Introduction: The Talladega County’s First Fire Station
On March 28, 1904, Talladega County’s first fire station was opened at North Norton Avenue and East Luther Street in Sylacauga. The new building was a two-story brick structure with Indiana limestone trim and a bell tower. The building featured many elements that were modern for its time, including a large lobby that could accommodate the entire department on any given day. In addition to the main firehouse on North Norton Avenue, Sylacauga would also see two outposts along the railroad tracks near South Norton Avenue. This included a fire truck and the engine house, both located at the intersection of South Norton Avenue and Railroad Street. The station would operate until 1941. After 1941, the building was sold, and is still standing today. It is currently a residence for a local family.
The Talladega County Fire Department served Sylacauga from 1867 until 1958. The fire department was formed when citizens of Sylacauga voted to form a volunteer fire department at that time. This was done in the hopes of allowing the city to remove themselves from the Barnett Family’s control and take over the financial management of their own affairs.
What is the Story behind the Design of Talladega County’s First Fire Station?
The design is a classic example of Neo-Classical Revival architecture, with the symmetrical massing and temple form expressing its function as a public building. It was built by Ira Dunwoody & Company of Birmingham, Alabama. IIIA Architects of Birmingham, Alabama. Which is a firm still in operation today. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 23, 1988.
How did the Talladega County see the need for a new Fire Station in Sylacauga?
The Talladega County Board of Education expressed a need to relocate the school that occupied the lot on which the new firehouse would be built. The federal government had funded a much-needed water works system for Sylacauga through the efforts of George B. Ward, who was a member of the county board. The location selected for the new location for Sylcauga High School was near the intersection of North Norton and Luther streets, which gave the county an opportunity to build a fire station on the property.
The proposed site for the new fire station was beside the Sylacauga High School. The Board of Education needed to sell the “Public School Property” in order to finance construction of a new high school. The Board of Education had agreed to donate the property if elected officials would pay for the lot and build a fire station on it. This made it possible for construction of the new high school and a fire station on what is now Sycamore Street. The Sylacauga Municipal Authority would provide water service to both buildings.
A petition drive was organized to call for a special election (for November 11, 1949) to approve a bond issue of $175,000 for the construction of the new fire station.
What was The Building Designed to Accommodate and Why is it Here Today?
The location of the building was ideal for the Talladega County fire department, who needed a central location from which to serve the entire county. School children were housed in upstairs classrooms while the first floor served as offices and a showroom for fire equipment. The second floor housed living quarters and an assembly room that was used by various groups including the Boy Scouts of America and the Women’s Club. The building served as a storage facility for fire equipment and a training center for firefighters. This station was not burdened with the sole responsibility of firefighting, but was capable of performing other emergency services such as rescue, emergency medical service and diverting patients from hospitals to private homes. The building was an excellent example of the Mission style and incorporated a circular tower, arches and decorative masonry. When it was constructed, the building had a metal fireman’s pole down the center of the building that allowed firefighters to drop quickly from floor to floor.
The building was renovated in 1976 with some remodeling of second floor living space. A new 911 system replaced the switchboard in 2000. The original fire pole is still used today as an exit by the elevators. The building was declared surplus by the City after a tornado struck in 2013, however it has continued to house the fire department and is dedicated to the memory of all those who have served.
The new Talladega Fire Department was the model for many other new fire stations that later opened in Alabama. Although it was built at a time when fire stations were not nearly as technologically advanced as they are today, this building sets the standard by which future fire stations can be judged. As the town of Sylacauga grew, the Talladega County Fire Department did, as well. The station moved to a new location in 1951 and then closed in 1961 due to budget deficits and high insurance rates. Today, a fire station still stands at this intersection, but it is not being used for its original purpose. The building has been renovated and is now occupied by an office for a mining company. The shuttered station itself is a symbol of the once-thriving town of Sylacauga, which was devastated by the closure of the Sylacauga Mining Company. The once-bustling town’s economy turned to one of desperation, and almost overnight, this original Talladega County Fire Department was rendered useless.