An Early-1900 Chief of Police

One of the greatest joys of working on the Fulton Library’s Memoir Project is getting to meet and work with Fultonians who hold a great respect for our city’s history. The goal of the Memoir Project, which asks people to capture their memories in writing, can sometimes be a challenge. Over the five years we’ve worked on the Project, many people have been willing to share memories, but only a few have been excited to sit down and write them into a memoir. Bud Dyer is one of them.

I got to work with William Edward “Bud” Dyer in 2014, after those of us planning the Memoir Project had selected its theme for the year: Fulton’s successful community services and servants. Bud contacted the library to let us know he had a story to tell about one of those civil servants: his grandfather , Edward J. Dyer, who served Fulton as Chief of Police in the early 1900s.

Bud had been collecting information about his grandfather for many years and he arrived at the Fulton Library for our first meeting with an armful of scrapbooks, photos and press releases. It was clear that Bud had more than enough information to write a five page memoir; the challenge was going to be how to keep it that length.

Bud and I discussed how we might go about keeping his grandfather’s accomplishments to an acceptable length for the Project. Preparing myself for what I normally hear – that I could borrow the scrapbooks and put the memoir together – Bud surprised me when he said, “I’d be willing to take a stab at trying to write a memoir about my grandfather.” I couldn’t have been happier.

From there, Bud went to work. He wrote a beautiful first draft and I reviewed it and made a few suggestions. Without showing any sign of irritation, Bud took the memoir back and reworked it. We did this three or four times until he had successfully captured what being chief of police in Fulton’s earliest years was like. Here’s some of Bud’s writing:

“At the turn of the 20th century, the area that would become Fulton had one law enforcement officer. His name was Alex Pare.  Little is known about how laws were enforced prior to 1900.  It is believed that constables served court papers and were used as peacekeepers, but they only had limited law enforcement power. When the city of Fulton became chartered on June 1, 1902, the Fulton Police Department appointed seven members, Alex Pare among them. William H. Ross was named the first Chief of Police.

 “My grandfather joined the police force as a temporary summer relief patrolman in 1909 and received his permanent appointment on January 3, 1910. In 1914, Chief Ross retired from the force, and on June 1, 1914, my grandfather was appointed Chief.   

 “In the late 1930s, the Fulton Police Station was located in the City Hall building immediately north of the presentFulton Savings Bank, in that little plaza next to the large brick building, formerly Goldberg’s Furniture, now the location of several businesses.  The bank drive-thru lane was the police driveway to the back of the Station and was used to deliver prisoners to a rear door on the first floor where the jails were located.  There was also a very long stairway to City Hall’s second floor. At the head of the stairs, the City Court occupied the room at the front of the building and the Police Department used several rooms in the back of the second floor.

 “As a youngster of five, I can remember climbing that long staircase with maybe 25 or 30 steps to visit my grandfather up in the Station and hearing the ticker tape clicking away, wondering what was going on that was important enough to alert his headquarters.”

 Bud also shared his grandfather’s approach to his job as chief of police: “I can remember being told that my grandfather got around a lot, building an information network. If he heard, either through a rumor, a tip or a direct phone call to the Station, that there would be a gathering, perhaps a meeting out in someone’s barn, of a group that had been under investigation in the past, the Chief would bring another officer or two with him and drive to the location.  He would park nearby the entrance, sit in the car, and nod at the people going in, perhaps greeting those he knew, calling them by name. If things were orderly, he would drive away, but he let them know he knew who they were.  Of course, if there was an unruly mob, the whole force would respond.

 “My grandfather loved his work and was very dedicated to the job. [Later in life, when he was recuperating] from surgery, he was confined to home, so  he and Inspector Harry Holden made it a point to meet at least every Sunday afternoon on the Chief’s front porch to review open cases and other police matters. On Monday, April 27, 1942, he worked at the office into the late hours. He stayed home on Tuesday, the 28th. On Wednesday, April 29, once again he stayed at home and met with Mr. Holden. The Chief died at 5 p. m. that afternoon.”

What a wonderful testimony to one of Fulton’s first civil servants. It is a story I could never have written from reading old newspaper articles. It took the memories of Bud Dyer and his respect and love for his grandfather to make it into a story worth reading.

Fulton Police Chief Edward J. Dyer (1914 - 1942)