First SMFD Fire Chief
by Doug Welch,
Town of Manchester Fire Department Historian and Retired Firefighter

The first Chief of the South Manchester Fire Department was Frank Cheney, Jr., serving from 1897 to 1901. Mr. Cheney resided most of his adult life at his home at 20 Hartford Road, the building currently housing the offices of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

He was born August 14, 1860 in South Manchester, the son of Frank and Susan Jarvis Cheney. He was educated in the private and public schools of Manchester, graduating from Hartford Public High School (Manchester had no high school at the time for those who wished a higher education). He went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 1882.

Following his graduation, he entered into the business his father helped found. Having taken special courses in preparation for this move, he began his career in 1882 as superintendent of the Cheney Bros. machine shop. In 1884, he was made superintendent of the dressing and spinning mill and was named a director of the firm in 1893. He was made a vice-president in that year, a position he held until succeeding to the presidency in 1907. Mr. Cheney was president of the company until 1926, remaining as chairman of the board until 1931.

Frank Cheney, Jr. became known as "the town's first citizen", emerging as the dean of Manchester's industrial, business and banking leaders. In addition to his accomplishments at Cheney Brothers, he served as town representative to the General Assembly in 1905 and was reelected in 1907.

He served as director and president of the South Manchester Water Co., the South Manchester Electric Co., the Sanitary and Sewer District, and was a director of the South Manchester Railroad. He served as chairman and president of the Manchester Savings and Loan Assn. from 1893 to 1951. He was president of the Savings Bank of Manchester until 1954 (at the age of 94), a position he had held since the firm was founded in 1905. He was also one of the incorporators of Manchester Memorial Hospital and was chairman of Manchester's Centennial Committee in 1923.

It is understandable that a man with this much drive would take the reins of the fire department he helped create. When a fire destroyed a Main Street business block in 1897, a petition was presented to the town selectmen signed by several Main Street business leaders requesting the organization of a fire department.

At a town meeting on April 21, 1897, Frank Cheney, Jr. was elected president of the South Manchester Fire District, a position he held for 26 years. After five companies of fire fighters were organized and equipment was ordered, Fire District officials held a meeting in June, 1897, at which Frank Cheney, Jr. was elected to serve as the first Chief of the South Manchester Fire Department.

Mr. Cheney passed away on March 31, 1957 at the age of 96, just months before the Town of Manchester took control of his beloved South Manchester Fire Department.

April, 2007