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Then and Now #3: Charlotte West Fire Departments

Catawba, Gaston, Lincoln, and Mecklenburg 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 alarm systems.

Chemical tanks were popular at this time, both as hand- or horse-drawn "chemical engines" and attached to horse-drawn or motorized hose wagons. Using soda water and sulfuric acid, the two were mixed upon arrival at a fire. The former was pressurized by the latter and allowed for the quick extinguishing of small fires, without requiring an external pump or water supply. Unfortunately, the entire tank emptied at once and could not be used a second time unless refilled and recharged.

Belmont, Gaston County
July 1922

Volunteer, one chief and 20 men. Fire station at City Hall, 82 South Main Street. One Ford/American LaFrance automobile combination chemical and hose wagon with 40 gallon chemical tank, 250 feet of chemical hose, 1,250 feet 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose, one 24-foot extension ladder, and two three-gallon chemical extinguishers. Population 3,500.

Today
One fire station, three pieces of fire apparatus, nine career members, nine part-time members, and 21 volunteer members protecting 8.5 square miles. Population 8,828.

Bessemer City, Gaston County
June 1922

Volunteer, 20 members. Fire equipment stored behind City Hall at 40 Virginia Avenue. One hose reel. 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Population 2,500.

Today
One fire station, four pieces of fire apparatus, 28 volunteer members protecting 4.5 square miles. Population 5,180.


1915 Knox / American LaFrance chemical car, courtesy Charlotte Fire Department

Charlotte, Mecklenburg County
1911

Fully paid. Chief, 17 men, and 13 horses with drop harnesses. Three stations. Station No. 1 at 16 East 5th Street: Chief and eight men. Six horses. One two-horse combination chemical and hose wagon with 40-gallon tank. One two-horse hook and ladder service truck with two three-gallon extinguishers. One one-horse chief's buggy with one three-gallon extinguisher. 1,500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve. Station No. 2 at 0 block South Church Street: Five men. Five horses. One third-size Metropolitan steam fire engine, capacity 650 gallons per minute. Two two-horse combination chemical and hose wagons with 35 gallon tanks. One hose wagon. 1,100 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. 1,200 feet 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve. Station No. 3 at 1008 South Boulevard: Three men. Two horses. One hose wagon with 800 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Gamewell fire alarm system with 48 non-interfering boxes. Automatic fire bell in tower beside Station No. 1. Population 35,000.

Today
37 fire stations, 77 pieces of fire apparatus, and 1,054 career members protecting 258 square miles. Population 599,771.


Cherryville firefighters in 1926, courtesy Cherryville Fire Department

Cherryville, Gaston County
September 1914
Volunteer. Chief and 30 men. Fire station at City Hall, 213 East Main Street. Two hose reels with 400 feet 2 1/2-inch hose each. Two chemical engines, 50 gallons each. One village-type hook and ladder truck. 1,000 feet new 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose. Alarm by bell on City Hall roof and by telephone. Twenty members have phones. Population 2,000.

Today
One fire station, five pieces of fire apparatus, nine career members, and 28 part-time members protecting 2.5 square miles. Population 5,527.


Gastonia firefighters in 1925, courtesy Gastonia Fire Department

Gastonia, Gaston County
June 1922

One chief and seven men, fully paid. Eight call men.
Fire station at 118 South Street. One American LaFrance triple combination 105 HP automobile truck with 750 gallon-per-minute pump, 40 gallon chemical tank, 1,200 feet 2 1/2-inch hose, and 28-foot ladder. One American LaFrance triple combination 70 HP automobile truck with 525 gallon-per-minute pump, 40 gallon chemical tank, 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose, and 24-foot ladder. Each truck carries 250 feet of chemical hose and two three-gallon chemical extinguishers. Fire alarm by Gamewell telephone system. Population 17,000.

Today
Eight fire stations, 20 pieces of fire apparatus, and 140 career members protecting 48.2 square miles. Population 68,513.


Hickory Fire Department, 1924

Hickory, Catawba County
April 1919

Volunteer, 26 members, one paid. Chief, assistant chief, and fire alarm support. Fire station at 1020 14th Street. One triple combination hose, ladder, and chemical automobile truck with 36 feet of ladders. One two-horse hose wagon. 2,700 feet 2 1/2-inch standard hose. Two 14-foot scaling ladders. One 40-foot extension ladder. Gamewell fire alarm system of 35 boxes planned. Population 7,000.

Today
Seven fire stations, 16 pieces of fire apparatus, 127 career members, three part-time members, and nine volunteers protecting 43.8 square miles. Population 38,874.


Lincolnton Fire Department in 1920s. Courtesy Lincoln County Museum of History

Lincolnton, Lincoln County
June 1921

Volunteer, one chief and 11 members. One station and two hose houses. Fire station at City Hall, East Side Public Square: One American LaFrance automobile truck with 40 gallon chemical tank, 100 feet of chemical hose, 500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose, two three-gallon chemical extinguishers, one 20-foot extension ladder, and one 12-foot roof ladder. 500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve. Hose house at corner East Pine and North Oak: One hand hose reel with 500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. Hose house behind 206 North Cedar Street: One hand hose reel with 200 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. In case of fire, nearby cotton mills combine fire apparatus in assistance. Population: 3,390.

Today
One fire station, five pieces of fire apparatus, 20 career members, and 14 volunteer members protecting 18.4 square miles. Population 10,339.

Mount Holly, Gaston County
July 1922

Fire department being organized. Paid driver and 20 men planned. Fire station planned at City Hall, 148 South Main Street. One Ford / American LaFrance automobile triple combination pumper with 500 gallon-per-minute pump, 40 gallon chemical tank, 250 feet chemical hose, 1000 feet of 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber-lined hose, and 22-foot extension ladder contracted for July 1922. Population 2,000.

Today
Three fire stations, seven pieces of fire apparatus, 16 career members, four part-time members, and 40 volunteer members protecting 7.8 square miles. Population 9,687.


Newton firefighters in 1920s, courtesy Newton Fire Department

Newton, Catawba County
February 1913

Volunteer, two companies, 20 men each. Two hose houses. House No. 1 at 524 Main Street: One hose reel with 500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One hook and ladder truck. House No. 2 at 400 block 12th Street: One hose reel with 500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. 250 feet 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve. Fire alarm bell on Court House. Population 2,000.

Today
Three fire stations, ten pieces of fire apparatus, 16 career members, eight part-time members, and 30 volunteer members protecting 38.68 square miles. Population 12,939.

Other Photos


Charlotte combination chemical and hose wagon, courtesy Charlotte Fire Department


Charlotte hook and ladder, courtesy Charlotte Fire Department

Map

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 town of Davidson (Mecklenburg) and the Gastonia Mill District (Gaston).

References
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

Related Links
Belmont Fire Department
Charlotte Fire Department
Cherryville Fire Department
Gastonia Fire Department
Hickory Fire Department
Lincolnton Fire Department
Mount Holly Fire Department
Newton Fire Department

The Series
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

Note
A version of this article was published on FireNews.net
on March 17, 2005.

Coming Next
Alamance, Durham, Johnston, Orange, and Wake counties.

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