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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Columbus Fire Department (Part Two of Four)

These history excerpts are taken from the book: Columbus Fire Department Commemorative Chronicle - A Hidden History by Virgil Frank Petty, Captain, No. 6 Fire Station

By 1852, the city’s population had doubled to almost 7,000 people and therefore, there was no other choice but to improve its vintage water system. An enhanced water supply was imperative for the growth and development of the thriving city, especially for fire protection. Too much water was being lost due to the impractical use of the hollowed pine logs. Leonard Springs flowing at an exceptional capacity would require the city to undergo necessary constructive changes. According to measurements by Judge I.V. Iverson, the available springs discharged at a rate of 150 gallons per minute, maintaining over 200,000 gallons of flow per day. Iverson contended, if properly constructed, the system would be sufficient to provide water for a population ten times greater. Leonard Springs (located on Country Club Road in Midtown) was regarded as not only the best, but the only source in the vicinity of the city which an ample supply of water could be obtained. A chain of hollowed pine logs of 3 ¼” in caliber were laid underground from the springs to Broad Street providing water by gravity flow. Smaller diameter pipes were laid off laterally from the larger pipes to several streets: the total distance being about four miles.

Muscogee No. 3 was established in 1850 and located on the west side of First Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets. The building still stands today (pictured to the right). The company was disbanded shortly before the 1860s when several fire companies united. The company was not active again until 1906. In 1906, a new building was constructed for Station No. 3 on the northwest corner of 2nd Avenue and 24th Street (pictured below and now demolished). The company was located there until 1954, when it moved to 3402 6th Avenue in North Highland. It is now located in North Columbus at 2000 American Way.

While our city’s firemen have always been prepared to lay down their lives against the threat of fire, it was also the same during the last land battle of the Civil War. They were here to protect their town from going up in flames. At the beginning of the war, Columbus Fire Co. No. 1, Vigilant Fire Co. No. 2, and Young America Fire Co. No. 5 were the defenders of the fall line town.

Columbus contributed more war supplies to Confederate troops than any other city in the South. Therefore, it was imperative for the Union to destroy the local factories supplying it all – and in turn, the fire stations trying to hold the fires back. 2,000 citizens, soldiers, and firemen prepared the defense of Columbus against the 4,000 soldiers in Wilson’s Army on April 14, 1865. After the battle, there were six Union soldiers killed with 24 missing and 1,200 of the Confederates in Columbus were captured. The majority of the riverfront, where the industries were located, was burned, along with many of the storefronts on Broadway. Fallen firemen were honored during the department’s annual parades for the next three decades. (***Note from Executive Director: There is little written history of African American firefighters during the Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century not only in Columbus, but in many cities. In my reading and use of Captain Petty’s book, I wasn’t able to find out the role of the all black company, Washington Company No. 2, during the Civil War. This will be something that I continue to research – and will provide an update when I do. If anyone can share information with me, I would be grateful. These are important Columbus stories that also need to be told.)

Station No. 4 was established formally in 1871 when the Rescue Hook & Ladder Co. joined with the Stonewall Hose Co. They were located on the east side of the Springer Opera House at 10th Street. The company moved in 1900 to a new station next to the Columbus Depot on 6th Avenue. It is pictured above and is still standing today. In 1948, they would join with Station No. 1 at their 1424 Fourth Avenue location. By 1971, they would have their own once again – this time located at 200 North Oakley Drive in the St. Mary’s Road area. Pictured below are some of the men from Station 4.

A bell system was used as early as 1840. Alarms would be sounded by the fire bell for two or three minutes, then a short intermission, then, strike only the number of the district in which the fire is occurring. If you then heard three strikes, that would mean the fire is under control. If you heard twelve strikes, the entire fire department was needed. The Bell Tower was built in 1872 in the median of 11th Street and Broadway. It was 90 feet tall. A new bell was purchased on August 21, 1871. It was made of solid cast brass and weighed 2,012 pounds. The bell was relocated after the tower was dismantled in 1905. It was placed in the bell tower of St. Paul United Methodist Church.

Station No. 5 was established in 1856. They were called the Young America Fire Co. and their motto was Always Ready. The company was located at 937 First Avenue in the Municipal Building (pictured above), which held the headquarters for both Fire and Police. This incredible Richardsonian Romanesque building was constructed in 1906 and functioned as the headquarters until 1970 when new one was built. That site is now the home of the RiverCenter. Station No. 5 is now located in Midland.

Many families of Columbus have shared in the history of the Columbus Fire Department since its founding in 1831. They served as fire wardens, foreman, captains, secretaries, treasurers, and Chief Engineers. The early fire department was a part of their life. In 1831, nine men from the first families thought our fire department was only a dream. Now, its regarded as an inherited profession as magnetizing as the river attracting its first visitors. On the left is the Honorable Theo. M. Foley. He was the Vice President of Stonewall No. 4 - 1888. Henry Lindsay Woodruff (middle) was a member of Young America Fire Co. and served as the First Assistant Chief in 1884. Carl Schomburg (right) was a member of Stonewall House No. 4 and was Foreman of Rescue No. 1 in 1893.

Next Week: We will cover the history of Stations 6 - 8, along with spotlights on the Fire Department's role in three fires - the Rankin Hotel fire (1878), the First Presbyterian fire (1891) and the St. Luke UMC fire (1942).

You can access ALL of Historic Columbus' History and Preservation Spotlights here:

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