Newtown Square firefighters open time capsule ahead of new building celebration

NEWTOWN – Newtown Square firefighters recently staged their own sequel to the movie “National Treasure” as they retrieved and opened up a decades-old time capsule that had resided at the cornerstone of their former station for more than 45 years. and contained many items from 1916.

In 1965 the company’s original fire station on Newtown Street Road was toppled and from this wreckage firefighters recovered a time capsule that had been placed there in 1916. This box was placed in a new box , new elements were added and all set in the cornerstone of the new building in 1967.

Firefighter Preston Tyrrell, who organized the opening of the capsule, said that when he asked the elders about the name of the time capsule, Gilroy Roberts, it was always mentioned that he had contributed an important element to the capsule.

In the mid-1960s, Roberts was chief engraver at the Philadelphia Mint and he lived in Newtown Square. He was a well-known artist who oversaw the design of the iconic Kennedy half dollar coin, which was struck in silver in 1964 after Kennedy’s death.

Tyrrell himself was a neighbor of Roberts, and he remembers visiting the Roberts’ house on Halloween and seeing a 10-foot-tall Kennedy half dollar in the living room.

“We didn’t know what its meaning was for the box, but it felt important,” Tyrrell said.

Tyrell said just reaching the box was a challenge.

Opening the time capsule. (Courtesy of PRESTON TYRELL)

“Some people said to enter from the front, others said to enter from the back of the wall, but it turned out that they were both wrong: we had to go through down,” Tyrrell said.

Once out of the wall, firefighters opened the copper container, which measured 2 feet by 8 inches.

Inside were a number of journals from November 1916, the month the first time capsule was placed, and the 1960s, when the capsule was placed in the second building.

Copies included The Philadelphia North American Journal of November 2, 1916, the Philadelphia Evening Register of November 3, 1916, and the West Chester daily local news of November 2, 1916, which is still active.

Other items of interest included fire company documents such as the company charter and photos of the ambulance crew in 1965.

In 1916, the members’ children left coins in the box, including a coin of 4-year-old Flynne Hunter Lewis and 5-year-old Hellen G. Lewis.

Souvenirs from the fire company’s 50th anniversary in 1966 included a mug and the list of parade winners.

A 25 cent coupon from the United Cigar Store was placed there in 1967 along with 41 cents in 1960s coins placed by D&K electronics.

Firefighter Jack Monohan threw away his expired license before sealing it.

Finally, they got to the bottom.

“It’s something stuck at the bottom that I can’t get out of it,” Tyrrell said.

Finally, Tyrrell pulled out a Girard Bank envelope from the fire company’s treasurer, Al Banaca.

“Cool, here’s the money,” someone shouted.

“It’s a Kennedy half dollar…but it’s not because of the name, it’s from 1967 not 1964 when they were all silver,” Tyrrell said.

“Whomp, whomp, whomp,” was the comment.

For those who would like to view the items, they will be on display on Saturday, October 8 when the fire company hosts a dedication and accommodation at the new station at 2 Charles Ellis Drive.

This building opened in 2021, but due to the pandemic, they never officially dedicated the building. The day’s activities take place from noon to 3 p.m. and the public is invited to tour the new station and enjoy light refreshments.

Tyrrell said members of the fire company were considering placing a time capsule at the new station, but were still working on the project.

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