By Carla Charter
When Donna Suskawicz moved back to her childhood town of Hinsdale, N.H. she moved into her family home where her parents and grandparents lived Little did she know that with this move she would become involved in rescuing a historic Hinsdale building.
Suskawicz first heard of the Hope Fire Station #1 when she met up with some old friends. “I went out to a casual lunch at the diner with my former classmates. One classmate did volunteer work with the historical society. She said it was a shame that an old historic building was going to be torn down.”
When Suskawicz asked where this building was she discovered it was an old building behind a former tire company which had at one time belonged to her cousin’s husband. “I had gone there my whole life. It was a fluke I found out about it.”
She went down there after lunch, looked at the property and saw the old building which was originally, Hope Engine Co. #1 Engine House. “The building was really old and really beautiful. It had a Post and Beam Staircase. It was not the Taj Mahal but it just had a feeling about it. “
“I looked closely and could see the outline of the words Hope Engine Co. #1. It was named for the firefighting apparatus that was once stored in the building. It housed an engine and the firemen would pull it. This is where men would grab it. There were originally three of these fire engine buildings within two blocks. They were there to accommodate the mills that were there at the time. It is the only one of three fire buildings in Hinsdale left from that time, the other two were demolished years ago. I think it would have been wrong to tear it down.”
The owner said the building was going to be torn down within the month. “I begged him to wait telling him I thought the building had historical significance.” The owner agreed and Suskawicz brought in Andrew Cushing, a Field Representative of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance to view the building. He confirmed the building was a rare Timber Frame Post and Beam fire engine building from the 1850’s and that it was worth saving. The owner of the property agreed not to tear the building down but explained it would need to be moved as he needed the space.
Suskawicz met with selectmen and informed them it was a historical building and that she would like to see the building saved to be used as a museum to honor the Hinsdale Volunteer Fire Department from the past, present and future. All five of the selectmen voted the building was worth saving. However, the building still had to be moved and selectmen could not allow the building to be moved onto town property until it was approved at town meeting. Originally the estimate was $10,000 to crib it and move it.
To raise funds for the project, Suskawicz started the Friends of Hope Engine Co. #1. The Keene Sentinel wrote a front-page article about the project, calling the building ‘A Hidden Gem. As a result of the article Suskawicz was contacted by Andrew Shapiro. He said “I am going to help save the Hidden Gem.” He offered to move the building to a large parking lot he owned on Main Street and temporarily store it there. “Without Andrew Cushing and Andrew Shapiro, I could not have done it,” Suskawicz said. The Brattleboro Reformer covered the move in October, taking pictures and entitling their article, History on the Move. People came out and were watching the building being moved.
The building project won a Seven to Save award through the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. Suskawicz attended The Preservation Alliance’s Lake Winnipesaukee meeting and gave a presentation on the fire station project.
In the spring Suskawicz wrote up a warrant article to accept the building as a gift and use it as a museum to honor firefighters. It was placed on the town meeting warrant as the result of a citizen’s petition and was accepted by the citizens at town meeting as a gift to the town.
The building still needs work on the roof and wood on the side and windows have to be repaired. work on the roof woods needs to be replaced windows have to be repaired. We don’t know if the town will require a cement foundation, I believe originally it was a dirt floor. We also need to find a permanent location. There are three pieces of property town could put it in empty lots.
As for the importance of saving the building, Suskawicz said, “It was part of our parents and grandparent’s lives. I feel as a culture we learn so much from the past it’s important for future generations to experience what their ancestors went through and where we came from.”
Those wishing to support the Hope Engine Co. #1 Engine House can send donations to Donna Suskawicz, P.O. Box 467, Hinsdale, N.H. 03451 Checks made out to NH Preservation Alliance.