Hand-Drawn Fire Pumper
L. Button Company
Waterford, New York
Oak, bronze, copper, paint
Gift of the town of Edgartown
The "Button tub" was the pride of Edgartown when it rolled into town in October 1855. In anticipation of its arrival, the Vineyard Gazette had called it "a beautiful machine in its appearance, and a most effective engine in its operation." In its enthusiasm, the Gazette suggested that the fire company "procure a neat uniform" to celebrate the town's new fire engine.
Though Edgartown was not buying the pumper in response to a major fire, the threat to the town's predominately wooden buildings was always there, and it increased as the town grew and prospered. In the early years of the century, Vineyard households had their own fire buckets with the family name painted on them so they could be returned to the correct house after a fire in town.
In the years that followed Edgartown's purchase of the Button pumper, some big fires did hit Vineyard towns. A blaze in 1883 destroyed everything on Main Street in Vineyard Haven from the harness factory where the stone bank now stands to the Mansion House hotel. In 1872, Edgartown photographers Charles and Robert Shute had to start their business over again after all their negatives went up in flames.
By 1935 the pumper was no longer in use. Edgartown began to look for a place where this beautiful piece of machinery could be preserved and donated it to the Museum, on one condition. The town wanted to be able to use it in parades. With that understood, the Button pumper began its life as a working symbol of Edgartown's firefighting history.
The Museum and the Edgartown Fire Department work together to tell the story of the Button pumper. For many years on the Fourth of July, Edgartown firemen pulled the pumper out of the carriage shed on the Museum campus and ran it in the town's parade. Since 2011 the pumper has been on loan to the Edgartown Fire Museum, which was built to house the pumper and other later fire engines.