Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hearse Shed / Deluge Fire House / (back to) Hearse Shed

Why the three names for this tiny structure? Well, when originally built, this hearse shed stood next to a graveyard on Bootland Hill in Newton, New Hampshire. There are differing opinions to when it was built; the placard in Greenfield Village states that it was built in the early 19th century, but a list I obtained from the Benson Ford Research Center gives its original date of construction as 1850.
Either way, this building deals with a subject that most other historical villages rarely touch upon: death.
The rate of deaths in the 19th century was great, especially for infants and toddlers. Much more than in our modern times, death was considered a fact of life and was dealt with quite differently than we do today.
To carry the body from the place where it lay in state (usually in the parlor of the home of the deceased), the coffin was carried by pall bearers to the final resting place (more than likely the church graveyard), or, if the graveyard was too long a journey, a horse-drawn flatbed cart or hearse would have been used.
This building was used as a 'storage unit' for the hearse.

When it was relocated to Greenfield Village in 1928, Mr. Ford had another plan for this little wooden shed: the Deluge Fire Department, where it housed a hand-operated hose cart and fire engine. There used to be an alarm bell on the roof that would have been used to call the volunteers to man the equipment.
According to a reader of this blog (see "comments" below), this building remained in that manner until the 1980's, when it was returned to it's original purpose as a hearse shed.
It's unfortunate that I have no photos to show it as the Deluge Fire Department. There are copy written photos from their guide books but I would rather not use those.

From the time it was originally placed inside Greenfield Village, the building was relocated numerous times, most recently in 2003, hence the reason for the different backgrounds between the first two photos.
By the way, I have attempted to do a bit of research on Bootland Hill, where it originally stood - unfortunately, I find no listing anywhere.
There is obviously some importance to the building to the Village management, for, while a number of other original structures have been removed (cooper shop, cobbler shop, as well as a few homes and mills), the hearse shed remains.

For further information on mourning practices of the 19th century click HERE



rpmayer2000 said...

Historic Ken,

You are correct, this Hearse Shed was originally presented as the Deluge Firehouse. I recall that it was still being used as a firehouse well into the 1980s. Rather than the current hearse wagon, it had a fire pumper inside.

Historical Ken said...

Thanks rp mayer, for the confirmation of the hearse Shed/ Deluge Firehouse.
I always enjoy hearing from others with further information - I appreciate it.
Thanks again.