50 years ago, the men and women of a small, rural community in upstate NY came together to provide a very basic need for their friends, family, and neighbors. Through their efforts the Speedsville Volunteer Fire Company was formed.
Starting with the fifty plus founding members, this company has seen three generations uphold this tradition of giving back to their community. These are men and women who are common people. They do not come from wealth or privilege. They are farmers, construction workers, mechanics, secretaries, storekeepers, nurses, factory workers, etc. Yet they saw a need and stepped up to fill a void.
It was at this same time that the Ladies Auxiliary was formed with it’s original eight members. These women met at the home of Pat Baker until the station was build and provided a place for them to meet.
Their first truck was a used Dodge Tanker bought from a fire company located on Coddington Road. They purchased their first Engine from West Danby. This small company housed it’s first tanker truck in Bob Maynard’s barn the first winter, parked between the cows to keep it from freezing, Beebe’s garage, located next to the park in the summers and in Ken Mulnix’s garage (there was a wood fire to keep the water from freezing) the next winter with help from Ken, John Wiiki and Joe Wiiki tending the fire.
The donation of land from Frank and Betty Goodrich provided a place for these same men and women to build their own station in 1965. With labor donated these men drilled their well, dug their septic and erected the building (the area we now refer to as the truck bay). Over the years, they were able to add on the meeting room and office, all with volunteer labor.
These men and women worked countless fundraisers- chicken bbq’s, carnivals (Jimmy, Roger and a couple of other guys loaded into Maynard’s truck and headed to Syracuse for all the plates they could get for the carnival- some of these shards are still being dug up when work is done on the ball field), concerts, enduros, horse pulls, and lately the horseshoe league and tournaments all to help ease the tax burden of maintaining this fire district. They had fun nights, dances, movies, calendar sales (Red Hines kicked butt in this area), and even a bet to see how long an engine would run with no oil or antifreeze in it. This was won by Mark Gregrow at the tender age of 14 or 15.
With the help of the community, this fire company took a donated piece of land and has maintained it as a community ball field, Van Riper Park. In the early days of the Enduro, food was cooked and served out of a converted truck box in the area the pavilion now stands. After a very disastrous spring Enduro, the timing was changed to summer to help with the wet weather conditions often found here in the spring.
Through many ups and downs this small community has continued to be supported by the many men and women who volunteer to keep this a safer place to live and for that we should all be grateful.
Although nobody seems to know the exact month or day of SpeedsviIle’s birth, accepted opinion has it that Laban Jenks of Massachusetts was the first person to settle there sometime in 1800.
First it was called The Corners, then Jenksville. It was only 35 years later that Speedsville came into being, when John J. Speed, Jr., who owned and operated a post office down the road and outside the community, was persuaded to move his operation into the community for the modest price of changing its name.
At its peak, in the mid- to late-19th century, Speedsville, which was basically a farming community, nonetheless had a hotel; two general stores; a crock and brick factory; a barrel, crate and coffin factory; woodworking and wagon shops; a creamery; several cheese factories; a school and a newspaper.
Speedsville’s eventual decline as a thoroughfare came with the new century and the building of the Catskill Turnpike (Route 79), which gradually isolated the community from the rest of the Town of Caroline and Tompkins County.
The hamlet also was bypassed by the railroad that ran through Brooktondale to Ithaca several times a day. Two disastrous fires that destroyed several contiguous buildings in the community’s center also didn’t help matters.
During Prohibition, Speedsville acquired a reputation as a hard-drinking town. “There were a hell of a lot of fistfights up at the community hall after a dance,” said Perl Jordan, 87. “Everybody had a still, but the revenue people didn’t bother us much.”
After World War II, declining milk prices gradually cut into farming profits, and the once-thriving community became largely residential. Those seeking work traveled south to Owego and Binghamton. But with the decline of Southern Tier industry in the ’80s, more of the hamlet’s inhabitants looked to Ithaca and Cornell University for employment A large number of the residents who don’t farm, work at Cornell or Borg-Warner Automotive.
The biggest events today? Trout season in April brings hundreds of the region’s fishermen to West Branch Creek because it is regularly stocked by state hatcheries. The Speedsville Enduro dirt bike race in August draws hundreds of motorcyclists from around the country.