Members of the Merced County Historical Society and the Merced Fire Department have been hard at work putting the final touches on the new Courthouse Museum exhibit “150 Years Later: Old Betsy’s Legacy Continued.”
The exhibit opens on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 5 p.m., with a free community celebration.
A newly polished and restored “Old Betsy” — the city’s first firefighting water pump — will be unveiled along with an antique fire engine display and a haunted Blacksmith shop. There will also be a “bucket brigade showdown,” activities for the kids, and an ice cream social.
“I think it’s valuable looking back and seeing the roots,” said Fire Engineer Joel Verrinder as he toured the exhibit on the even of the opening. “Even going back 150 years, in 1873, it was identified that some fire protection was going to be needed. It was on March 31 of 1873, when there was a fire in Snelling, and Merced decided that they were going to need some fire protection. Later that year is when the first engine company was put in service, and it was all volunteer at that time.”
Of course, “Old Betsy” will be the highlight of the show. The 3,000-pound piece of firefighting equipment was originally pulled by the volunteer firefighters and manually positioned for use at fires. In its heyday, Verrinder noted that often times Old Betsy would see around 20 hands tending to its handles to keep the water flowing during a fire. During Thursday’s event, Verrinder is excited at the opportunity for residents and children alike to be able to take a closer look at Old Betsy and the setup that those early firemen would have made use of in the early days of the department’s history.
Other artifacts, like an old helmet on display, likely rival Old Betsy’s age. “You can see in these photos from the 1800s that it’s the exact type of helmet they were using,” Verrinder reflected.
Other historical items in the exhibit include a sign marker denoting the presence of a fallout shelter. These were former underground safety locations during the Cold War, Verrinder explained. One was established underneath the Mondo Building in downtown Merced at the corner of Canal and Main Street in 1957.
Overall, Verrinder noted that while the department is now 150 years old, many of the firefighters who make up the ranks today remain committed to the same principals as those who founded the first engine company.
“We’ve been serving for 150 years now, and we are going to keep on serving and protecting the city, and provide the best service we can.”
The Merced County Courthouse Museum is located at N and 21st streets in downtown Merced. It is open Wednesday through Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information about the exhibit, please contact the Museum office at (209) 723-2401, or visit online at: mercedmuseum.org.