Fire Museum Moves to Blowing Rock, 1959

Note: See also these two active Facebook threads: Legeros Fire Line and SPAAMFAA (private group)

Watauga Democrat, May 28, 1959.

In May 1959, the fire equipment and fire apparatus collection of Vincent K. O’Meara of Hialeah, FL, was moved to the Tweetsie Railroad attraction in Blowing Rock, NC. The collection had previously been displayed at his Hialeah Fire Museum at 1022 E. 27th Street. 

The extensive collection of artifacts also included 30 pieces of apparatus, with the oldest dating to 1792. O’Meara’s collection also included thousand of pieces of related fire equipment and what the local newspaper called the largest “fire protection library” in the southeast. 

Among the displayed apparatus was Greensboro’s 1904 American LaFrance steam engine, reg #496. Originally acquired by a private owner in Winston-Salem, it was sold to Vincent K. O’Meara of Hialeah, FL, in August of 1951. See prior posting about the steamer.

Miami News, May 18, 1959

About the Apparatus

The O’Meara collection included 30 pieces of apparatus:

  1. 1792 hand engine [?].
  2. 1834 hand engine. Bought used by Bay City, MI, in the 1860s. Originally named Tiger, renamed Peninsular during service at Bay City. Acquired around March 1957. Subsequent sold after it was moved to Tweetsie. Source: Miami News, Mar 21, 1957; Facebook postings.
  3. 1852 Hunneman hand pumper, first used in Exeter, MH. Source: Palm Beach Post, May 6, 1956. 
  4. 1890 Boyer chemical cart, built in Logansport, IN. Source: Palm Beach Press, May 6, 1956.
  5. 1890 hose wagon built in Oaklawn, RI. Source: Palm Beach Press, May 6, 1956.
  6. 1890 hand-drawn hook and ladder truck, ex-Apnea, MI. Acquired around August 1958.
  7. 1900 Kress Company fire wagon. Source: Miami Herald. Sep 7, 1958.
  8. 1904 American LaFrance steam engine, ex-Greensboro, NC. More info.
  9. 1905 American LaFrance steam engine, “Mallory,” named for Steven R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy during the Cofederacy, ex-Pensacola, FL. Source: Palm Beach Post, May 6, 1956. 
  10. 1917 American LaFrance pumper, ex-Opa Locka, FL. Source: Palm Beach Press, May 6, 1956.
  11. 1920 Ford/____ combination hose and chemical car, ex-Safety Harbor, FL. Source: Palm Beach Press, May 6, 1956.
  12. 1923 Ruggles [?] hook and ladder truck, ex-Coral Gables, FL. 
  13. 1924 American LaFrance pumper, ex-Hialeah. Bought by and returned to Pompano Beach in 1965, mistaken believed to be the former PBFD engine. Source: Fort Lauderdale News, Apr 5, 1965.
  14. 1924 American LaFrance pumper, 750 gpm, “Old 75”, ex-Pompano Beach, FL. Retired 1948. Acquired April 1956. Source: Fort Lauderdale News, Apr 7, 1956. 
  15. 1926 American LaFrance pumper, ex-Miami, FL. Source: Palm Beach Press, May 6, 1956.
  16. 1926 Cadillac V-8 chief’s car, ex-Miami FL. Source: Palm Beach Press, May 6, 1956.
  17. 1926 American LaFrance pumper, ex-Miami, FL. Source: Palm Beach Press, May 6, 1956.
  18. TBD. Ex-Lake Worth, FL.
  19. TBD. Ex-South Miami, FL.
  20. TBD, Ex-Lakeland, FL.
  21. TBD, Ex-Surfside, FL.
  22. TBD, Ex-Hollywood, FL.
  23. TBD.
  24. TBD.
  25. TBD.
  26. TBD.
  27. TBD.
  28. TBD.
  29. TBD.
  30. TBD. 

Other possible apparatus:

  • 1908 Fox steam engine, reg #3246, ex-Pensacola, FL. Source: Ed Hass steam fire engine records (PDF).
  • hand-drawn hose reel, shown in brochures when the museum was located in Florida.

About Vincent O’Meara

Who was O’Meara? He was a retired firefighter from Florida with 18 years of service, including at the Opa-Locka Marine Base. He was a member of five other departments, including as a volunteer member. He started collecting as a hobby when he was five-years old. His collection had been acquired over 29 years, when he started seriously pursuing collecting. His wife was also an avid buff and helped manage and expand the collection.

About the O’Meara Collection

In addition to apparatus, the collection included:

  • Over 80 framed pictures and over 100 rare pictures.
  • Over 15,000 documents, including photographers, manufacturer’s catalogs, training manuals, and even “yellow sheet music dedicated to favorite fire companies.”
  • Hand-sewn leather buckets from colonial times. 
  • Speaking trumpets, including one dating to 1840.
  • Three pompier ladders. 
  • Charred brick from the White House, burned by the British in 1912.
  • Old programs and tickets
  • Fire axes, hydrant wrenches, nozzle couplings, lanterns
  • Fire bells and gongs
  • Fire insurance marks.
  • Fire helmets and firefighter uniforms from around the world. 
  • Silver spoons commemorating the San Francisco fire and earthquake in 1906.
  • Collection of miniature fire apparatus that he built, as well as cast-iron toys from 50 years ago.

Sources: Various.

About the Hialeah Fire Museum

Courtesy Miami Springs Historical Society and Museum

O’Meara’s museum opened [at its last location?] on February 11, 1956. Source: Miami Herald, Apr 2, 1957.

In August 1958, the Miami news report that Hialeah city officials were studying a request from O’Meara for funding. He wrote a letter stating that lack of operating funds might force the museum’s closure. He stated that he estimated between $300 and $400 a month was needed for rent and utilities on the building. The museum had been operating at a loss since it operated 12 years ago. This was their first request for help to the city. The museum, said the article, was recognized by the Smithsonian Institution as “being the largest collection of fire department apparatus in the world.” It was open to the public seven days a week.

Said O’Meara in a newspaper article in May 1959, he was moving them to the “North Carolina summer resort at Blowing Rock” so that “more people than ever before” could see the historical fire equipment. The Palm Beach Post in May 1959 reported that Grover Robbins, current owner of the Tweetsie Railroad, was “instrumental” in bringing the fire museum to North Carolina. 

Noted the Miami News on May 18, 1959, O’Meara was turning the collection over to Robbins. 

Moss Trucking Company of Charlotte transported the collection. Source: Sumter Daily, May 22, 1959.

Then What Happened?

Watauga Democrat, June 30, 1960

Here’s some selected information:

  • The new fire museum was possibly named the O’Meara Fire Engine Museum. 
  • On 1965, April 5, the Fort Lauderdale News reported that least two of the trucks had been stored in a barn for about ten years at Tweetsie Railroad. [ Meaning, perhaps the fire museum building that opened in 1956 did not house all of the collection? ] 
  • In 1966, Greensboro’s steamer was sold [?] and moved to Gatlinburg, TN.
  • In 1977, Tweetsie Railroad’s attractions included “an old-time fire house with horse-drawn fire engines.” Source: Statesville Record & Landmark, May 28, 1977.
  • In 1977, September 19, Vincent K. O’Meara died at Veteran’s Hospital in Miami [?], FL. His still lived in Hialeah. He was 57 years old. After O’Meara’s death, the museum collection was sold at auction by his widow, cites the Hall of Flame in Phoenix on their web site. It says they acquired a large collection of photos, records and memorabilia, as well as several pieces of apparatus. Source.
  • In 1981, Tweetsie Railroad’s attractions as listed on an advertisement included a firehouse on Tweetsie Square. Source: Charlotte Observer, June 14, 1981. [ Did Tweetsie retain or buy some of the O’Meara collection after the time of his death? TBD. ] 

The Fire Museum Building Today

The museum building was described in a March 2016 document (PDF) titled Historic Architectural Resource Report – Intensive Evaluation for the Tweetsie Railroad Theme Park and the Shull House as follows:

7. Fire Museum Building, ca. 1965
Contributing Building
This one-story, brick and concrete block building originally housed a fire museum, but has been incorporated into the repair shop complex. The unadorned, utilitarian building has a terracotta cap on a parapet wall.

More Images

Miami Herald, Apr 2, 1957

Miami News, Mar 21, 1957

Palm Beach Post, May 19, 1959

Sumter Daily Item, May 22, 1959

Miami Herald-Sun, May 2, 1965


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