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Then and Now #9: Northeast Central Fire Departments

Halifax, Nash, and Wilson 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.

Recorded firefighter fatalities from this period date as early as 1902, when Edward Peel of the Salamander Fire Company in Washington was killed in a building collapse on February 8, 1902. Two years later, New Bern firefighter Johnnie Gaskill was killed when kicked in the head by a horse. In 1906, Rocky Mount fireman Henry Mitchell of the Hook and Ladder Company died of a heart attack while training for a state fireman's tournament.

Other early line-of-duty deaths: Winston fireman Joe Whitlow, killed in a building collapse in 1911; Charlotte Fire Chief Harvey Wallace and Captain W. B. Glenn, killed battling a fire caused by a dynamite explosion on July 1, 1914; Winston-Salem firefighter Jonah Kiser, electrocuted at a fire on July 14, 1915; and Charlotte firefighter George Spittle, killed when the engine he was riding was struck by a trolley on March 10, 1917.

Enfield, Halifax County
June 1921

Twenty colored men who respond on call and are paid a nominal salary. Fire station at 124 Main Street. One old-style Howe gasoline engine, capacity about 250 gallons per minute, fair condition only. One hand-drawn hose reel with 300 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. One hook and ladder truck with 25-foot extension ladder. Fire alarm by factory whistle and telephone. Population 1,600.

Today
Two fire stations, seven pieces of fire apparatus, and 28 members protecting 182 square miles. Population 2,370.

Littleton, Halifax County
March 1912

Volunteer, 12 members and chief. Fire station beside 27 North Main Street. One hand chemical engine, 60 gallons with 60 feet of one-inch chemical hose. One hook and ladder truck, buckets attached. Fire alarm sounded by bell in public square. Population 1,500.

Today
Two fire stations, five pieces of fire apparatus, and 34 volunteer members protecting approximately 10 square miles. Population 681


Nashville's first motor pumper. Courtesy North Carolina State Archives

Nashville, Nash County
August 1917
Volunteer fire department planned, 11 men. Location of hose houses not determined. City has two hose reels with 500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose each. Fire alarm by whistle at pumping station. Population 1,200.

Today
One fire station, seven pieces of fire apparatus, nine career members, and 27 volunteer members protecting over three square miles. Population 4,656.


Roanoke Rapids municipal building and fire station, circa 1932

Roanoke Rapids, Halifax County
June 1919

One chief, one assistant chief. Fire station on 2nd Street west of Jackson Street: Two hose reels with 400 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose each. Two 40-foot extension ladders, four 20-foot extension ladders. No hook and ladder truck. 60 fire pails. Fire station and lock up on 2nd Street east of Hamilton Street: Two hose reels with 400 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose each. Hose reels drawn by hand and private automobile. Fire alarm bell on tower near intersection of Jackson and 2nd Streets. Population 2,300.

Today
Two fire stations, five pieces of fire apparatus, 30 career members, and one volunteer member protecting over 7.8 square miles. Population 16,741.


Rocky Mount Fire Department in 1920s. Courtesy Rocky Mount Fire Department

Rocky Mount, Nash County
August 1917

Five paid men. Four volunteer companies, 29 men at Headquarters. Also 22 colored men on hook and ladder truck. Ten men each at other hose houses. Headquarters Fire Station at 157 North Main Street: Five men on duty days, seven men on duty nights. One American LaFrance Type 75 triple combination automobile truck. One American LaFrance combination chemical truck. One one-horse hose wagon in reserve. One Silsby steamer in reserve. 3,200 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. Hose house beside 419 Ambler Avenue: one hose reel with 450 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. Hose house at corner of Falls and West Ridge roads: one hose reel with 450 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. Gamewell fire alarm system with 27 boxes. Gongs at pumping station and at homes of chief, assistant chief, foreman, and superintendent of fire alarms. Bell in tower sounds alarm. Population 14,000.

Today
Seven fire stations, 15 pieces of fire apparatus, and 142 career members protecting 35.5 square miles. Population 56,309.

Rosemary, Halifax County
June 1919

Organized of employees of Rosemary Manufacturing Company, Cotton Mill No. 2. Plant located west of 11th Street and Roanoke Avenue. Fire alarm by private telephones. Population 2,107.

Today
Protected by Roanoke Rapids Fire Department. See above.

Weldon, Halifax County
June 1915

Two companies, one white, one colored, 11 men each. One chief. No paid men. Fire station at Town Hall at 303 3rd Street: One ladder truck, hand-drawn with one 36-foot extension ladder, one 16-foot ladder, and one 18-foot ladder. Hose house #1 on 2nd Street west of Washington Avenue: One hose reel with 500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. Hose house #2 at 525 1st Street: One hose reel with 500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. Hose house #3 on 5th Street west of Elm Street: One hose reel with 500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. Each reel with new hose. Fire alarm bell at rear of 505 Washington Street. Population 2,500.

Today
Two fire stations, seven pieces of fire apparatus, three career members, seven part-time members, and 26 volunteer members protecting 18 square miles. Population 1,349.


Wilson firemen and American LaFrance fire engines. Courtesy Wilson Fire Department

Wilson, Wilson County
February 1922

Two companies. Fire station at City Hall at 116-120 Goldsboro Street: Chief, assistant chief, two paid men, 20 volunteers. Two American LaFrance triple combination motor trucks each with 750-gallon chemical tank and 1,200 feet of 2 1/2-hose. 1,800 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve. Reo motor truck equipped as hook and ladder planned. Colored Company, no firehouse: One paid man, 12 volunteers. Gamewell fire alarm system with 24 boxes and bell at pumping plant. Alarm given by bell on City Hall and whistle at municipal light plant. Population 12,000.

Today
Five fire stations, 12 pieces of fire apparatus, and 92 career members protecting 23.2 square miles. Population 47,441.

More Photos


Rocky Mount's first fire company, formed 1896. Courtesy Rocky Mount Fire Department


Rocky Mount firefighters, circa 1906. Courtesy Rocky Mount Fire Department


Wilson municipal complex including fire station. Courtesy North Carolina State Archives


Wilson municipal complex consisted of City Hall, City Market, and fire station.


Nashville Municipal Building and Fire Station. Courtesy Nashville Fire Department


Nashville Fire Department members circa 1955. Courtesy Nashville 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 the link below to view later-era maps including the towns of Elm City (Wilson), Scotland Neck (Halifax), and Spring Hope (Nash).


References

Early Black Firefighters of North Carolina
Guide to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation
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

Enfield Fire Department
Nashville Fire Department
Roanoke Rapids Fire Department
Rocky Mount Fire Department
Wilson 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 7, 2006

Coming next:  Cherokee, Cleveland, Haywood, Henderson, Rutherford, and Transylvania counties
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