A love for history
new books published
on Madisons fire companies
spent three months
researching his subjects
Lela Jane Bradshaw
(July 2009) When the Jefferson County Courthouse
caught fire May 20, the importance of firefighting companies was vividly
brought home to community members.
Madison, Ind.-based writer Bob Thomas, however, needed no such reminder.
Thomas had just spent three months combing through hundreds of pages
of notes collected by area historian Frank Bird in preparation for the
book, Fire! History and Stories of Madisons Volunteer Fire
Companies and Fires They Have Battled.
historical photos like these are
included in the new publication on
Madisons volunteer fire companies.
Bird, a Madison postmaster and member of the No. 2 Fire
Co., lived from 1906 to 1987 and assembled an astonishing collection
of writings on Madison history. The archive at the Heritage Center houses
a total of 19 boxes worth of Birds notes. Fellow archive volunteer
and researcher Ron Grimes said, Birds papers are a real
All I did was plagiarize his records, jokes Thomas.
Jefferson County Historical Society volunteer Bob Thomas recently completed
two books on Madison area history and community life in conjunction
with the Jefferson County Historical Society. Fire! History and
Stories of Madisons Volunteer Fire Companies and Fires They Have
Battled recounts firefighting stories from 1823 through 2009.
A Chronology of Events in the History of Madison, Indiana
explores important dates in area history beginning in the 1600s. The
books are available at the the Heritage Center Museum store for $6 each.
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays at
615 W. First St. in Madison. As part of the release of Fire! History
and Stories, the author plans to give talks to the local fire
companies and has already spoken to No. 6 and No. 3.
In addition to accounts of historic and modern fires, the book also
includes rare photographs from the archive collection. Grimes, who assisted
in selection of photographs for the book, says, One of the pictures
I think captures your interest is the one of the Auto-Horse.
This picture shows a briefly used piece of equipment used to haul the
fire engine. Thomas book explains how the fire company faced difficulty
with the horse and mule drawn engine to the point where for one fire,
the firefighters were forced to jump off the wagon and physically run
to the site where they were needed. The incident highlighted the need
for reliable transportation, and the three wheeled Auto-Horse took the
place of the wagon team until a motorized fire engine was eventually
The cover photograph also illustrates the transition from horse-drawn
fire engines to more modern equipment. The 1920 photo taken at the intersection
of Main Street and Walnut Street commemorates the arrival of the Fair
Play Co. No. 1 Aherns fire truck. Also in the picture is the older horse
drawn wagon. Each vehicle is pumping water from the cistern under the
street and Grimes explains that the point of the demonstration was to
prove to the public that the new equipment worked and would be able
to add to the safety of the community.
While the book deals with serious stories of loss and destruction, there
are also humorous tales as well.
For example, accounts of the 1890 Richwood Distillery fire include reports
of witnesses racing about using boots and shoes in an attempt
to salvage some of the liquor, while good church women who had never
had a drink of whiskey in their lives became dizzy from the fumes.
Thomas latest book, A Chronology of Events in the History
of Madison, Indiana covers a broad spectrum of items of interest
to the Madison community. This book evolved from research Thomas did
while compiling a time line of events for the inside cover of the 1809-2009
Madison on the Ohio Remembering 200 Years book. Work on that project
yielded so much information that it warranted its own publication.
Thomas describes the content of the book as, Whatever I felt was
important to history the death of a person, a presidents
coming to town, the founding of a church.
The book includes information on everything from Delia A. Webster, an
abolitionist who lived in Madison after being jailed in Kentucky and
ordered out of that state for her political views, to the fact that
in 1954 the town was turned down for the U.S. Air Force Academy in favor
of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Thomas laughs, saying if Madison residents want to read a gossip
piece, this is gossip I guess!
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