The following article was written about the Eureka Fire Museum which was founded by Ex-Chief Edward Harto. The article was written prior to Chief Harto’s passing, he answered his final alarm on November 28, 2002.
Inside a weather-beaten barn behind the Eureka Engine Co. firehouse in Milltown sits a veritable cornucopia of firefighting memorabilia from around the world.
A treasure-trove of relics fill every nook and cranny of the Eureka Fire Museum, the creation of former Chief Edward Harto and who was its chief caretaker and curator.
Harto started the collection in 1976 after a Milltown volunteer firefighter happened upon an old firefighting hook in the trunk of a junk car. “We had that old hook on the wall of the firehouse for a while,” recalled Harto.
“I thought we could find a better way to display the things we had in the firehouse as well as my collection, which had taken over most of my basement,” Harto said.
Harto persuaded Milltown officials to let the fire company take over the barn – actually a borough storage building – for a museum. Harto and other firefighters spent countless hours over the next five years renovating it until it was ready to open in April 1981.
“If I didn’t start this (the museum), most of these firefighters’ items, along with the stories that went with them, would be in the garbage,” Harto said. “It is a way of preserving a part of history so that others can enjoy it.”
The museum is one of 14 dedicated to firefighting apparatus throughout New Jersey, Harto said. Another is due to open at Allaire State Park in Howell by 2003.
Milltown’s fire museum is funded by donations and fund-raisers – including the firefighters’ annual wild game dinners, which Harto said have raised $17,000 over the years.
Firefighters hope to eventually buy a prefabricated barn as a museum annex to display many historic items that remain in storage because there is no more room in the old barn.
The most prominent items in the museum’s collection are two fire engines, a 1921 American LaFrance and an 1899 Wilkes hand-drawn hose cart. The American LaFrance is a mainstay in Milltown’s annual Fourth of July parade, one of the largest in central New Jersey.
Among the thousands of badges, patches, sprinkler heads and firefighting gear are many unusual items, including a burlap “salvage bag” and a wooden Japanese fire extinguisher. The bag, which dates from 1844, was used by firefighters to remove valuables from burning buildings, Harto said.
The wooden extinguisher, which also dates from the 1800s, probably belonged to a wealthy family, the only ones who could afford to have such fire protection in their home, Harto added.
While Harto bought most of the museum’s artifacts at trade shows and flea markets, several items were donated by firefighters and by family members of deceased firefighters as a way of honoring their memories.
A large map of the United States hangs on a wall near the front door with pins marking the locations of the hundreds of people who have visited the museum over the years. While the majority of visitors have been from the United States, several firefighters from Denmark, New Zealand, South Korea, and Turkey have stopped in while visiting New Jersey.
In recognition of their visit to the museum, Harto adds a small flag from every foreign firefighter’s country to a display on a shelf near the map. That collection of flags now stands at 10.
“We originally started this museum with the hopes of attracting visitors from New Jersey,” Harto said. “I started to feel overwhelmed when people from other states started visiting but when firefighters from foreign countries started coming here, it made me feel really great and really proud.”