A Shared Experience

Friends, experts come together
to renovate historic firehouse

The Walnut Street home is for sale

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

When Bruce Anderson first purchased the historic Walnut Street firehouse in downtown Madison, Ind., not everyone shared his enthusiasm to renovate the neglected property.
“Everybody said I was crazy, and after I got into it, I thought so, too,” he said, laughing.
However, some of those very friends who initially wondered at the wisdom of Anderson’s adventure soon found themselves pitching in to help lay ash wood floors or blow in insulation. During the 2 1/2 years Anderson spent transforming the broken down firehouse, he found himself studying with artisans to learn a range of new skills and working with experts to make his vision a reality. Anderson had wanted to go through the process of bringing a historic home back to life and notes that it was “quite an experience – I would never trade it!”

Bruce Anderson House Before

Photo provided

Bruce Anderson worked for two
and a half years to transform this
neglected historic firehouse into a home.

Bruce Anderson House After

Anderson’s original plan with the property was to retire and move there himself, but during the course of the renovations, he realized that he just couldn’t bring himself to leave his Hanover home in the county. So he decided to put the two-bedroom, two-bath property up for sale in hopes of finding someone who would appreciate and care for the building as he does. He envisions the ideal buyers as either a small family or “a bachelor, like me.”
Over the course of the renovations, Anderson worked with Historic Madison Inc. in deciding what changes to make to the building and what what elements of the past to preserve. During the renovations Anderson assembled a notebook of photographs and records chronicling not only his own work on the property but also pieces of the building’s past. Town records report that on St. Patrick’s Day of 1873 the Walnut Street Fire Co. No. 4 was founded by a group of Madison residents of predominantly Germanic ancestry. Many of these volunteer firefighters worked in the slaughterhouses in the area and wore wooden shoes to protect their feet.
Frequently, they would show up to fires in their distinctive footwear and so earned the nickname of “the Wooden Shoes of Walnut Street.” The building remained a fire house until 1962 at which point it became the Republican Headquarters.
This history provided the inspiration and also the necessity for some of the renovations. The bright red roof and detailed lettering hark back to days of the volunteer fire company, with colors reminiscent of a traditional fire engine. One of the walls to the building required attention as it had born the brunt of the fire trucks hastily leaving and banging up against the door frame. And when Anderson decided to put in a large deck off the second floor living quarters to answer the problem of what to do if the firehouse ever caught on fire, the foundations of the former water tank became the supports to the modern, spacious addition.
Of all the hard work that went into turning the neglected site into a charming home, Anderson is most pleased with the exterior, remarking that “the outside is just so beautiful.” He cites the cast iron detailing and painted accents as particular points of pride. An entire day was devoted to getting the lettering on the front of the building exactly right, and he also reports that a great deal of thought and consideration went into the decision on what colors to use outside.
While Anderson was very hands on throughout the process, he also relied on friends and experts to make his dream a reality. In particular, he credits the architect Don Ball for his assistance. Anderson also studied with Jack Patchin to learn proper techniques for working on the old windows in the firehouse, many of which were preserved.
Amish workers put on the standing seam roof which, with no holes or screws, “can’t leak.” And while his friends may have given Anderson some good natured teasing at the start of his project, they too proved valuable helpers.
“A lot of friends came down to help me. It was a lot of fun,” he says with a smile. Notably, Tom Mathews “was down here every weekend, just helping me all the time.”
Looking over the original brick preserved in the walls, Anderson reflects that “they built buildings back in those days to stay forever.” Now thanks to his renovations, the Walnut Street fire house should indeed stand for many years to come.

• For more information, contact Bruce Anderson at (812) 801-1956.

Back to December 2010 Articles.



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