North Carolina's first firehouses were small buildings that reflected the nature of early American firefighting when citizens answered alarms with buckets and ladders and eventually hand-powered fire engines. Larger and more formal buildings appeared as the size of the hand pumps increased. As municipal firefighting duties shifted from the general citizenry to formal fire companies, their engine houses needed meeting rooms and later sleeping areas. Buildings also grew larger to accommodate horses, but subsequently shrank for the smaller motor trucks.
North Carolina firehouses in the late 19th and early 20th century included commercial buildings converted for use as fire stations. These were typically temporary facilities used until a town's fire department was moved to a dedicated facility. Other fire department structures common to this time included free-standing fire stations and combination city hall buildings. The latter typically housed the town's fire equipment, the police department, the lock-up or jail, the mayor's office, and maybe a courtroom. Municipal buildings of this type were utilized throughout the state.
Over a dozen of North Carolina's earliest firehouses are profiled below and reflect two-hundred years of hand, horse-, and motor-powered firefighting.
The state's oldest firehouse is a single-story brick building in Old Salem in Winston-Salem. Built in 1803, the
Market and Fire House faces Main Street in Salem Square. It served as both the town market and as a storage facility for the town's hand-pulled, hand-powered fire engines. In 1856, the town's Board of Alderman voted to remove the building from the square and it was relocated to the southwest corner of Main and Belews Street. Reconstructed in 1953, the building serves as a historical display on the grounds of Old Salem.
Washington's Old Municipal Building at 217 North Market Street was built in 1884. The town's hand- and horse-drawn fire equipment were housed on the first floor. The building was used as a fire station until 1965, when the fire department relocated to 410 North Market Street. The two-story structure presently serves as a newspaper office.
Old City Hall Building at 220-226 Craven Street
was built between 1816 and 1818 as a row of four brick stores. By 1885, one of the stores was converted to an engine house for the Atlantic Steam Fire Engine Company. By 1888, the entire building was purchased for use as a City Hall.
The three-story structure served as an engine house and later fire department
headquarters until 1928, when all operations were consolidated into a single
building at 420 Broad Street. The 8,050 square-foot building presently serves as
a series of stores.
Salisbury's Old City Hall at 117 South Lee Street was built in 1886. The two-story structure included a single-story addition in the rear that housed a jail. The fire department relocated to a new Station 1 on 514 East Innes Street in 1965. The building is presently a retail establishment and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Raleigh's Capital Hose Company was first housed at 117 West Morgan Street. The two-story brick building was constructed in 1887 in conjunction with the completion of a municipal water system. The first floor housed a hose reel on one side and the water company office on the other side. The second floor was a fireman's hall. The volunteer fire company moved across the street to a larger wooden building around 1890. The 1,591 square-foot building is presently an office. The adjoining water tower is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Durham's old Station 1 at 212 North Mangum Street was built in 1890. Designed by S. L. Leary, the building included a tower with an 829-pound bell. The station also housed the city's new electric-telegraph fire alarm system, initially connected to eight alarm boxes. The two-story, red-brick building was extensively remodeled in 1922. Changes included moving the tower from the rear to the front of the structure. Station 1 was relocated to 139 East Morgan Street in 1965 and the old bell is presently displayed outside the main entrance. The old station is presently an office building.
Kinston's oldest fire station at 118 South Queen Street was built in 1895. The two-story brick building is the oldest municipal building in Lenoir County, the first brick building in Kinston, and the first fire station maintained by the town. The building also housed City Hall by 1901 and the Caswell Fire Company after its formation in 1904. The fire station was relocated to 112 West King Street in the mid-1930s. Presently a fire museum, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of Goldsboro's earliest engine houses was located at 715 Walnut Street, now 202 East Walnut Street. Built by 1891, the two-story row building opened as a fire station by 1896. Within five years, the facility had closed and all fire companies were housed on nearby North John Street. The building served a variety of purposes in the early 20th century from a bottling plant to a sewing machine store. It presently serves as county offices.
Monroe's Old City Hall at 102 West Jefferson Street was built in 1847-48. Constructed as a jail, it housed the town's Silsby steam fire engine by 1897. The three-story structure was converted to a City Hall by 1912. The fire department relocated to the corner of Cromwell Avenue West and Hayne Street North by 1922. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Early fire equipment in the Old Salem Market and Fire House including North Carolina's first fire engine.
Raleigh's Capital Hose Company tournament team in front of West Morgan Street hose house, 1891. Photo courtesy of North Carolina State Archives.
Raleigh's Capital hose house at 117 West Morgan Street, built in 1887.
Durham Station 1 at 212 North Mangum Street, circa 1928. Photo courtesy of Durham County Library, Durham, NC.
Durham old Station 1 at 212 North Mangum Street, built in 1890.
Greensboro old Station 4, circa 1920s, courtesy Greensboro Historical Museum
Greensboro old Station 4 at 414 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, built
Greensboro's old Station 5 at 549 South Mendenhall Street was built around 1897. The West End Hose Company was housed in the two-story, single-bay brick building until 1919 when they relocated one block north to 442 South Mendenhall Street. Located in the historic College Hill district, the 2,670 square-foot brick building is presently a grocery store.
New Bern's Atlantic Fire Company was housed at 405 Craven Street in a
three-story brick building built between 1888 and 1893. Prior to its use as a
fire station, the building's occupants included the Hotel Neuse by 1898 and
meeting rooms of the Elks' Lodge by 1904.
The Atlantic Fire Company occupied the building from 1913
until 1928, when the fire company relocated to a new station on the
other side of Broad Street in 1928.
The 6,000 square-foot structure presently serves as banquet space for an
Greensboro's old Station 4 at 414 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was built between 1902 and 1907. Housing the horse-drawn Southside Hose Company, the two-story brick building was originally addressed 414 Asheboro Street. In 1964, Engine 4 relocated to 401 Gorrell Street and housed Greensboro's first African-American firefighters until the fire department integrated in 1967. The 3,552 square-foot building presently serves as a community development center.
High Point's old Station 1 at 212 North Wrenn Drive was built in 1905. The two-story brick building first housed the North Side Hose Company. In 1975, Station 1 was relocated to 508 North Centennial Avenue. The 7,128 square-foot building is being remodeled as a furniture gallery and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Wilmington's old Station 3 at 602 North 4th Street was built in 1907 along with an adjoining market house. In 1975, the two-story, single-bay station was relocated to 3933 Princess Place Drive. Formerly occupied by a gym and renovated in 2003, the Consolidated Market and Fire Engine House presently serves as office space for the police department.
Henderson's Station 2 at 205 North Garnett Street may be the oldest operational fire station in the state. Built in 1908, the corner building includes a combination clock, bell, and hose tower. By 1917, City Hall was sharing the two-story facility. By 1947, additional municipal buildings were added behind and beside the structure. In 1974, a new Station 1 was constructed at 211 Dabney Drive and the Garnett Street station was numbered Station 2. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Greenville's first Municipal Building was built in 1909 by C. B. West. The two-story, blond-brick building at 115 North Main Street was constructed next to the corner Market House. The left side of the first floor was occupied by the volunteer fire department. Apparatus included a hose wagon, a hand ladder truck, and a reserve LaFrance steamer. In 1939, both City Hall and the fire department relocated to new facilities. The old building presently houses a bar and a retail store.
Sanford's old town hall and fire station at 43 Charlotte Avenue was built in 1909. The three-story brick building also housed a graded school on the second floor. The fire department moved from the right to the left side of the building by 1930. The fire station was relocated to 512 Hawkins Avenue in 1984. The old building presently houses the Chamber of Commerce and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Charlotte's old Station 2 at 1212 South Boulevard was also built in 1909. Also known as the Dilworth fire station, the two-story brick building opened with three men, two horses, a combination chemical and hose wagon, and a steam engine. The station served the city's first suburban area, the "street car suburb" of Dilworth. In 1948, Station 2 relocated across the street to 1215 South Boulevard. The 3,214 square-foot facility presently houses office condominiums and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Salem's old town hall and fire station at 301 South Liberty Street in
Winston-Salem included a bell tower and two bays facing Liberty Street. Built in 1909, the quarters of the Rough and Ready fire company became Winston-Salem Station 2 after the towns merged in 1913. The station was relocated around the corner to 300 South Main Street in 1958. A ramp connected the new station with the old one, which was used as sleeping quarters and administrative offices. The 3,320 square-foot structure presently serves as an office building and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Belhaven's Old Town Hall at 210 East Main Street was built in 1911. Designed by W. T. Kirk, the two-story brick building included an engine house on the right side of the first floor. It also housed a first-floor meat market and jail, and a second-floor opera house. Presently used as municipal offices and a museum, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Graham's old fire station at 135 West Elm Street was constructed in 1911. The building also housed City Hall on the second floor by 1931. Both the fire department and City Hall moved to a new municipal complex at 201 South Main Street in 1966. The old station was remodeled by the fire department for use as a museum by the Graham Historical Society. The displays include one of the town's early fire engines, a 1930 Seagrave pumper.
Apex's old town hall at 237 North Salem Street was built in 1912. A single-bay for the town's American LaFrance chemical and hose car was added to the two-story brick building around 1927. The space also included a room for the "night fireman." In 1956, the volunteer fire department relocated to 210 North Salem Street. The 5,822 square-foot building presently houses municipal offices and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Goldsboro's old Station 2 at 209 East Vine Street was built between 1913 and 1918. By the latter year, it housed a one-horse hose wagon with one fireman on constant duty. By 1943, the station was closed and the two-story brick building was utilized as a National Guard armory. A new Station 2 opened in 1956 at 1615 East Beech Street. The 2,442 square-foot structure presently serves as an automotive garage.
Lexington's old Station 1 at 8 West First Street was built between 1913 and 1923. The two-story, two-bay brick building housed the department's first motorized apparatus, a Studebaker pumper. In 1936, the fire station was relocated to the City Hall building at the corner of West Center and North State streets. The old building is presently unoccupied and serves as storage.
Wilmington's old Station 2 at 602 South 5th Avenue was built in 1915. Presently used as office space for two non-profit organizations, the station was closed in 1956 and the personnel and equipment were transferred to a new Station 1 at the corner of 4th and Dock Streets. The bronze bell from Station 2's tower was moved three years later to the front of the new headquarters building.
Lumberton's old city hall and fire station at 112 North Elm Street was built in 1917, replacing an earlier municipal building at 317-319 Water Street. Fire equipment was also previously housed in five hose houses around town. The two-story, two-bay brick building served as the central fire station until relocating to 600 North Cedar Street in 1978. City Hall relocated two decades earlier to 501 East 5th Street in 1956. The building is presently being refurbished for use as a museum.
Greensboro's second Station 5 at 442 South Mendenhall Street was built in 1919. The one-story, single-bay brick building first housed a motorized fire engine built by the White Truck Company. In 1964, Engine 5 relocated to 1816 West Friendly Avenue. The 2,941 square-foot building is presently a private residence.
Boone's Old Town Hall at 140 South Depot Street was built in 1920 as an auto repair establishment. The two-story brick building opened as a municipal building in 1932. The town fire truck was parked downstairs. Both the town offices and the fire department relocated to 721 West King Street in 1967. The building presently serves as a ski shop.
Other historic North Carolina firehouses include:
Mike Legeros is a historian and former firefighter in Raleigh. He has authored two photo histories on Raleigh and Wake County fire departments, and has more historical information about North Carolina fire departments on his web site at
Versions of this article were published
in the Fall 2005 and Fall 2006 editions of
Carolina Fire-Rescue-EMS Journal.