Natick  —  The “Home of Champions”

 

For more than 125 years, folks in Natick have enjoyed the town’s celebrity nickname: “Home of Champions.”

The story behind the nickname is straight from the late 19th century.

Firefighters and their friends in Natick and nearby towns got together for neighborly social gatherings that may have involved the use of beer mugs, and they had some special enthusiasm for competitions requiring strength and skill. In fact, firefighters throughout New England at that time had exciting traditional contests of strength and skill to determine who was best at dragging fire wagons on a measured course, hooking up water hoses, raising ladders, and manhandling the bulky hoses up to a designated height.

At just such a competitive event in Worcester in September 1891, hearty crews from Natick, Westborough, Leominster, and Spencer squared off for what they were happy to call “the World’s Hook and Ladder Championship.” The rules were simple, based on firefighting skills that were important in their time: team members had to run 220 yards, get their heavy ladder wagon rolling for the 220-yard return trip, and then use the ladders to put a man at the top of a 28-foot platform. You can picture the crowd going crazy for this magnificent spectacle.

The 1891 championship team of Natick’s Union Ladder Company.

The 1891 championship team of Natick’s Union Ladder Company.

At the first championship clash in 1891, Natick’s Union Ladder Company won top honors with a time of 58 seconds.

 

The Natick firefighters enlisted all four of Natick’s most renowned sprinters and with their help carried the day with a time of 58 seconds. Natick’s Irish community boasted four runners who were well known for their athletic feats and who had celebrity careers in sports ahead of them: Keith Fitzpatrick, “Piper” and “Pooch” Donovan (brothers), and “Charlie” Hoey. Fitzpatrick became a college track coach at Yale, Michigan, and Princeton. Piper Donovan was the 1895 world champion in the 100-yard dash, and he became a revered trainer at Princeton. Pooch Donovan made his mark as a football, baseball, and track coach at Harvard. Hoey was “The World Champion Club Swinger and Juggler” at Madison Square Garden and he became a renowned performer all across America and in Europe.

 
 

The following year, in 1892, two crews from Natick and Attleboro staged the second World’s Hook and Ladder Championship, and Natick’s strong and speedy squad took top honors again with a new record time of 56 seconds.

Natick’s proud firefighters

Natick’s proud firefighters

It was this victory that inspired Natick’s enduring nickname:

“Home of Champions”