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1884 Fire Engine Placard Returned To Annapolis

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The Fire Museum of Maryland

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By E.B. FURGURSON III

The Capital of Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — In 1883, a fire ravaged half of what is now Market Space in downtown Annapolis. The devastation spurred city fathers to reorganize a city fire company and buy the city’s first steam-powered fire engine.

The horse-drawn engine was retired after the city bought its first motorized fire engine in 1911.

Soon the old engine was in mothballs, stored at the city’s waterworks building at the reservoir on Defense Highway outside the city.

Its skeleton still sits there, all of its brass fixtures long removed.

All the brass was stolen, said city fire department historian Charles Cadle, a walking trove of city fire history. Two years ago he got word that a piece of the old steam engine – its brass dedication placard – had surfaced in Washington, D.C.

The engraved medallion, about 8 by 10 inches, once was affixed to the belly of the engine’s steam chamber. How it made it from the steam carriage to the capital city is a mystery, Cadle said.

The only thing he knew was he wanted to get it back. For two years he tried to get the placard. He emailed, made phone calls.

“I was willing to buy it out of my own pocket, just to get it back,” he said. “I was afraid he would sell it.”

Finally this summer Richard Schaffer of the District of Columbia Fire Department relented. He called and said he would be glad to give it back.

So Cadle met Schaffer at the dock of the D.C. department’s fire boat, where a little bit of Annapolis history was presented to him.

The plaque reads: “Corporation of Annapolis, 1884, Dr. A. Claude, Mayor, James Revell, Counsellor” and then lists the names of six aldermen and the clerk.

In the time before securing the plaque, Cadle learned more about the engine from which it came. Though the engine was purchased after the city’s Independent Fire Company No. 2 was established in 1884, it was not the city’s first fire apparatus or fire company.

The city’s first fire engine was bought in 1755, he said, “though there might have been an earlier one purchased by Mayor Amos Garrett in his time.”

Garrett was a wealthy landowner and merchant and the first mayor of Annapolis when the city became such in 1708.

Cadle has learned the city first tried to organize a fire company in 1803, but it never jelled.

In 1804, the city bought a hand-pumper firefighting unit, which is in a museum in Lutherville.

In 1839, the Maryland General Assembly authorized the formation of the Independent Fire Company. It used volunteers and hand-pumped fire equipment until it disbanded in 1880.

In the interim the city relied on help from the U.S. Naval Academy, which had acquired a steam-powered fire engine in 1866.

The big fire in the block facing City Dock 17 years later prompted city officials to take action.

Once the steam engine was delivered to the reconstituted Independent Fire Company No. 2 in 1884, it was stored in part of City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street. But that was a tight fit.

So several years later a firehouse was built across the street from City Hall to house the steam unit and Company No. 2.

In 1886 the Annapolis Waterwitch Hook and Ladder Company was built on East Street. The existing historic structure is the second firehouse on that spot, built in 1913.

Rescue Hose Company (hash)1 was built on West Street, next to present-day Loews Annapolis Hotel, and formed in 1879, according to Cadle.

Today the city is served by combined firehouses at Taylor Avenue, Forest Drive and Eastport. The three downtown companies were centralized to the Taylor Avenue station in the 1980s.

But now a piece of the city fire history is back home. The old plaque sits in a display case at fire headquarters on Forest Drive.

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(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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