A homecoming a century in the making

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Former Beacon Falls Fire Foreman George Butz, center front row, holds the chief horn in this 1902 picture of the Beacon Falls Fire Department. Butz’s son is returning the horn to the fire company this weekend. CONTRIBUTED
Over 100 years ago, then Beacon Falls Fire Foreman George Butz gathered his family and an ornate horn and left the valley for new opportunities in Indiana.

This weekend, Butz’s decedents are returning to Beacon Falls with that horn.

George’s son, Robert Butz, now 94, has decided to return his father’s memorabilia to the Beacon Falls Hose Company No 1.

“We have thought all along that it belongs there,” said George’s granddaughter, Jill Butz.

Jill, Robert, Robert’s wife, and three other granddaughters packed into a car Tuesday morning for a three-day journey from their home in Mishawaka, Ind. to Beacon Falls.

“[My father is] so excited about coming and returning those things to the fire department,” Jill said.

George was the first foreman of the Beacon Hose Company, elected May 11, 1899, according to Jill. At that time, the fire department was run by the United States Rubber Company. In 1903, Beacon Falls presented George with the chief horn, which he used as a megaphone to shout orders to his men. According to Jill, the horn resembles a large bugle with an engraving of the fire company’s horse-drawn fire truck on the side. George served as foreman until 1907 when he took another position with the company’s branch in Indiana, which made the liners for rubber boots.

“It’s really such an interesting story,” said Jill, who has learned much of her family’s history through old newspaper articles she found online.

George was an active member of the community, even before he took the reigns at the fire company. George played Santa for the town and was involved in several community organizations including the Red Man’s Association and Sons and Daughters of Liberty.

He even called square dances every Friday night at the fire house.

Jill said she found a letter from her grandfather to her grandmother asking her to run away with him and get married. In the letter, George said his only regret would be leaving behind the Beacon Falls fire department.

“My grandfather truly loved that area and the fire department … his heart was really there,” Jill said. “I thought that was pretty amazing to find that.”

George got hitched at age 20 and had one son before getting remarried to Jill’s grandmother at age 33. When George left Beacon Falls, he left that first son behind. That son, Jill discovered, had a son of his own, and his decedents are still firefighters in Connecticut.

Now, the Indiana branch of the family is going to meet the Connecticut branch for the first time. What started out as a journey to return some memorabilia has turned into a big family reunion.

“I think my dad is also going to get to meet a lot of his great, great nieces and nephews he’s never met before,” Jill said.

She said she is anxious to see if any of those other great grandchildren look like her dad.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of similarities when we meet for the first time,” Jill said.

Jill said her father is the only living son of George, but he remembers meeting his half-brother in Indiana when he was 12.

“His mind is so sharp and he remembers all of these wonderful stories,” Jill said.

She said she hopes to use the three-day journey to pick his mind on some of those stories and write them down for future generations.

The Butz’s have returned to Beacon Falls one other time, when Jill worked for state fire marshal of Indiana, she brought her parents to the valley in 1984 and visited her father’s cousin. Jill said she tried to talk her dad into bringing the memorabilia back in 1999 for the fire company’s 100th anniversary, but he wasn’t ready.

In Beacon Falls, Jill said she hopes to visit the area where her grandfather lived and see what else she can find out about the family history.

The Beacon Falls Fire Company is excited to welcome the Butz’s home. They plan to have gifts for them when they check into their hotel Thursday night. On Saturday, the final night of the Beacon Falls’ annual Fireman Carnival, the family will hold a prime spot on the reviewing stand at the fire company’s parade. The parade will stop when the company reaches the stand and the Butz’s will hand over the horn and certificate.

“We’re going to kind of treat them like celebrities while they’re here,” said Jeremy Roderigo, the fire company’s information officer.