This is the oldest firehouse to be found in Detroit. The state legislature established a professional fire fighting force for Detroit in 1867. Prior to that, the city relied upon volunteers. After the Civil War the city's population grew rapidly. The near east side area was populated by many immigrants first from Germany and then, a few years later, from Poland and other Eastern European nations as well as immigrants from Canada and the British Isles. By the early 1880s, a modern new fire station was need. This one was erected in 1883. Steam Fire Company #11 began operating from this site on January 1, 1884. They had a Silsby Steam Pumper Engine and Hose Reel wagon. Each was pulled by a team of two horses but the bureaucratic rules of that era mandated that horses for a steam engine be much bigger and stronger than those used for a hose wagon. The Silbey Manufacturing firm in Senaca Falls, New York was the largest producers of steam pumpers. That is, this was not a steam propelled vehicle but rather a steam engine on a wagon that pumped water at high velocity. The firm - and its descendent campanies and licensees continue to manufacture steam pumpers until 1905. I do not know of any other buildings in Detroit designed by the firm that designed this building, Gascione and Sons.
You will note a three-story tower away from the Gratiot Avenue façade of the building. This was used so that a fire officer could spot smoke and direct the team to the conflagration. However, it was also a drying rack for hoses. The tower is now much shorter than it was in 1883. During World War II, it was truncated so that an air raid siren could be installed. I don't know why they needed a short tower for an air raid siren. When the station was built, hoses had to be dried after use so that they could be rolled for reuse at the next fire. I wonder what sort of pulley arrangement was used to elevate the soaking wet hoses to a three-story height? It must have been a great challenge to dry hoses on freezing days.
In 1916, Engine Company #11 switched from hoses to gasoline-powered fire engines. In 1972, the company moved away from this building, and in 1976, the unit was merged. From 1972 until 1976, a Fire Department Emergency Medical Services unit was based in this fire station. After they moved out, proposals were circulated to establish a Detroit Fire Department Historical Museum in this structure, but I believe that a shortage of funds has delayed that project for several decades.
Architects: Gascione and Sons
Contractor: A. Albrecht and Marlow Brothers
Date of construction: 1883
Use in 2010: Vacant fire house awaiting redevelopment
National Register of Historic Sites: Listed January 9, 1978
This local historic district includes just Engine House No. 11 at 2737 Gratiot.
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Listed June 13, 1978
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P4480, Listed May 14, 1975
Photograph: Ren Farley; November, 2009
Description updated: December, 2013
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