Finally, A Little TLC For Sag Harbor Fire Department Museum

Sag Harbor Village Trustee and former Fire Chief Tom Gardella in the Sag Harbor Fire Department Museum. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

The Sag Harbor Fire Department Museum, which occupies a building on Church Street that first served as a church before becoming a schoolhouse, village hall, and finally a firehouse, has been pretty much locked up since its greatest booster and indefatigable volunteer, Thomas W. Horn Sr., died on February 25, 2020.

But concern over the museum’s collection of fire memorabilia and the soundness of the building itself, which was constructed in 1833, has spurred the Village Board to commission Cameron Engineering to undertake an initial study to determine what needs to be done to protect it.

“It has to be preserved,” said Trustee Thomas Gardella, a former fire chief who remains an active member of the department. “It’s too valuable.”

Mr. Gardella said the initial engineering study, which will cost $22,500, will allow engineers to “come in here and do what they have to do, so they can give us a concise rundown of what needs to be done and what it will cost.”

Antique fire truck toys occupy a corner of the Sag Harbor Fire Department Museum. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

In the meantime, the museum, which would have ordinarily been open to the public on summer days, when Mr. Horn was still alive, will be remain closed, its memorabilia collecting dust.

“Some of the stuff is valuable, and some is not,” said Mr. Horn’s grandson, Ryan, who, like other members of the Horn family, was recruited by his grandfather to help out at the museum on his summer vacations from school. “But most of it is invaluable because of some random connection to Sag Harbor.”

Visitors would have been greeted with an assortment of photographs, fire department tournament trophies, toys, fire department-themed decorations, and some more substantial items, including a 1926 Ford Model T chief’s truck that was donated by the family of Joseph Archi, and a man-pulled hose reel dating to the early 1800s.

A mural by Arthur Nielsen, depicting two major fires in the village business district, one in 1915, the other in 1925, covers the north wall. A timeline of other major fires in village history, ending with the December 16, 2016, blaze that badly damaged the Sag Harbor Cinema, extends along a central beam.

While some materials are neatly displayed, others are randomly stacked on available flat surfaces. Mr. Gardella said members of the department’s Ex-Chiefs Association now serve as the museum’s stewards. He said the department will likely organize a work detail to remove items before the engineers come in. The next question is where to store the museum’s collection in the meantime.

Without an engineer’s professional opinion, it’s hard to know how much work needs to be done. The floors sag and stairs creak. On the second floor, a roof leak caused a section of drywall ceiling and insulation to come tumbling down.

Mr. Horn said his grandfather was instrumental in establishing and maintaining the museum. It opened in 1978 when Mr. Horn was chief, and by the mid-1980s until his death early last year, he pretty much ran the show and raised the money to keep it going by selling raffle tickets from a folding table at the Main Street Firehouse on summer evenings, his grandson said.

The building, which sits at the northeast corner of Church and Sage streets, is valuable in its own right. It was constructed by the First Presbyterian Church as a session house and lecture hall before the congregation’s current home, the Old Whalers’ Church, was constructed up the block in 1848. It served as the home of the Woodward family from 1848 to 1856, when it was sold to the village, which used it first as a schoolhouse and then a village hall. Later it became a firehouse for the department’s Hounds Engine Company, which later changed its name to the Montauk Hose Company, and used the building until it moved in 1976 to Columbia Street.

“I’m glad that somebody is finally doing something to take care of it,” said Mr. Horn.