wants to promote
Madison fire dept. history with museum
has bought newly renovated
Walnut St. firehouse
(July 2012) Most passers-by saw only a decrepit,
vacant building, but Bruce Anderson spied a treasure. After living in
the county for 30 years, Anderson decided to follow a life-long dream
to renovate a historic building for new residence.
by Tess Worrell
Taff has a fascination
for Madison firefighting history.
The Walnut Street Fire Department, located at 808 Walnut
St., combined both the challenge and history he desired. He set to work.
After nearly three years of renovation, his treasure was visible to
all and earned Anderson the Preservation Heros Award.
Anderson notes the challenges were many. After consulting with local
architect, Donny Ball, Anderson devised a plan to keep the historic
exterior while converting the inside to a residence.
His greatest challenge came in refinishing the cast-iron front to the
building. The front was ordered for the fire department from a catalogue
and assembled on-site. Rust and time marred the original beauty. Black
and white photos of the original fire station gave no clues as to the
Anderson worked with the Cornerstone Society, a local preservation group,
to create a historic color scheme. He cleaned rust and old paint from
each and every tiny crevice of metal-work getting down to bare metal,
then recreated to the best of his ability the original front to the
building. Once Anderson completed the outside, he converted the second
story to an elegant, two-bedroom apartment.
Now ready to move in, Anderson discovered he couldnt bear to part
with his country home. Renovating the fire station was a great
challenge. I would never do it again, but I wouldnt trade the
memories for anything.
The question remained: What would he do with the building?
Enter Frank Taff. A life-long volunteer with the Walnut Street Fire
Department, Taff had visited the old station when his father worked
there as a volunteer. Though the Department had long since moved to
its present location at Third and Walnut, Taff remembered those early
days and had a vision for turning the newly restored station into a
showplace for the history fire fighting in Madison.
Madison organized volunteer fire protection for the city in 1821. The
first fire house was built in 1830. Madison boasts the oldest active
firehouse in America Company 2s building at Third
and West Street, built in 1848. The original Walnut Street firehouse
was built in 1875 to house the approximately 23 firefighters who volunteered
for Company 4. The men were of primarily Dutch descent and worked for
by Tess Worrell
won a preservation
award for his work in
restoring the Walnut
Street firehouse. Prior
to selling it, he lived
on the second floor.
Pictures of the original company are displayed at the
firehouse along with period equipment. The centerpiece of Taffs
collection is an original Seagrave hand-drawn Hook and Ladder. Taff
notes that the first fire companies didnt have the resources to
maintain horses, so most equipment was transported to fires on hand-drawn
vehicles. Seagrave became the premiere supplier of fire equipment, mostly
Frederick Seagrave, owner of an apple orchard, designed ladders for
reaching his apples. Customers soon became more interested in purchasing
the sturdy ladders than his apples, so he began producing those. Fire
departments liked the ladders so much, Seagrave designed carts for the
departments to use in transporting the ladders, and the rest is history.
Visitors can see an example of an original hook and ladder
cart on the main floor of the fire station. Lined with leather water
buckets, the cart displays both the hooks fire fighters used to pull
the building, and thus the fire, to them as well as the ladders they
used to climb to the fire leading to the name Hook and Ladder.
In addition to the cart, station walls are lined with original pictures
of fire fighters, quilts depicting fire fighting history, and display
cases for artifacts.
Taff said he hopes to use the building to educate others about one of
the oldest, continuing all-volunteer fire departments in the nation.
Though not a museum in the traditional sense (it will not have official
operating hours where it is open to the public), he hopes the building
will become a showplace where he can share his knowledge of all fire
fighters have done with interested groups and individuals by appointment.
He says he is excited to have the station as the perfect backdrop for
all he currently owns and hopes to add. He jokingly admits that, I
love to collect these items but I dont want to become a hoarder.
I figure if I put everything on display here so others can see and learn,
I wont end up on one of those reality shows.
Taff asks anyone who has items he could use to contact him so he can
add to the displays.
When asked his main goal for the building, Taff said, Madison
has been served by a volunteer group (for fire fighting) from the beginning
to today. This will only survive if people have community spirit and
a willingness to donate their time to join. We desperately need new
membership. I hope by viewing the past, people will be inspired to contribute
Those interested in volunteering can contact Madison Fire Chief Steve
Horton at City Hall or their local fire station.
To view this piece of history, schedule an appointment with Taff by
calling (812) 265-3762 or stop by when the garage door is up. Taff welcomes
all interested in learning and looks forward to sharing the fire fighting
history of Madison.
Theres a lot of history and heritage in Madison fire fighting,
but no focal point. Maybe this place can serve that function to
pass along the heritage.
Back to July 2012 Articles.