Volunteer Firemen's Museum

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, October 14, 1911 [pt. 2, p. 3]

At the old Union engine house, 19th and H streets northwest, the volunteer firemen's museum will soon be opened. The work of the committee of the Veteran Volunteer Firemen's Association - Julius Strobel, Henry C. Thorn and William T. Sorrel - to arrange the apparatus and effects with other relics of the old city fire department, whose existence covered from the year of 1804 to 1864 in Washington, while Georgetown companies did not go out of service until 1867, is nearly complete. It is an interesting collection.

The completion of the firemen's museum will be the achievement of one of the objects set forth in their constitution. When the paid department took the place of the volunteer companies in 1864 many of the members of those companies were left out of a job. Some of them formed the new companies authorized by the act of the corporation, and the names of a number are yet on the District pay rolls, having been retired from active service. The organization of the veterans is due to the efforts of the late John J. Peabody, who had served as chief engineer of the volunteer department. In 1887, when the Alexandria firemen were arranging for the celebration in that city of Washington’s birthday, there was no volunteer organization here to escort the Baltimore veterans under Chief C.P. Holloway. Mr. Peabody called on a number of the old volunteers to meet the Baltimoreans and join with them in the Alexandria celebration, and they participated. Soon afterward a permanent organization was effected by the local survivors of the old volunteers, and Mr. Peabody was elected president.

After meeting at a number of places they were given possession of the old Union engine house about twenty-one years ago. The Oldest Inhabitants whose quarters were in room 2 Corcoran building, granted them by Mr. Corcoran, on finding their quarters growing too small, cast about for another location. In 1907 a resolution was adopted by which the firemen became associate members of the Oldest Inhabitants' Association and the use of this house was granted them under the supervision of the Commissioners of the District. As soon as the firemen found lodgment here they began to assemble apparatus and other paraphernalia pertaining to the old volunteer days. The volunteer companies went out of existence in 1864 and in a few more years there will be none to represent them, but the Oldest Inhabitants' Association, drawing its membership from citizens as soon as they become fifty years of age and thirty-five a resident, will last for all time, and it will eventually have control of the firemen’s effects.

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On entering the hall of the firemen the first object to attract attention is the old Columbia suction engine, which was in possession of the company from 1853 until the new department was organized in 1864. This was one of the finest engines of that period, the box being rosewood and the works being of the best material. When the veterans found it in a Virginia town it was out of repair and the rosewood had been covered with several coats of paint, but it was restored and put in working order. The piece of apparatus caused the death of Benjamin C. Grenup, who fell while guiding it down Capitol Hill on the night of May 6, 1856, while going to the Shreeves stable fire on 7th street between H and I streets. Mr. Greenup was a popular young man, a fine singer and had endeared himself to the public by giving his services in aid of any charitable object on public occasions. A few moments before his death he had been serenading some ladies on Missouri avenue near 3d street, and hardly had his last notes of 'Good Night, Ladies,' been uttered when the bell sounded the alarm and he rushed to the engine house. The memory of Mr. Greenup is still revered by the very few members of the volunteers remaining.

They have his uniform in a glass case and a picture and a frame of resolutions adopted at his death. Conspicuous, also, on the walls is a photograph of a fine monument erected to his memory over his grave in Glenwood cemetery in 1865.

Another piece of apparatus is the hose carriage of the Sun Fire Company of Alexandria. Once a gorgeous gilt affair it now wears a coat of maroon. Nearby is a fine bell, once used by the Northern Liberties Fire Company, which has quite a history. After its use by that company it was in the possession of the Metropolitan Hook and Ladder organization, and later was hung in Central guardhouse, and for a time it was loaned to a church. In its day it rang the alarm when troops were called out, when news was received of the surrender of Lee and on other momentous occasions. A smaller bell, used by the Anacostia Fire Company, at 9th and K streets southeast, is also here. There are a few of the old fire buckets used a hundred years ago and a curious instrument is pointed to as a “spontoon,” or policeman’s baton, used by Henry Ward, long a member of the Franklin Fire Company, when he was an auxiliary guardsman. This is a piece of hickory over two feet long, in which a stout iron spear is mounted. The spear was used to pry open doors and windows in cases of fire or when pursuing offenders. The peculiar instrument is said to be a modification of the first weapons used by the Alexandria police about the beginning of the last century. They were made from the pikes used by the sergeants of Braddock’s army and left in the old market house building when it started on its expedition against the French and Indians. On the organization of the auxiliary guard here in 1802 Capt. Goddard adopted them for his men, leaving off the hook.

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About the room are badges which were tied around the firemen's hats and bearing the name of their company. Around the room near the ceiling are displayed many belts of the old companies. There are a number of the old-style hats worn prior to the adoption of leather helmets, and there are a number of the latter style. The rosters of several companies are displayed. Among them those of Columbia for 1818 and 1853, the Union 1837, ’41 and ’42, the Anacostia of 1863 and Franklin 1855, and numbers of pictures of fire scenes are exhibited. A large painting represents Capt. C.D. Andrees and Capt. James Ward of the Northern Liberties fire companies of Philadelphia and Washington, respectively, shaking hands. In the backgrounds are representations of the two engine houses. This was painted in Philadelphia and presented to the Washington company in 1857. The framed resolutions of thanks of the home company hang beneath it. There is also the panel painting of the Perseverance engine representing the Goddess of Industry. Here may be seen, too, the portrait of John J. Peabody, who was a zealous member of the Northern Liberties and Columbia Fire Company, after having, as a boy, run with the Union, and who was elected chief of the old corporation department in 1862, and was appointed chief of the paid department in 1864. He was ever active in the Veteran Association of which he was president and secretary up to the time of his death in January last. The red lantern used by him as chief engineer is on exhibition there. There are also photographs of Mr. Greenup and Daniel Genau of the Columbia, George Noyes and L.P. Seibold, the first fire alarm operators in 1867.

A large photograph is also displayed of Mayor Wallach, with Fire Commissioners C.I. Canfield, J.T.C. Clark, John W. Thompson and Thomas Berry; A.B. Talcot, superintendent of fire alarm; E.C. Eckloff, secretary; John H. Sessford, chief of engineers; and the members of the department in 1867. There are photographs of the Veteran Firemen's Association of this city in 1889; of the Reading, Pa., fire company and delegation from the veterans in 1896; of the veteran association with the bell on the occasion of the return of the District troops from Cuba; of the delegation which presented a silver horn to the Washington Hose Company in Philadelphia in October, 1864, composed of Chief Peabody and Messrs. E.G. Wheeler, Wallace Grant, John Y. Donn, Julius Strobel, John Dickson and Edward Leesnitzer; framed photographs of the San Francisco veterans in 1893, New York veterans on their return from New Orleans in 1892 and Philadelphia veterans in 1888.

A picture of the Deptford engine, with veterans of Baltimore in both old and new style uniforms is on the wall; also framed resolution of thanks by the Columbia Fire Company to John W. Thompson, president of the American Hook and Ladder Company, for his attention to Mr. Greenup whom he reached soon after his fall under the engine, dated May 12, 1856; a picture of the Vigilant company of Columbia, Pa., with the veteran association in October, 1891; the printed resolution of condolence with the family of John Anderson of the Western Hose, killed by a falling wall in a fire in the first ward in March, 1856. This is the only death, other than Mr. Greenup's, reported at a fire during the existence of the volunteers. There is also displayed the constitution of the Potomac Hose Company of Georgetown, instituted in 1813. A picture of W.W. Corcoran, once a member of that company, hangs on the wall. Photographs of William Cammack of the Franklin company, for many years treasurer, and framed resolutions of condolence on his death in September, 1894, are shown, as well as of Col. James A. Tait of the Columbia company, and of James H. Richards of the Anacostia company, long its president. There are pictures of “Dick” Brown of the Western Hose Company, George Keithley, of the Anacostia, Daniel Genau of the Columbia and others. The Star’s articles on the deaths of James A. Ragan, in 1900; of Mr. Peabody of the Columbia; Robert Sutton of the Franklin, James H. Richards of the Anacostia, Andrew Jackson of the Franklin, Thomas H. Robinson of the Columbia, foreman of the hook and ladder company, who died February 15, 1877, and on the retirement of W.T. Sorrel, foreman of No. 4 engine company and formerly of the Perseverance, in 1902, are framed and hang on the wall.

The lantern of the American Hook and Ladder Company, speaking trumpets, including several of silver, pipes, torches and spanners (used in coupling hose) and many mementos of the past, certificates of membership that of Andrew Jackson included, ball tickets and invitations are also displayed. The brass trumpet used by Julius Strobel, when vice president of the Perseverance company, is among them with the silver one presented to the Northern liberties company by Capt. E.M. Bard of Philadelphia.

Highly prized is the banner of the Union company, and securely kept is the garrison flag of Gen. Grant; used at City Point, presented to the association by Col. Amos Webster. The resolution of thanks for the gift has been framed and preserved. The framed set of resolutions of thanks of the Brooklyn Veterans to the association here is highly prized, the work being a handsome piece of penmanship in which is depicted engines, hose carriages, etc. The resolution of thanks to Mrs. E. Pendleton, adopted by the Columbia company, including a magnificent silver horn, with her daguerreotype with the company, is in a conspicuous place. The dog 'Tag' which ran with the Franklin Company and afterward No. 2 steamer and the dog which ran with No. 4 engine, prepared by the taxidermist are at the engine house, but are in such condition that they will probably not be set up.

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There were in Washington and Georgetown no less than thirty-two fire companies composed of adults, eleven in Georgetown and from time to time there were juvenile companies from which the older companies were filled. The names are placarded on the walls with years of service as follows: Columbia of Capitol Hill, 1804-1864; Third Ward, 1804-1818; Union of the second ward, which manned the Treasury engine, 1804-1814; First Ward, 1804-1818; Union, Columbia, Potomac, Hose and Sun of Georgetown, 1813-1819; the Star of Georgetown, 1817-1827; Vigilant of Georgetown, 1817-1867; Anacostia, 1818-1864; Navy Yard, 1818-1825; Union of fist ward, 1818-1864; Phoenix of the fifth ward, 1819-1827; Patriotic, 1819-1822; the Mechanical of Georgetown, 1819-1825; Potomac 1820-1826; Alert, 1821-1837; Washington, 1822-1837; Franklin, 1827-1864; Phoenix of the third ward, 1827-1837; Eagle of Georgetown, 1827-1830; Columbia of Georgetown, 1827-1837; Columbian of Capitol Hill, 1830-1831; Western Star of Georgetown, 1831-1837; Perseverance, 1837-1864; Northern Liberties, 1840-1858; Island, 1840-1846; Western Hose, 1855-1864; Metropolitan Hook and Ladder, 1855-1864; American Ladder, 1855-1864, and the Potomac Hose of Georgetown, 1864-1867.

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Though much has been rescued from oblivion in the way of record books, and some history is preserved in the files of papers, and the late secretary, Mr. Peabody, collated a vast amount, there are gaps in the record. It is the earnest wish of the members that any records of articles in private families or elsewhere pertaining to the old companies may find a lodgment in the museum.