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Then and Now #2: Northern Mountain Fire Departments

Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Madison, McDowell, Surry, and Wilkes counties

Welcome to a feature where historian Mike Legeros presents early twentieth-century summaries of North Carolina fire departments as recorded by the Sanborn Map Company for their fire insurance maps. In addition to detailed information about streets, buildings, and water supplies, the cartographers also recorded fire protection information including personnel, apparatus, and alarm systems.

The oft-cited "hand reels" refer to hand-drawn hose reels. Once a town installed a water system, hoses could be connected directly to fire hydrants and without the need for a hand- or steam-powered pumping engines. Horse-drawn hose wagons soon replaced the hand reels, and motorized hose wagons replaced the horse-drawn rigs. "Combination hose wagons" were equipped with one or more chemical tanks. Motorized "triple combinations" were equipped with a pump, a hose bed, and one or more chemical tanks.


Asheville fire department in 1917. Courtesy North Carolina Collection at Pack Library

Asheville, Buncombe County
November 1917

Three officers. Five paid men. 61 volunteers. Four stations.
Central Station, East Pack Square: Three officers, five paid men, 30 volunteer men. Two Seagrave combination automobile trucks with 45 gallon chemical tanks, 1,500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose, and 200 feet 3/4-inch hose. One combination hook and ladder automobile truck with 45 gallon chemical tank and 200 feet 3/4-inch hose. Chief's automobile with 25 gallon chemical tank and 100 feet 3/4-inch hose. One Reo combination automobile truck in reserve with 70 gallon chemical tank, 200 feet 3/4-inch hose, and 1,250 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One hook and ladder trailer in reserve. Pine Street south of Hazzard Street: 10 Negro volunteers. One hose reel. 500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Dinwell Avenue in West Asheville: 11 volunteers. Two hose reels. 1,100 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Brook Street in Biltmore Village: 10 volunteers. One hose wagon with 550 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One hose reel with 300 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Eight three-gallon chemical extinguishers distributed about village. Gamewell fire alarm system with 33 alarm boxes. 22 telephone call boxes. Population 30,000.

Today
Nine fire stations, 30 pieces of fire apparatus, and 226 career members protecting 54 square miles. Population 71,750.


State Hospital Fire Department, circa 1900s-1910s. Courtesy Broughton Hospital Public Safety

Broughton Hospital, Burke County
April 1910
Fire company among employees. Fire drill every month. Fire station behind Male Wards. One hook and ladder truck, two hose carts. 2,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose, 1,000 feet on reels.

Today
Protected by Morganton Fire Department. See below.


First fire truck, courtesy Elkin Fire Department

Elkin, Surry County
February 1915
Three volunteer companies, 10 men each, and chief. Fire equipment stored at McNeers Warehouse, 352-356 Main Street. Three hand hose reels with 500 feet 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose each. Same to be distributed around town. Population 1,400.

Today
One fire station, three pieces of fire apparatus, three career members, and 30  volunteer members protecting 6.3 square miles. Population 4,092.


Lenoir fire department in 1920s, courtesy Lenoir Fire Department

Lenoir, Caldwell County
February 1921
Volunteer, 15 men and one chief. One paid driver. Two horses. Fire station at 107 Mulberry Street. One motor-driven combination hose and chemical wagon with 200-gallon chemical tank, 200 feet chemical hose, and 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose. One two-horse hose wagon with 750 feet 2 1/2-inch hose and chemical extinguishers. 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve. Population 4,000.

Today
Two fire stations, 10 pieces of fire apparatus, and 62 career members protecting 16.6 square miles. Population 18,411.


Marion firefighters with new pumper, 1927.

Marion, McDowell County
August 1922
One day and one night driver, fully paid. 18 volunteers. Fire station at 125 West Court. One Utica Reo combination automobile with two 40-gallon chemical tanks, 250 feet chemical hose, 600 feet 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose, two three-gallon chemical extinguishers, and one 34-foot extension ladder. 900 feet 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose in reserve. Fire alarm by electric siren operated at telephone exchange, always open. Population 4,000.

Today
One fire station, seven pieces of fire apparatus, five career members, and 27 volunteer members protecting approximately 15 square miles. Population 6,087.

Marshall, Madison County
October 1916
Volunteer, 17 men. Fire station at 117 Main Street. Two hand reels and 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One hook and ladder truck, hand drawn. Fire alarm by bells. Population 1,800.

Today
One fire station, eight pieces of fire apparatus, one career member, and 37 volunteer members protecting 6 square miles. Population 843.


Morganton Fire Department, 1929. Courtesy North Carolina State Archives

Morganton, Burke County
April 1910
Volunteer, 25 men. One horse. Two stations. City Hall at 75 King Street: Hose Company No. 1. One horse. One one-horse hose wagon with 600 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Rear of 79 King Street: One one-horse hook and ladder wagon. One hand hose reel in reserve with 400 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Fire alarm by telephone and factory whistle. Population 3,500.

Today
Three fire stations, eight pieces of fire apparatus, 95 career members including 80 sworn public safety officers, and 15 reserve members protecting 18.2 square miles. Population 17,080.


Mount Airy's 1916 American LaFrance, courtesy Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

Mount Airy, Surry County
May 1922
Eighteen volunteers. One paid man lives at headquarters. Fire station at City Hall, 119 Moore Street. One American LaFrance 75 HP triple-combination pump, chemical, and hose automobile truck with 750 gallon per-minute pump, 1,250 feet 2 1/2-inch hose, 40-gallon chemical tank, 200 feet chemical hose, two 2 1/2-gallon chemical extinguishers, and two 36-foot ladders. 1,450 feet 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve. Fire alarm by telephone and electric siren on roof of City Hall. Population 6,000.

Today
Two fire stations, six pieces of fire apparatus, 15 career members, and 20 part-time members, protecting 5.5 square miles. Population 8,489.

North Wilkesboro, Wilkes County
September 1920
Volunteer, 23 men. One fire station at 708 B Street and one hose house in front of 204 C Street. Three hand hose reels with 600 feet 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose each. Two hand hook and ladder trucks. Fire alarm by telephone and whistles. Population 4,000.

Today
One fire station, five pieces of fire apparatus, three career members, and 29 volunteer members protecting 5.6 square miles. Population 4,155.


Old Fort Reo Speedwagon, 1930. Courtesy Old Fort Fire Department

Old Fort, McDowell County
April 1918
No organized fire department. Citizens help in case of fire. No horses. Two hose houses. West 101 Main Street: One hand-drawn hose reel with 750 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Corner of Commerce and Broad Streets: One hand-drawn hose reel with 750 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Alarm of fire sounded by whistle at Union Tanning Company plant. Population 800.

Today
One fire station, seven pieces of fire apparatus, and 28 volunteer members protecting 60 square miles, including 38 square miles of Pisgah National Forest. Population 972.

Other Photos


Asheville hook and ladder company in 1900. Courtesy North Carolina Collection at Pack Library


Asheville hose wagon circa 1910-11. Courtesy North Carolina Collection at Pack Library


Mount Airy hose wagon with Reuben the fire horse, circa 1913. Courtesy Mount Airy Museum of Regional History


Lenoir hose wagon pulled by Rex and Ned, courtesy Lenoir Fire Department


State Hospital Fire Department practice, circa 1900s-1910s. Courtesy Broughton Hospital Public Safety

Map

Why Isn't Your City or Town Listed?
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are available online from NC LIVE for 162 communities in 83 of North Carolina's 100 counties. Most cities and towns were surveyed several times over several decades between the 1880s and the 1950s. Of those maps in the public domain, copyright 1922 or earlier, only 100-some communities in 64 counties had fire equipment or fire departments. See below link to view later-era maps, including the towns of Black Mountain (Buncombe), Blowing Rock (Watauga), Boone (Watagua), Granite Falls (Caldwell), Pilot Mountain (Surry), Ronda (Wilkes), Spruce Pine (Mitchell), and Wilkesboro (Wilkes).

References
Guide to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
North Carolina State Demographics

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps via NC LIVE
Requires password available from many local libraries. After logging into NC LIVE, click Browse Resources and select Maps

Related Links
Asheville Fire-Rescue
Broughton Hospital

Elkin Fire Department

Marion Fire Department

Morganton Department of Public Safety

Mount Airy Fire Department

North Wilkesboro Fire Department

The Series
Then and Now #1: Down East Fire Departments
Then and Now #2: Northwest Fire Departments
Then and Now #3: Charlotte West Fire Departments
Then and Now #4: Triangle Fire Departments
Then and Now #5: Greensboro West Fire Departments
Then and Now #6: Fayetteville to Goldsboro Fire Departments
Then and Now #7: Warrenton West Fire Departments
Then and Now #8: West Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #9: Northeast Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #10: Western Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #11: Northeast Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #12: Dunn to Pinehurst Fire Departments

Note
A version of this article was published on FireNews.net
on February 21, 2005.

Coming Next
Catawba, Gaston, Lincoln, and Mecklenburg counties.

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