Click on any picture to see a full-sized photo, or click here to view the Mohegan Volunteer Fire Department Photo Gallery.

Firetruck -- American LaFranceFor Americans, more than one awakening took place on September 11, 2001.  It wasn’t merely the realization of how vulnerable we are to attack; nor was it only that Americans are tough and resilient.  It wasn’t the resurgence of patriotism on a grand scale, not seen since World War II.  That day, and the weeks and months that followed, Americans on a national scale became aware of the heroes we have on our streets everyday who risk their lives to save others…firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel. 

Many of the firefighters and emergency personnel are volunteers.  In towns across America, men and women every day are fighting fires, rescuing accident victims and coming to the aid of someone in need without compensation:  everyday heroes.   Yorktown is lucky to have four such companies of men and women:  the Yorktown Heights Engine Co., the Yorktown Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the Mohegan Fire District, and the Mohegan Volunteer Fire Assn. Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Inc.  The latter two, originally one unit, celebrated their 80th Anniversary on February 21, 2002.

In the early part of the 20th century, Lake Mohegan was the place to be for live bands and Broadway entertainment outside of New York City.  The many clubs and hotels attracted big name performers, and the summer crowds swelled with visitors from all over the region.  The local police hired additional officers, and laws were passed to cover some of the less-desirable resulting behavior, such as indecent dress.  (One example abhorred by the locals was the wearing of swim attire on the street!)   

Prior to 1922, fires were attended to by the Peekskill Fire Company or The Yorktown Heights Engine Co.  However, their effectiveness in being able to reach a fire in time to save lives and property was limited, given the road conditions and equipment at the time. 

Mohegan Volunteer Fire Department circa 1922According to a 1947 newspaper article in the Yorktown Herald, “on February 21, 1922 a group of local citizens met in the little Mohegan school house on the top of Barmore Hill for the purpose of organizing a fire department.”  “…the following 27 men are believed to have been in attendance at that important meeting:  Mohegan Volunteer Fire Department circa 1922Theodore Hill, Jr., H. Field Horne, Arthur Horton, J.W. Horne, William O’Neill, James Gilmartin, John Wubbe, James Cuatt, Bernard McCord, Addison Garland, Albert Heady, David Travis, Everett Travis, Albert Travis, George Jetter, J. Edward Jetter, Olie Odell, Robert and William Foell, Herman Croft, Christopher Jetter, William Zugner, Cleveland Curry,  and Roy Heady.”   The article went on to mention Louis Zugner as chief, Milton Pratt as treasurer, and Robert Reynolds as secretary.  In a group photo dated September 20, 1922, at least 80 men can be counted, attesting to the great response among local residents, following that first meeting.

In June of 1982, at the 60th anniversary celebration of the Mohegan Volunteer Fire Association, interviews were conducted with then First Lieutenant Frank Healy and Life Member Hugh Scofield.  Scofield said, “People came from all over to stay the weekend at the casinos and hotels in Mohegan.  When the hotel that featured big bands burned, that made the original men form the company.”

Jetter ResidenceAccording to Healy, the first firehouse was located in a barn on the Jetter Estate on Lexington Ave.  “George G. Jetter was elected the first President and Louis Zugner was elected Chief” said Healy.  Scofield added, “The Jetters owned the Ruppert Brewery and this was their summer home.” 

Pre-1927 Travis ParcelAt that time Albert Travis owned seven acres, including a stone garage, around the corner from the Jetter barn on Five Mile Turnpike (Route 6). Eagle Garage and the Firehouse Tax assessment records show that in 1923, a separate lot was formed out of the seven acre parcel, next to the stone building.  This was donated to the fire association and by 1927 a new headquarters was built on the site.  “The building as it now stands was built from bricks that were taken apart one at a time from the old Park Street School in Peekskill and reassembled on East Main Street.  The volunteers chipped off the old brick, cleaned off the cement, and built the firehouse.” Scofield said.

Banquet Invitation - March 4, 1930Firetruck -- American LaFranceThe first fire truck was a chain driven American La France.  Mr. Heady remembered “In those days the La France was the sleekest piece of apparatus money could buy and they bought her for $2000 – on credit.  She rolled in on July 3, 1922.  After that the firemen and their wives held fairs, potluck suppers, carnivals and minstrel shows, until they owned her free and clear.”

The 1947 Yorktown Herald article reported, “Following the second annual fair, the company equipped a Model T Ford as an ambulance, and served the surrounding communities with a much needed and often utilized service”. 

Fireman's Carnival GateIn a 1971 interview with original member, 71 year old Albert Heady, Mr. Heady recalled “Top prize at the first carnival was a station wagon.  The winner handed it back for a company ambulance.  Later, during depression days, a pair of hearses from a local funeral parlor was drafted for ambulance duty.” 

Carnival GroundsThe Mohegan Volunteer Fire Association served the northern and western sections of Yorktown, as well as five miles into the borders of Cortlandt and Putnam Valley.  Its membership was culled from all three towns as well.  Serving such a large geographic area placed a strain on resources.  The membership voted to become a Joint Fire District in 1933, which if accepted by the voters of all three towns, would provide tax revenues for financial support.  This idea presented new challenges since town and state law, up until that time, had only addressed districts situated within a single town. 

A special committee, headed by Theodore Hill, Jr., was formed to hold a public hearing at the firehouse with local residents.  The hearing was held on November 16, 1933. With no opposition, the committee filed its report on November 20th, stating “Your Committee therefore, respectfully recommends that the said petition be granted; that the order establishing a fire district at Lake Mohegan, Westchester County, New York be adopted.  Signed Theodore Hill, Jr., Thomas C. Gardner and George Turner.”

At the first meeting of the new Lake Mohegan Fire District, H. Field Horne was chosen chairman, Douglas Rockett secretary, Robert W. Archer inspector, and Louis Wolsky clerk. 

District elections were held on December 22, 1933 to elect five fire commissioners and a treasurer.  Notice of the elections were posted, according to law, in the following public places in each town:


  1. Edward Travis Grocery Store

  2. Mohegan Colony Post Office

  3. T.A.Benson, Crompond Road Gas Station

  4.  Varian’s Store, Varian’s Mills

  5. Mrs. Hoffman’s Grocery Store, Van Cortlandtville


  1. Jefferson Valley Post Office, Jefferson Valley, New York (click here for pictures)

  2. Shrub Oak Post Office, Shrub Oak, New York

  3. Triangle Garage, Shrub Oak, New York

  4. Mohegan Post Office, Lake Mohegan, New York

  5. Travis Brothers Garage, Lake Mohegan, New York

Putnam Valley

  1. IGA Store, Oregon Corners, New York

  2. Keller’s Pastry Shop, Lake Peekskill, New York

  3. Al Herman’s Oscawana Lake Public Store and Restaurant

  4. Barney Club House, Lake Oscawana

  5. Grange Hall, Adams Corners

Assembly ActThe five commissioners elected were Dr. Hyman Millman, Theo Austin, Jr., W.M. Tompkins, August Langer and Bernard McCord.  J.W. Horne was elected Treasurer. 

The Westchester County and Putnam County Boards of Supervisors approved the formation of the district.  A bill, dated February 7, 1934, was presented to and passed by, the State Assembly and Senate.  However, it needed more work before the Governor would sign it.  After meeting the necessary requirements, the Joint District was approved and legalized on May 12, 1934.

The Lake Mohegan Fire District agreed to rent the Mohegan Volunteer Fire Association’s firehouse for $40 per month.  It also agreed to purchase all of the Fire Association’s equipment and apparatus, including the La France fire truck, for $7,000.  The district sold seven bonds to raise the necessary funds. 

The ambulance service, known as the Rescue Squad, was not part of the new Joint District agreement.  According to a 1960 interview with then chairman of the Ambulance Committee, Warren Kessler, “the fire chief was responsible for the ambulance until 1937 when the Ambulance Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Lloyd Blythe, Sr.”  It continued to raise money privately until the late 1990’s, when it incorporated under the name of Mohegan Volunteer Fire Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Inc.  This move enabled the Rescue Squad to bill individuals and insurance companies for their service and become self-sustaining.

On November 10, 1942, Supervisors and Councilmen of the towns of Cortlandt, Yorktown and Putnam Valley, met on the matter of enlarging the Lake Mohegan Fire District.  In attendance from Cortlandt were Ellsworth R. Johnson, Supervisor, and Councilmen H. Stanton Reynolds, Martin J. McAndrews, and George Miller, Counsel Robert E. Dempsey, and Clerk James H. Ferris.  From Yorktown were Supervisor John H. Downing, Councilmen Jacob Maurer, Burton Flewwellin and Howard Smith, Counsel Louis Wolsey and Clerk H. Stevenson Wyand.  From Putnam Valley were Supervisor Harry Silleck, Councilmen Wilbur Singer, Clement Gorley, John White, Counsel Israel Ben Schreiber, and Clerk Mrs. Elsin Watson.  The area to be enlarged lay in Cortlandt, and was approved.

From 1943 until 1946 the district paid for rental of a siren, which is believed to have been located on top of the water tower located on the former Jetter property (later Franciscan High School) on Lexington Ave.  This was also used by civil defense throughout World War II.  In 1951, the district petitioned the Town Supervisor of Yorktown, John Downing, to erect a pole near the Pump House at Shrub Oak for a permanent location of their siren.

In 1947, the Town of Putnam Valley decided to withdraw from the Lake Mohegan Fire District, and formed their own Fire Protection District.  A new district map was drawn in December 1951 to reflect the new boundaries.  From 1948 until 1959, Putnam Valley paid the Lake Mohegan Fire District $2800 for out-of-district services.

Ever since Albert Travis donated the first parcel of land for a firehouse, the Travis family has been deeply involved in the fire company.  In a 1960 interview conducted with Everett Travis by Dorothy Groeling, Groeling wrote that for many years the Travis brothers, Everett and David, were associated with their father in a horse-drawn trucking business, Albert Travis and Sons.  About 200 horses were stabled in back of the family home, until the day when motor trucks took over their work.  Later they had a fleet of seven taxis.  Mr. Travis recalled the trolley cars that ran from Peekskill to Lake Mohegan, from 1899 to 1926, when buses replaced them.  Their second garage was the stone building, built in 1917.  The Travis brothers’ garage serviced the fire truck and ambulances next door until 1959, when they moved their business to the corner of Route 6 and Lexington.  The family homestead was moved to the back of the property to make way for the new garage, according to Groeling.

Other Travis family members who have served the company are Willard Travis, former Captain, Willard Jr., Everett, Everett, Jr., Rowland, David, Everett A., Fred, and Walter.                            

A survey performed in 1963 by the New York Fire Insurance Rating Organization recommended, at that time, that substations should be built in the east, west and south of the district.  A special election was held on March 31, 1971 to vote on whether the district should build two new substations at a cost of $701,942, which would be funded through the issuance of short-term bonds.  The measure passed, 265 to 92, and two new stations were built, one in Cortlandt and one in Jefferson Valley.

Over the years, the volunteers fought many fires, but some stand out in memory.  The following were mentioned by some of the old time “smoke eaters”: Carmel Court House; the Peekskill Foundry; the Mohegan Inn in the 1930’s, which used water from Mohegan Lake to fight the fire; the Union Stoveworks; the Old Forest House in 1938, when zero degree temperatures froze the lake and sparks bounced off the ice; and the 3-story chicken house on Bank St. in Jefferson Valley, which Dr. Hyman Millman recalled “We had roast chicken that day.” 

Other fires which made headlines were: the Duratech Manufacturing Corporation (boat factory) in Cortlandt in 1961; the Ca. 1900 Putnam Valley Grange Hall on Mill Street in 1972; Arlo Industries in Cortlandt in 1977; Dain’s Lumber in Peekskill in 1978; the abandoned Strawberry Manor and the abandoned Copper Beech Bungalow Colony, in 1978; and the Peekskill Dude Ranch, off Furnace Woods Rd. in Cortlandt.

50th AnniversaryA 50th Anniversary Celebration took place on February 21, 1972, and in spite of the worst snow storm of the winter, 210 people managed to show up at Lombardi’s Dugout in Mahopac.  Only a fire would have kept them away!

Written by Linda L. Kiederer
Photos and facts courtesy of the Town Clerk’s Office and Yorktown Museum

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