Committee hopes to memorialize history of city fire departments
An old door leans against a peeling wall, while a set of wooden railings remains stashed next to boxes of Christmas decorations.
The three-room side of Old City Hall that previously housed the fire department has been vacant since the late 1960s, when Consolidated Fire Association finished construction on its current firehouse on the opposite side of Crosswicks Street.
Now, the space has become the storage area of the Old City Hall building. When the Old City Hall Restoration Committee formed nearly five years ago, the group was able to raise funds and help the building get extensive renovations to the main areas of the building that had previously housed the police department and courtroom.
The main building has been used primarily as event space, serving as the backdrop to the annual Old City Hall Train Display and most recently as the venue of the “Hats in Bloom” floral hat exhibit during the Iris Festival May 9.
Now, the Old City Hall Fireside Museum Committee has formed as a sub-committee of the original Old City Hall group to begin restoration to the other side of the historic building, and leading the efforts are Scott and Christine Greenwood.
The plan is to renovate the space and eventually turn it into the Fireside Museum, which will display memorabilia, historical items and more from the local fire companies in Bordentown City.
But before any of the renovation work can begin, the space first needs to be completely cleaned out. As renovations continued in the main Old City Hall building, discarded and leftover items slowly made their way in to the firehouse space, which until recently was not open to the public.
Railings from the original upstairs courtroom, decorations from the annual tree lighting, and boxes of trains now crowd the firehouse space, and so Scott and Christine’s first task is to work with the city to clear out the space.
“Once we get all this out of here, then we can start getting in contractors to look at what needs to be done to renovate everything,” Scott said. “Of course we have the stained glass windows, there are a lot of neat things in here, that will present a lot of challenges.”
“Once we get those repairs done, we can start doing the cosmetic stuff,” Scott said. “A lot of these things we’ll be able to reuse too, like those old wooden doors, they’re still nice and sturdy. They just need some TLC.”
The front room of the firehouse side was used to store the fire trucks; the middle room was a kitchen, and the last room, at the back of the building, was constructed as a later addition, and used as a meeting room and religious area, complete with stained glass windows.
The Greenwoods won’t know until contractors inspect the building exactly how many repairs will be necessary, but the most important thing, Scott noted, is to ensure the building is first structurally sound.
Scott and Christine first got involved in the restoration committee because of their interest in local Bordentown history, but they also happen to have a special connection to Old City Hall. The couple was married five years ago in the building, before any renovations had even been done.
“Our first date was here at the tree lighting ceremony, so we always had that connection to the city,” Scott said.
Now, the restoration project has begun to involve more of their family. Their son, Gavin, was a volunteer at Hope Hose Humane Fire Company No. 1, and for his Eagle Scout project, put together research on the history of the fire departments in Bordentown City.
Gavin started perusing through history books at the library last July, and continued his research by interviewing some of the local police chiefs.
“I talked to the fire chiefs who knew the history of that station and really [the history] of the town, too,” Gavin said. “The town is small, so history is shared between the different stations.”
One of the most interesting stories he learned about was the history of the old hand pumper still housed in the firehouse side of Old City Hall. The pumper, which has “Humane No. 1, 1794” painted on its side, was originally owned by Benjamin Franklin. When Franklin’s fire department received its first horse-drawn pumper, Franklin personally donated the hand pumper to Union Fire Company in Bordentown City.
But because the pumper already had Humane painted on it, the decision was made that, rather than repaint the new pumper, Union Fire Company would instead just change its name to Humane.
The history of the fire departments in the city is very interesting, Gavin said, because there used to be many more fire companies, with many of them merging and consolidating over time; Consolidated Fire Association, for example, was a result of the consolidation of several of the local companies.
There are already a number of items the Greenwoods plan to feature in the future Fireside Museum, many of which were obtained through Gavin’s research. Some of the items include firefighters’ gear (boots, jackets, helmets, gloves and more), an old fire siren, the hand-pumper and a log book of fire calls. Gavin also said they hope to get a flag to put on display.
Christine said they may include other memorabilia from EMTs or police departments, and a small section will be devoted to general Bordentown City history, but that the main focus will be on the fire companies.
Though plenty of work still remains, the Greenwoods are excited about the tasks ahead. On May 16-17, they opened up the firehouse side to the public at the annual Bordentown City Street Fair, and are hoping to make more people aware of the ongoing project.