly after and reorganized in 1851 and again in 1854, adopting the same bylaws and name. The equipment included a hand tub, a hose reel, a ladder, towing reels and ends of ladders.

Eighty-five young men signed an agreement in 1867 to organize a company sufficiently large enough to take care of the Hydrant Engine #1 and the Atlantic #2. From that time on the company was known as Atlantic Engine Company #2, with a motto “Always ready.”

During the Great Fire of Camden on Nov. 10, 1892, the whole business section of Camden went up in smoke, leveling 40 buildings including the fire station. There was neither water pressure nor equipment to contain the fire. Immediately after, the businessmen made plans for buildings constructed of brick and for the purchase at once of an Amoskeag No. 3 fire engine for $3,500. A new fire station was built on the same spot on Washington Street, opposite the present town conference room.

Allen F. Payson was born in South Hope on July 11, 1889, to Charles and Lelia Maxey Payson. He received his fire training in Massachusetts, and was a life member of the Massachusetts Fire Chiefs Association. He married Cora Payson, who was born in LaGrane on Dec. 11, 1891, to Alverdo and Hannah Philbrook Chase. They had three children: Douglas L. Payson, Mrs. Dagmar Moran and Errol Payson, plus three grandchildren.

Equipment was purchased piece after piece and Allen Freedom Payson was elected Camden’s chief in 1933. He founded the Camden Ambulance Service on April 7, 1936.  He was instrumental in establishing early on, trained fire, ambulance and Red Cross first-aid  protection for Camden and the surrounding areas.

In 1950, his many years of service were commemorated by naming the new fire station, at its present  location, the Allen F. Payson Fire Station, for its popular chief. It was the only one in the state of Maine, at that time, named after a fire chief. Later when Camden added  to the Safety Building complex, it named that building the Robert M. Oxton Annex, for the community dedicated chief who was appointed in 1960 when Allen Payson retired due to ill health.

Payson was a member and past president of the New England Fire Chiefs Association, and a life member of the Maine Fire Chiefs Association, of which he was president in 1948. He was also elected president of the Knox County Firemen’s Association.

Chief Payson was a member of Amity Lodge of Masons for more than 40 years, a life member of the Camden Rotary Club and  a member of the Methodist Church in Camden.

During World War II, there was a wooden honor roll on the Camden Village Green and Allen painted names on a slat, when some person left his or her hometown of Camden to go into the service. He also painted a gold star, if the serviceman was killed. One day he had the sorrowful job of painting a gold star after his son’s name, Errol Payson, as he was killed in action on the battlefield in France on Nov. 27, 1944. Later he also painted a gold star after his nephew’s name, Burnett Payson, when he was killed in Germany on Feb. 23, 1945.

Allen Payson’s wife, Cora, died Sept. 9, 1969. She had been a resident of Camden for 72 years, and the first president of the Camden Firemen’s Auxiliary.

The chief was 89 years old when he died Aug. 30, 1978. After 45 years of service he received full burial honors. Following the funeral service and eulogy, his casket was placed on Engine #5 by six officers of the Camden Fire Department, followed by Engine #1 covered in flowers. Engines #1 and #5 were the last two engines purchased during his term as chief. A funeral procession included several fire trucks and about 30 Camden firefighters went with their beloved chief to his burial at Mountain View Cemetery.

Want to hear about an unsolved murder in Camden next time?