Then and Now #2: Northern Mountain Fire Departments|
Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Madison,
McDowell, Surry, and Wilkes counties
Welcome to a feature where
historian Mike Legeros
presents early twentieth-century summaries
of North Carolina fire departments as recorded by
the Sanborn Map Company for their fire insurance
maps. In addition to detailed information about
streets, buildings, and water supplies, the
cartographers also recorded fire protection
information including personnel, apparatus, and
The oft-cited "hand reels" refer to hand-drawn hose reels. Once a town
installed a water system, hoses could be connected directly to fire
hydrants and without the need for a hand- or steam-powered pumping
engines. Horse-drawn hose wagons soon replaced the hand reels, and
motorized hose wagons replaced the horse-drawn rigs. "Combination hose
wagons" were equipped with one or more chemical tanks. Motorized "triple
combinations" were equipped with a pump, a hose bed, and one or more
Asheville fire department in 1917. Courtesy North Carolina Collection at
Asheville, Buncombe County
Three officers. Five paid men. 61 volunteers.
Central Station, East Pack Square: Three
officers, five paid men, 30 volunteer men. Two
Seagrave combination automobile trucks with 45
gallon chemical tanks, 1,500 feet 2 1/2-inch
hose, and 200 feet 3/4-inch hose. One
combination hook and ladder automobile truck
with 45 gallon chemical tank and 200 feet
3/4-inch hose. Chief's automobile with 25 gallon
chemical tank and 100 feet 3/4-inch hose. One
Reo combination automobile truck in reserve with
70 gallon chemical tank, 200 feet 3/4-inch hose,
and 1,250 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One hook and
ladder trailer in reserve.
Pine Street south of Hazzard Street:
10 Negro volunteers. One hose reel. 500 feet 2
Dinwell Avenue in West Asheville: 11
volunteers. Two hose reels. 1,100 feet 2
1/2-inch hose. Brook Street in Biltmore
10 volunteers. One hose wagon with
550 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One hose reel with 300
feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Eight three-gallon
chemical extinguishers distributed about
village. Gamewell fire alarm system with 33
alarm boxes. 22 telephone call boxes. Population
Nine fire stations, 30 pieces of fire
apparatus, and 226 career members
protecting 54 square miles. Population 71,750.
State Hospital Fire Department, circa 1900s-1910s. Courtesy
Broughton Hospital Public Safety
Hospital, Burke County
Fire company among employees. Fire drill every month.
Fire station behind Male Wards. One
hook and ladder truck, two hose carts. 2,000 feet 2 1/2-inch
hose, 1,000 feet on reels.
Protected by Morganton Fire Department. See below.
First fire truck, courtesy Elkin Fire Department
Three volunteer companies, 10 men each, and
chief. Fire equipment stored
at McNeers Warehouse, 352-356 Main Street.
Three hand hose reels with 500 feet 2
1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose each. Same to be
distributed around town. Population 1,400.
One fire station, three pieces of fire
apparatus, three career members, and 30
volunteer members protecting 6.3 square
miles. Population 4,092.
Lenoir fire department in 1920s, courtesy
Lenoir Fire Department
Lenoir, Caldwell County
Volunteer, 15 men and one chief. One paid
driver. Two horses.
Fire station at 107 Mulberry Street.
One motor-driven combination hose and
chemical wagon with 200-gallon chemical
tank, 200 feet chemical hose, and 1,000 feet
2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose. One
two-horse hose wagon with 750 feet 2
1/2-inch hose and chemical extinguishers.
1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve.
Two fire stations, 10 pieces of fire
apparatus, and 62 career members protecting 16.6 square miles.
Marion firefighters with new pumper, 1927.
Marion, McDowell County
One day and one night driver, fully paid. 18
Fire station at 125
West Court. One Utica Reo combination automobile with two 40-gallon chemical
tanks, 250 feet chemical hose, 600 feet 2
1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose, two
three-gallon chemical extinguishers, and one
34-foot extension ladder. 900 feet 2
1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose in
reserve. Fire alarm by electric siren
operated at telephone exchange, always open.
One fire station, seven pieces of fire
apparatus, five career members, and 27 volunteer
members protecting approximately 15 square miles.
Marshall, Madison County
Volunteer, 17 men.
Fire station at 117 Main Street. Two
hand reels and 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose.
One hook and ladder truck, hand drawn. Fire
alarm by bells. Population 1,800.
One fire station, eight pieces of fire
apparatus, one career member, and 37 volunteer members
protecting 6 square miles. Population
Morganton Fire Department, 1929. Courtesy
North Carolina State Archives
Morganton, Burke County
Volunteer, 25 men. One horse. Two stations.
City Hall at 75 King Street: Hose
Company No. 1. One horse. One one-horse hose
wagon with 600 feet 2 1/2-inch hose.
Rear of 79 King Street: One one-horse
hook and ladder wagon. One hand hose reel in
reserve with 400 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Fire
alarm by telephone and factory whistle.
Three fire stations, eight pieces of fire
apparatus, 95 career members including 80 sworn public safety officers, and
members protecting 18.2 square miles.
Mount Airy's 1916 American LaFrance, courtesy
Mount Airy Museum of Regional History
Airy, Surry County
Eighteen volunteers. One paid man lives at
station at City Hall, 119 Moore Street.
One American LaFrance 75 HP
triple-combination pump, chemical, and hose
automobile truck with 750 gallon per-minute
pump, 1,250 feet 2 1/2-inch hose, 40-gallon
chemical tank, 200 feet chemical hose, two 2
1/2-gallon chemical extinguishers, and two
36-foot ladders. 1,450 feet 2 1/2-inch hose
in reserve. Fire alarm by telephone and
electric siren on roof of City Hall.
Two fire stations, six pieces of fire
apparatus, 15 career members, and 20
part-time members, protecting 5.5 square
miles. Population 8,489.
North Wilkesboro, Wilkes County
Volunteer, 23 men.
One fire station at
708 B Street and one hose house in front of 204
Three hand hose reels with 600 feet 2
1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose each. Two
hand hook and ladder trucks. Fire alarm by
telephone and whistles. Population 4,000.
One fire station, five pieces of fire
apparatus, three career members, and 29 volunteer
members protecting 5.6 square miles.
Old Fort Reo Speedwagon, 1930. Courtesy
Old Fort Fire Department
Old Fort, McDowell County
No organized fire department. Citizens help
in case of fire. No horses. Two hose houses.
West 101 Main Street:
One hand-drawn hose reel with 750 feet 2
1/2-inch hose. Corner
of Commerce and Broad Streets: One
hand-drawn hose reel with 750 feet 2
1/2-inch hose. Alarm of fire sounded by
whistle at Union Tanning Company plant. Population 800.
One fire station, seven pieces of fire apparatus, and 28 volunteer
members protecting 60 square miles, including 38 square miles of
Pisgah National Forest. Population 972.
Asheville hook and ladder company in 1900. Courtesy North Carolina
Collection at Pack Library
Asheville hose wagon circa 1910-11. Courtesy North Carolina Collection at
Mount Airy hose wagon with Reuben the fire
1913. Courtesy Mount Airy
Museum of Regional History
Lenoir hose wagon pulled by Rex and Ned, courtesy Lenoir Fire
State Hospital Fire Department practice,
circa 1900s-1910s. Courtesy Broughton Hospital Public Safety
Why Isn't Your City or Town Listed?
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are available
online from NC LIVE for 162 communities in
83 of North Carolina's 100 counties. Most
cities and towns were surveyed several times
over several decades between the 1880s and
the 1950s. Of those maps in the public
domain, copyright 1922 or earlier, only
100-some communities in 64 counties had fire
equipment or fire departments. See below
link to view later-era maps, including the
towns of Black Mountain (Buncombe), Blowing
Rock (Watauga), Boone (Watagua), Granite
Falls (Caldwell), Pilot Mountain (Surry),
Ronda (Wilkes), Spruce Pine (Mitchell), and
Guide to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
North Carolina State Demographics
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps via NC LIVE
Requires password available from many local libraries. After logging into NC
LIVE, click Browse Resources and select Maps
Elkin Fire Department
Marion Fire Department
Morganton Department of Public Safety
Mount Airy Fire Department
North Wilkesboro Fire Department
Then and Now #1:
Down East Fire Departments
Then and Now #2:
Northwest Fire Departments
Then and Now #3:
Charlotte West Fire Departments
Then and Now #4:
Triangle Fire Departments
Then and Now #5:
Greensboro West Fire Departments
Then and Now #6:
Fayetteville to Goldsboro Fire Departments
Then and Now #7:
Warrenton West Fire Departments
Then and Now #8: West Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #9: Northeast Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #10: Western Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #11: Northeast Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #12: Dunn to Pinehurst Fire Departments
A version of this article was published on
February 21, 2005.
Catawba, Gaston, Lincoln, and