Presenting the Streamer: Oratory

“Take then this steam fire engine . . .”

The Lewisburg Chronicle carried the following detailed description of the presentation of the steamer to the town of Lewisburg attended by over a thousand residents of the area.

About one o’clock on Monday afternoon [February 14th, 1874] the members of the fire department commenced to gather at the market house where the fire apparatus was kept, and in half an hour afterwards the column started, headed by the Lewisburg Silver Cornet Band, Mr. S.D. Bates, Chief Engineer commanding. The steamer was next in line followed by three hose carriages and the little “Valiant”, which through years ago was the pride of the borough, looked like a mere toy in comparison with the mammoth steamer at the head of the column.

The march was made out Market Street to near Eighth, when the column returned, and marching to near Water Street finally formed in front of Squire Cameron’s residence. Here perhaps over a thousand citizens had collected to witness the presentation ceremonies. The neighboring boroughs were represented, and the adjoining townships had sent large delegations, while our citizens had a general holiday.

In a few minutes the door of Mr. Cameron’s residence opened and the generous donor stepped to the front and addressed those assembled substantially as follows:

Speech by Mr. Cameron

Gentlemen of the town council of the borough of Lewisburg-I am happy to present to you for the citizens of Lewisburg the steam fire engine, hose carriages and hose now before you. And let me say to you, this is not the first time I have thought of making some gift to the Boro of Lewisburg. I had intended making an entirely different one; but when I saw the steam fire engine exhibited here a few weeks ago, and found the people were so strongly in favor of council purchasing one like it, the idea struck my mind that here was an opportunity to make a gift which would give more real pleasure or lasting benefit than a steam fire engine and the necessary accompaniments.

From the large outpouring of the people on this occasion and the very many expressions of kindness, I believe the people are satisfied, and my heart is rejoiced to feel that this is the case.

If in the future I am the humble means, through this gift of saving a single tenement of a poor family in or about Lewisburg, I will feel extremely thankful. I now turn over the steam engine and the accompanying apparatus to the town council to keep as the property of the citizens of Lewisburg.

At the close of his remarks three hearty cheers were given for Squire Cameron. The band then played one of its choicest pieces. Mr. Cameron then introduced Charles S. Wolfe, Esquire who spoke as follows:

Remarks by Honorable C.S. Wolfe

Mr. Burgess and Council of the Borough-My honored friend has chosen me to the delicate yet pleasing office of formally presenting, through you to native town, this magnificent fire engine and its apparatus. Honored thus as his spokesman I might be expected merely to portray the impulses which prompted this noble gift, and express for him the joy thereby experienced. And yet I may find it difficult to forget that I too am a sharer with you in this benefaction. Holding this double relation of recipient as well as mouthpiece of the donor, I feel at liberty, My Friends, to say some things to which he, with his characteristic modesty would forbid give me utterance.

Not soon will I forget his emotions, which struggling in vain to hide, manifested themselves on the morning of January 26th when the engine then on trail was drawn past his residence; how on entering his office to transact some business he said to me “Charlie, I feel like buying that engine and presenting it to the borough. What do you think of it?” Plainly I saw that no approval of mine was needed to conclude his action. In his own mind the decision was already made. His heaving breast, his beaming eye, his smiling but compressed lips, and the tear of joy that trickled down his cheek told far more eloquently than words the pleasure that determination was affording. I think I never saw Squire Cameron look quite so happy. As we sat talking mechanically, each occupied with the thoughts our minds and the emotions that were stirring our hearts, I thought, My Fellow townsmen, of the rich and unexpected treat in store for you. Then and there he sent me forth, his honored and happy messenger, to bear to you the joyous tidings.

From several years of intimate association with our philanthropic townsman I have come to know much of his hidden life-the impulses that daily showed themselves in deeds of kindness-in relieving the sick, in supplying the wants of the poor and in aiding the worthy toiler in his struggle with the world. Deeds done in strict accordance with the scripture rule, “His left hand knew not what the right did”. But could the many tons of coal, the many loads of wood, the flour, meat and vegetables deposited at the house of the old, the infirm and the widow, under such strict injunctions of secrecy that even the recipients themselves were in blissful but perplexing ignorance of the source form which they came; could these dumb gifts have spoken we all would, long ere this, have known of the grand and extensive work of charity that William Cameron has for years been doing in our midst.

But here was a gift that to be made must of necessity be known. This act of beneficence was to be broad enough to take in all of us, rich and poor, high and low, friend and foe (if such there can be) are alike to share its benefits. Long had he watched and waited for such an opportunity. Here was the object with which to show his warm affection for all the people among whom he had so long lived and toiled and prospered.

His infancy was Lewisburg’s. In it-a modest village-his boyhood days were spent. In the noble old Susquehanna, by which its feet are washed, he with his youthful comrades boated and swam and fished; on its icy surface he played and skated-not a house-not a tree-scarce a brick in the pavement or a face of a man or woman, but what are all familiar, all dear to him-the more loved because a part of Lewisburg. But the friends of his youth are nearly gone. Today many of them sleep in our lovely cemetery on yonder hillside. He feels he soon must follow them-soon must bid adieu to all these familiar-these endearing scenes and associations. May a kind providence long delay the hour; long spare his life to consummate the noble monument, the grander work of charity now cherished in his heart. Thus standing on the verge of time and about to step upon the threshold of eternity, he feels he cannot go without leaving behind some testimonial of his love for his native town and you, his native townsmen.

This engine affords the means of gratifying his long-cherished wish. In this gift he is enabled, as has always been his wont, to combine the highly useful with the ornamental. To have presented his fellow townsmen something upon which they could merely gaze with admiration because of its cost, its inherent beauty or its wonderful mechanism would not have filled up the full measure of his desires. The memorial of his affection when dead, must like himself, while living be an instrument of God-a thing of use-a thing of life. It will be a comfort to him while yet living and a solace in the throes of death to know that when that when the fire of life shall cease to glow within his breast-when his eyes can no more shed tears of sympathy for his fellows, mourning over homes being consumed or threatened be devouring flames, when his strong and vigorous arm can no longer help to pump the “Valiant” (now almost worn out like himself) or hold the nozzle, nor pass the old leather buckets that now hang ready for use at his back door-I say when he can no longer do these things in person it will be a comfort to him while yet living and a solace in death to know that this ” William Cameron” which you have so kindly named for him, will in the fire by which it is made to act symbolize his life-the laboring steam chest his throbbing heart-the working rods his arms, and the lines of hose will represent the ducts through which will flow his sympathetic tears, tears effectual to quench the very flames that caused those tears to flow. Thus he can know not only that his own place will in these sad calamities be well filled, but it is to him a source of highest joy that frail men and delicate females need no longer endanger life and health through exposure, and in their superhuman efforts to save theirs and their neighbors homes form the terrible conflagration. So he though dead may in a certain sense continue to help in saving these familiar objects all so dear-may still aid in protecting the lives, the homes, the health of us, his fellow citizens.

Such, Mr. Burgess and Gentlemen of the Council are some of the considerations that prompted our generous townsman to this particular gift. Are you, my fellow townsmen happy and joyous in its reception? Let me assure you your joy cannot exceed in flow or intensity his delight. The approval of his heart alone affords a full return. Add the manifestation of your joy and gratitude, the congratulations of his brother, our honored senator, his sisters and his numerous friends and the cup overflows. In his own words he finds “it more blessed to give than receive”.

Take then this steam fire engine, “William Cameron”. Take these hose carriages, his three daughters, “Elizabeth”, “Mary”, and “Jane” that transmit the line of his posterity. They are the gifts of William Cameron to his native town. Not his alone, for he bade me, O so tenderly to join with him in his honored and beloved wife, the partner of his life in youthful poverty, in prosperous manhood, and declining age the sharer of his hopes and toils, his joys and sorrows, and of his accumulated wealth, well-wisher with him to you all. Preserve and use it well for in so doing you will win from them a livelier gratitude than in receiving you can feel toward him.

Then followed the reply by J.T. Baker which was equally flowery and of greater length. After the acceptance speech His Honor, Judge Bucher was loudly called for to speak in behalf of the citizens. Included in the judge’s remarks was the following qualification for membership in the newly formed fire company. “That our benefactor desired the organization of a large company of stalwart men who would be ever ready to do service at the hour of the alarm, who would have none but orderly members that would not make night hideous with false cries of fire and other annoying noises”.

The Judge closed by proposing three cheers for Squire Cameron which were heartily given.

Following Judge Bucher’s remarks the engine was taken to the race out Market Street where a demonstration was conducted for those present. The work of the engine was regarded as being if possible “still more satisfactory than at the trail on Saturday”.