Remembering Thomas Horn Sr., Sag Harbor’s Longest Serving Fireman

Thomas Horn Sr.

Summertime visitors to Sag Harbor might have thought Thomas W. Horn Sr. lived in the old firehouse next to the Municipal Building on Main Street. After all, he treated the open bay, where he sat behind a card table most evenings chatting with passersby and selling raffle tickets to benefit his pet project, the Sag Harbor Fire Department Museum, as though it was his own front porch.
This week, that firehouse is adorned with purple and black bunting as a memorial to Mr. Horn, a 69-year veteran of the department, who died on February 25 at the age of 90 after a short stay at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, his family said. When he died, his five surviving children were at his bedside.

As befits the longest serving member of the fire department, Mr. Horn’s casket was carried from St. Andrew Catholic Church after his funeral mass to the parish cemetery on the back of one of the department’s antique trucks and driven past two ladder trucks from which huge American flags were flown — one down the street from his home on Meadowlark Lane, and the other in front of the department’s headquarters on Brick Kiln Road.
“There were a couple of things my dad loved,” said his son Robert Horn. “His family was first, but Sag Harbor and the fire department were neck and neck with each other for second.”

Although he was an electrician by trade, Mr. Horn also took a deep interest in the people and places of his hometown. That knowledge served him well during a nearly quarter-century of service on the village’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review. It also helped bond him to his children and grandchildren.

“He and I used to take trips around town, and he would tell me the history of how it changed, who lived here and there, and how much he loved the community he was born in,” said his daughter Kathleen Horn.

His grandson, Ryan Horn, also remembered the walks. “We’d pass dozens of dark houses used only on weekends or during the summer. But Grandpa knew how to turn on the lights and turn back the clock, reciting the family names and highlights of every single home along the route,” he wrote in a eulogy.

During the Great Depression, Mr. Horn and his friends roamed the village and sometimes got into mischief the way most boys do, Robert Horn said. “When he was a kid, he and a friend climbed the bell tower of the Old Whalers’ Church to write their names on the wall, thinking that would be a new thing. He told me he couldn’t remember if he wrote his own name because when he looked up he was so surprised to see his uncle Charlie’s name was already there.”

Too young to serve in World War II and recently married when the Korean War began, Mr. Horn turned to the fire department to do his “civic duty,” his son said. For 35 years — half of his nearly seven-decade career with the department — Mr. Horn served with the Gazelle Hose Company. He rose through the department’s ranks, serving as chief from 1978 to 1980.

In 1978, Mr. Horn was instrumental in the founding of the local fire museum on Church Street, which he also managed for years afterward, enlisting his children and grandchildren to lend a hand in its operation. “He always had an interest in the history of the village, and the history of the fire department, in particular,” his grandson said.

“He was just an encyclopedia of knowledge as far as the fire service went,” said Village Trustee Thomas Gardella, who also served as the department’s chief. “He was always someone you could go to for advice about how things should be run. Picture being able to take a book off the shelf with 70 years of experience.”

The department’s current chief, Steve Miller, said Mr. Horn commanded great respect at the fire department. “He was all original Sag Harbor,” he said. “Everyone looked up to him.”

Former Mayor Ed Deyermond, who served on the fire department for many years with Mr. Horn, said, “He was one of those special old-timers who really knew a lot about history and enjoyed and really kept his focus on Sag Harbor.”

Mr. Horn served on the Village ARB from 1991 to 2015, including several years with Mr. Deyermond’s wife, Bethany, when the board functioned without a historic preservation consultant. She said his knowledge of village history was valuable. “If someone came in and wanted to do an old house over, he could remember what it was like and the people who lived there,” she said.

Chris Leonard, who served as the ARB’s chairman two separate times during Mr. Horn’s tenure, agreed that his knowledge of the village was an asset to the board. “I always thought he was reasonable and fair,” he added.

Kathleen Horn said her father was reasonable and fair with his children as well. “He was just the epitome of a good father,” she said. “He was cut from a different cloth than a lot of people.”

Mr. Horn was born on January 29, 1930, to Thomas T. Horn and the former Anna Petzoldt. He attended local schools and went to work at the Bulova factory during the day and his father’s electrical contracting business at night and on weekends after graduating from Pierson High School. He eventually took over the family business and later in life worked as an electrical inspector for the New York Board of Fire Underwriters.

In 1947, the same year he graduated from high school, Mr. Horn was sitting on a bench on Main Street with some friends when he whistled at Eileen V. Muldowney, who was walking down the street with her friends. When she turned to glare at him, he responded, “What makes you think I was whistling at you?” Robert Horn recounted. But the couple hit it off when they were introduced shortly afterward and were married on April 9, 1950.

Ryan Horn said his father used the $750 he had saved for vacations and retirement at Bulova to buy the lot on Meadowlark Lane, where he built the home where family members still live.

A member of St. Andrew Catholic Church, Mr. Horn served on the parish school board for many years.

Mr. Horn’s wife died in 2018 and a son, Charles F. Horn, died in 1969. Besides his son Robert, who lives in Rocky Point, and his daughter Kathleen, who lives in Noyac, he is survived by three other children, Eileen Alanna Caffery of Southold, Thomas W. Horn Jr. of Sag Harbor and Michael P. Horn of Riverhead. He is also survived by six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Sag Harbor Fire Department Museum.