William Penn knew all too well how quickly a city could go up in flames. He lived through London’s Great Fire of 1666, and vowed that no similar catastrophe would plague his new city of Philadelphia. The orderly urban grid and wide streets that Penn planned in 1683 were steps taken to avoid the spread of fire in an era with slow-moving firefighting equipment, and labor-intensive access to water.
Nevertheless, fires still blazed, and so in 1736 Benjamin Franklin co-founded the Union Fire Company, Philly’s first volunteer fire department. Volunteer companies such as Franklin’s (of which there were around 70 by the mid-19th century) were the norm until the city created a professional municipal fire department in 1871.
Modern-day firefighting equipment can’t fit into most historic (and small-scale) firehouses, which were built to house specialized horse-drawn carriages and leather buckets. And so the majority of Philadelphia’s firehouses built before 1950 have been demolished.
But a few remain, and if you pay close attention you might notice that some of the city’s luxury condominiums, bars, nonprofit institutions, and museums have a fiery past.
Know of another converted firehouse that’s not on the map? Let us know in the comments or send us a tip.Read More