Wisconsin Historical Society 1872
Wisconsin's second state Capitol and Madison's Fire Station No. 2, to the right. The German volunteers are depicted with their hand-powered equipment. Martin Hinrichs, Madison's fire chief from 1877 to 1880, stands in the center foreground.
The Castle & Doyle building on the 100 block of State Street is safe, for now.
Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland hoped to demolish all but its 1921 terracotta faade to replace what some see as an eyesore across from the Overture Center with a $10 million redevelopment.
The proposal has since been modified, and the Castle & Doyle building is spared for the moment, though another landmark property on the parcel remains threatened. The Madison Landmarks Commission will consider the plan Jan. 30.
There will be those who complain that thoughtless preservation has again dimmed major development. They will say that the rear of the Castle & Doyle building, with its rusty second-story steel platform, remains a blot on the landscape.
But does it?
The value of preservation, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let's really get to know 125 State St. It was built as Madison's Fire Station No. 2 in 1857, and remained the pride of the city for 64 years. The city's first firefighter death occurred at the station.
"I do not have an accurate count, but firehouses constructed pre-Civil War are very rare this far west," says Tim Regan, author, firefighting historian and former New York City firefighter.
Madison incorporated as a city in 1856. At his inauguration, the city's first mayor, Jairus Fairchild, called for the purchase of "necessary apparatus" to fight fires. Previously, an ordinance merely ordered owners to conveniently place buckets.
The city called for volunteers. Engine Company No. 1 was organized on April 10, 1856. Madison Fire Company No. 2 formally organized a few months later, on June 23. It had begun assembling a year earlier.
Settled by white immigrants two decades earlier, Madison had grown rapidly - its population at the time was just under 7,000 - and the new arrivals vied with each other to prove their loyalty. Engine Company No. 1 was made up mostly of Irish. Fire Company No. 2 was made up of Germans.
The city set aside $4,600 for construction of its first two fire stations. Both were completed in the spring of 1857. They were designed by Stephen Vaughan Shipman, the architect also of the dome of Madison's second Capitol building and the 1871 American Exchange Bank building, at the corner of Pinckney Street and East Washington Avenue. Station No. 1 was built nearby, at 10 S. Webster St.
Station No. 2 is an example of a "storefront firehouse." It included a hose or lookout tower, as well as a framework steeple containing a fire bell. The Castle & Doyle coal company took over the trapezoidal building and remodeled the faade in 1921.
The current tenant, Shangri-La Collections, is in the process of moving. The picture window preserves the width and height of the original bay entrance through which fire engines came and went.
"The odd shape of the building is unique," notes Regan, who's studied firehouses from Maine to California. "The eventual possibility of rebuilding the faade as a fire station would be much more historically accurate than preserving the current faade."
If the brick rear and limestone sills are now seen as workaday or even ugly, that's because we can scarcely imagine that early firefighting era. Those were the days of hand pumpers, towed and operated by manpower, but the unusual shapes of the rear windows suggest to Regan that the building may have been ambitiously planned to eventually contain a horse stall and hayloft.
Both companies' pumpers arrived on April 2, 1857, and the city celebrated with a parade. Afterward, the equipment was demonstrated at Lake Monona; in the first decades of Madison firefighting, the water supply was described as "an utter absurdity," and the community largely depended on lake water to combat fires.
The steep learning curve for both companies is demonstrated by newspaper clippings and records from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Madison Fire Department, and the department's 1992 book Capital City Courage.
"At the time of one blaze on the Mendota shore the [Germans] became so excited that they threw the mirrors out of the windows but carried the mattresses downstairs," recalled the Madison Democrat newspaper in 1899. Another time, while firefighters fought a blaze during 25-below-zero weather, water-filled hoses froze solid "and had to be carried home in that form."
The companies maintained an intense rivalry. "No. 2 generally arrived first at a fire," noted the Democrat. "Occasionally they came to blows" when both arrived at the same fire. During one barn fire, "a pitched battle occurred, during which time the fire was allowed to rage until the captains ordered the men to put out the blaze and agreed to settle the dispute by a personal meeting."
In 1866 an addition was made to Station No. 2, much to the dismay of the envious Irish. It received a glorious, smoke-belching, steam-powered pumper engine. It was so heavy that it required 50 men to pull it through the muddy streets. A second steam pumper was soon ordered. When it arrived, "Amber-colored fluid, rye bread and sausage disappeared in great quantities," reported the Wisconsin State Journal.
"Mayor [(Andrew] Proudfit was there and he enjoyed it as much as the next fellow. He had purchased a banner and presented it to the boys with a speech that made the boys swear by him, even if he did not come from Germany."
A team of horses was required to pull the new, even heavier engine. On March 31, 1882, driver John Engelberger Jr. was kicked in the head by one of them at the station and died.
During the first decades, the companies were included in countless parades. They staged well-attended balls. "Inspection Day" was held annually on the Square, for residents to review equipment. "In those days the entire town suspended work and turned out," recalled the Democrat.
Station No. 2 competed with departments across Wisconsin and "won many prizes" at state fairs, including four silver speaking trumpets, a sort of fire officer's megaphone. During an 1862 contest, the company sent a stream of water over the Capitol, winning the prize. A large broom representing "a clean sweep" was run up the station flagpole.
The city continued to rely on volunteer firefighters until 1908, when professional staffs were put in place. Station No. 1 operated until 1904 and was later demolished. Its fire bell is rumored to survive in the tower of the former First Christian Church at the intersection of North Butler and East Johnson streets.
Station No. 2 continued to house fire companies until 1921, when a larger station was built at 301 N. Broom St. It has since been converted to office space. Many of the German firefighters continued as professionals; the late Engelberger's son retired as assistant chief in 1910, after 40 years of service.
The volunteer firefighters of Station No. 2 had earlier formed a fraternal organization, for the relief of its members. "The survivors bury their brethren as they die," noted the Democrat.
The association disbanded in 1917, when only four members remained. The trophies and tournament prizes were turned over to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Among the remains is a large, dark blue silk flag with embroidered white letters, awarded by "the ladies of Madison" during the company's first year.
One side reads, "Madison, No. 2, 1857." The other side reads, "Wir Eilen zu Retten" - translated, "We hurry to the rescue."
And of course their home, Fire Station No. 2, also survives.