In front of the Rockland Fire Station on Park Street, there is an old brass and wooden thing with big wagon wheels in a glass showcase. We drive by it daily. Some know what it is.

Many never have given it a thought.

Prompted by a recent bout of curiosity, I decided to scope it out. I found a very comprehensive account in the Jan. 17, 1925, Courier-Gazette.

I learned that it is an 1872 Button fire engine, manufactured in Waterford, New York. Water was pumped by hand to fight fires in this operation. It required a great team effort, and in time became a sport at “firemen’s musters” all around the state of Maine. Machines like this were a great source of pride in their communities.

The name on the side says, “General Berry,” for Civil War General Hiram Gregory Berry. General Berry was one of four generals from Rockland to serve the Union in the Civil War. He was killed by a sniper in the battle of Chancelorsville on May 3, 1863. Vice President Hanibal Hamlin came to Rockland to attend the funeral.

The General Berry was one of five hand pumpers to serve the city of Rockland.

In 1853, Rockland took delivery of two Hunneman pumpers – Dirigo 3 and Defiance 4. The Hunneman engines were a smaller class of pumpers.

In 1872, Rockland received two bigger rigs – N.A. Burpee 4 and General Berry 3. These were first-class Button pumpers. A fifth engine, named John Bird, rounded out the fleet.

On Sept.12, 1872, the General Berry and N.A. Burpee competed in their first fireman’s muster in celebration of joining the Rockland Fire Department.

The General Berry’s career as a piece of firefighting equipment in Rockland spanned an era from 1872 through 1886. She was sold to a fire department in Ashburnham, Mass. and renamed the Geyser. From then on it was used only for Firemen’s musters.

In 1897, the Geyser was sold to an East Providence, Rhode Island fire department. It was during this time the Geyser had its best play – 234 feet, 5 inches.

In 1916, the Geyser was sold to a muster organization in Hoosac Falls, New York, and renamed the George W. Clark.

1n 1920, the George W. Clark returned to Rockland and was named the Albert R. Havener. Still a competitor, it participated in 11 musters and won three first place honors.

The Rockland Volunteer Fireman’s Association renamed it the General Berry in 1928.

This amazing apparatus competed in 53 musters during its lifetime, scoring four first place awards, $1,200 in prize money and a trumpet.

By the way, there is still a fire engine that carries the name of General Berry and protects our city. It is Squad 3 – General Berry Engine Company 3.

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

Rockland Fire Department’s General Berry, engine 3. Photo by Glenn Billington

Rockland Fire Department truck, Squad 3, General Berry, Company 3. Photo courtesy of Rockland Fire Department