Charleston Historic and Former Firehouses

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By 1784, the Hand in Hand Fire Company was organized. This is the first documented reference to organized fire protection in Charleston. In 1801, the first hand engine company was formed, named the Charleston Fire Company of Axeman. Other volunteer fire companies followed and organized in the decades before the Civil War. They operated hand engines, as did slaves who manned city-purchased "ward engines." The first steamer appeared after the Great Fire of 1861. The Charleston Fire Company of Axeman purchased the first steam engine and changed their name to the Pioneer Fire Company. In 1865, the Charleston Hook & Ladder Company was formed.

By 1870, over a dozen fire companies and 1,600 volunteers were serving the city of Charleston. In 1877, a Gamewell electric-telegraph fire alarm system was installed. In 1881, there were 17 fire companies and nearly 1,110 volunteers. That year, a paid fire department was organized. On January 1, 1882, the Charleston Fire Department was placed in service with six engine companies, two truck companies, 101 men, and 29 horses. They utilized the equipment and facilities of the volunteer companies.

In 1892, the first aerial ladder was delivered, a horse-drawn apparatus. In 1905, the first motor vehicle was placed in service, a car for Chief O. G. Marjenhoff. In 1910, the first motor hose wagon was delivered. In 1913, a Marine Division was started, utilizing three private tugs. In 1915, the first motor pumper was delivered. In 1923, the first motor aerial ladder was placed in service. Also that year, a pair of Indian motorcycles were placed in service for responding to still alarms. Three years later, the department was fully motorized, except for a fuel wagon and reserve apparatus. In 1943, the last reserve horse was retired.

Vigilant Fire Company
46 State Street
Built c.1817
Presently office

This two-story building was built by the city for the Vigilant Fire Company. In 1849, the volunteers relocated across the street the 33 State Street. The 1,296 square-foot building was later restored in the 1970s as part of the Lodge Alley complex. Charleston County Public Library photo.


Vigilant Fire Company
33 State Street
Built 1849
Presently office

This was the second location of the Vigilant Fire Company, which operated a hand engine and later an 1871 Silsby second-size steam engine that was drawn by horses. They ceased operation after a paid Charleston Fire Department was placed in service on January 1, 1882.

The building, measuring 3,316 square-foot, served a variety of subsequent uses including as a maritime union hall and a grocery store in the 1950s. It was adapted as a residence in 1959. Mike Legeros photo.


Old Station 3 /
Palmetto Fire Company

27 Anson Street
Presently residence
Built c.1850

This Italianate-style station was designed by architect Edward C. Jones for the volunteer Palmetto Fire Company. They operated a hand-engine, and later an 1867 Amoskeag second-size steam engine that was drawn by hand.

The two-story building became Charleston Fire Station 3 on January 1, 1882. It served until 1887-88. The 3,196 square-foot structure was converted to an apartment building in the 1940s, and into a single-family residence in 1986. Mike Legeros photo.


Old Station 1 /
German Fire Company

8 Chalmers Street
Built 1851
Presently law office

Architect Edward C. Jones also designed this mix of Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival styles for the volunteer German Fire Company. It replaced an earlier, smaller structure, and adjoined a slave market.

The two-story building became Charleston Fire Station 1 in 1882 and served until 1887-88. The company's horse-drawn 1870 Amoskeag first-size steamer was  placed in service of the city.

The building then served as the armory for the Carolina Light Infantry until 1907. The building was used by black fraternal groups until 1937. It was remodeled into a law office in 1981. Mike Legeros photo.



Young American Fire

16 Hayne Street
Opened c.1866
Presently stable

Built in 1847, this stuccoed brick building served the volunteer Young American Fire Company. The fire company was formed in 1866 and soon operated an 1871 Silsby second-size steam engine that was drawn by hand.

The two-story building was rebuilt around 1872 and served as a fire station until the city fire department started operation in 1882. By that year, the fire company was operating a hand-pulled Silsby steamer. Mike Legeros photo.


Central Station
262 Meeting Street
Built 1887-88

On August 31, 1886, the city of Charleston was struck by an earthquake. 2,000 buildings were damaged, and between 60 and 100 people were killed. Many fire stations were also damaged, the city built a trio of larger and more strategically located fire stations. The three buildings were each designed by Daniel G. Wayne and built by Colin M. Grant.

The largest of the three was a double "double house" that opened at the corner of Meeting and Wentworth Streets in 1888. Considered the most important station in the city, because of its central location and straight passage from each end of the city, the new station housed four steam engine companies when it opened. 

In 1900, a drill tower was built beside the station. The 70-foot structure was replaced in 1916, and closed in 1935.

Since  1976, Central Station has housed the Fire Chief's Office. It presently houses two engine companies, a Battalion Chief, an Assistant Chief, and several pieces of antique fire apparatus.

The outdoor pavilion, built on the site of an 1846 Artesian well, includes monuments to fallen Charleston firefighters, and the bell from the Cannon Street station watch tower. Mike Legeros photo.



Old Station 1
112 Meeting Street
Built 1887-88
Presently city offices

The second new fire station built after the 1886 earthquake was a new Station 1. It replaced the former Aetna Steam Fire Engine Company quarters on Queen Street and was first equipped with horse-drawn steam engine and horse-drawn hose reel, and a reserve steam engine. The station also housed the fire department offices and the equipment of the fire alarm system. A watch tower was located behind the station.

In 1930, a brick maintenance shop was added behind the building. The station closed in 1976, and Engine 1 was relocated to 262 Meeting Street. The building was converted to house city offices at a cost of $215,000. Mike Legeros photo.



Station 6
5 Cannon Street
Built 1887-88

The third fire station built after the 1886 earthquake was a new Station 6. It replaced the former Marion Steam Fire Engine Company just down the block.

Each of the three stations had a Silsby boiler on the first floor, for both heating and keeping hot water circulating at all times in the steamer.

Like the Meeting Street station, this building also featured a watch tower in the rear. It was later named Station 7, and presently houses Engine 6 and a Battalion Chief. Mike Legeros photo.



Station 8
370 Huger Street
Built 1910

The first fire station located on the Upper Peninsula was designed by City Engineer James Hervey Dingle and cost $9,575.

Engine 8 was placed in service on April 15, 1910 with an 1870 Amoskeag Steamer, a hose wagon, eight firefighters, and likely four horses.

The station lot is surrounded by a brick wall, and the fire department's only surviving outhouse is located in the rear. Mike Legeros photo.



Old Station 9
1095 King Street
Built 1933
Presently gym

This two-story brick building was designed by David B. Hyer and built by Simons-Mayrant & Co. Opened around June 1, 1933, and dedicated on August 21, 1933, it cost approximately $4,200.

The first floor housed a single apparatus, kitchenette / dining room, lavatory, furnace room, and a desk. The second floor had a large dormitory and officer's room, beds and lockers for ten men, tiled shower bath, and a lavatory. Mike Legeros photo.


Truck House
161 Coming Street
Built 1943

The city's first ladder company was stationed on John Street, in a two-bay building located between Meeting and King Streets. The fire company, which operated a horse-drawn service ladder truck, was also comprised entirely of African-American firefighters. Aerial ladders were placed in service in 1892 (horse) and 1923 (motor). 

In 1943, this two-story brick building was constructed on land donated for the purpose of housing African-American firefighters. Truck 1 and Truck 5 were initially housed at the station, operating an American LaFrance 75-foot aerial ladder and a Mack Motor City service ladder truck. It presently houses Truck 4 and Engine 15. Mike Legeros photo.


Old Watch Tower
80 Meeting Street
Built 1756

The 186-foot steeple of St. Michael's Protestant Episcopal Church served as a watch and alarm tower until the late 19th century. It also served as an observation post during the Revolutionary War, a signal station during the Civil War, and an air raid siren station during World War II. Mike Legeros photos.


Old Watch Tower
Behind 5 Cannon Street
Built 1887-88

In 1877, Charleston was the fifth city in the world to install a Gamewell electric-telegraph fire alarm system. When the paid fire department was placed in service in 1882, the alarm system was upgraded.

Each of the 96 alarm boxes triggered the simultaneous striking of three bells. The boxes were also locked, with keys carried by all policemen and firemen. Keys were also available at the residence nearest the alarm box.

Two of the three bells hung in the guard houses of the city. In 1888, they were moved to new towers built behind 5 Cannon Street and 112 Meeting Street.


Old Watch Tower
Behind 112 Meeting Street
Built 1887-88

The bells, which each weighed 2,500 pounds, were cast by Mennelly & Co. of West Troy, NY. The third bell, weighing 3,000 pounds, hung in the cupola of the Charleston Orphan House on Calhoun Street.

The bells rang on all fire alarms until 1927, and then only on second and third alarms. They also alerted the city to hurricanes, severe temperature changes, and notable national events. The bells were silenced in 1953, due to the unavailability of parts for the strikers.

The Cannon Street bell was later relocated outside Central Fire Station, while the Orphan House bell was damaged during demolition of the building in 1952.


Other Former Fire Stations

Truck House on John Street, photo courtesy Evening Post. Phoenix Fire Company house on Cumberland Street, photo courtesy News & Courier.

Nearly two dozen other buildings were used as engine houses by both the volunteer fire companies and the paid city department, as well as for storing the equipment of the ward engine companies. All are believed demolished. Notable structures included:

  • Old Reserve Station / Old Station 2 / Aetna Fire Company at 81-83 Queen Street.

  • Old Station 5 / Hope Fire Company, Archdale Street opposite Market Street.

  • Old Station 6 / Marion Fire Company on Cannon Street.

  • Old Truck House / Hook & Ladder Company on John Street, east of King Street.

  • Ashley Fire Company on Columbus Street, corner of Hampstead Mall.

  • Charleston Hook & Ladder Company on Wentworth Street near King Street.

  • Comet Fire Company on Beaufain Street, east of Smith Street.

  • Eagle Fire Company on Meeting Street, between John and Ann streets.

  • Niagara Fire Company at 45 Spring Street.

  • Phoenix Fire Company on Cumberland Street.

  • Phoenix Fire Company at 44 Wentworth Street.

  • Pioneer Fire Company on Wentworth Street.

  • Salvage Corps at 8 Liberty Street.

  • Stonewall Fire Company on George Street at College Street.

  • Washington Fire Company on Vanderhorst Street, between St. Phillip and King streets.




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