It gives me great joy to offer the Preserving York “community” events where they can mingle with others who share similar interests. A tour of the historic Rex/Laurel Fire House in York was recently held for members of the PY group on Facebook. Led by Greg Halpin, Deputy Chief of the York City Fire Department, attendees came for both history and fellowship.
Highlights: Rex/Laurel Fire House Tour
It was quite surprising to learn about the many intricacies found in this historic property. Firehouses of yesteryear were as much a “men’s club” as they were a service organization and they certainly spared no expense.
This larger-than-life painting overlooks the second-floor meeting room. It was created by Lucien Whiting Powell in 1873, according to his dated signature on the lower left corner. Lucien served as a Confederate private during the Civil War and later lived his life in Washington, D.C. Several years ago the painting was cleaned and restored, making the colors much more vibrant.
You can learn more about Lucien Whiting Powell, shown above, on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website, the Arlington National Cemetery website, or on the Findagrave website, which is credited for his photograph.
The stairway and second-floor hallway are graced with this amazing decorative woodwork. Imagine the number of firefighters who have passed by these flowers over the years. Photo credit: Dave Wagenknecht
Another decorative feature was hidden behind a wall hanging and has a “folksy” feel much like the stairway railing. June Lloyd, author of the “Universal York blog, tells us the designs don’t have a Pennsylvania Dutch connection. June and Terry Downes also feel they were possibly from the Watt & Brothers Company, a York business specializing in painting and wallpapering.
Out of everything that was discussed during the tour, this ornate chandelier was one of the most fascinating. Once powered by gas, it is now lit by electric and features horses, men riding creatures that I can only describe as sea dragons, and even the face of William Shakespeare. Click the above photograph to see a larger, more detailed image of the faces. Photo credit: Dave Wagenknecht
The groups learned about these unique chairs which were used by those leading meetings held at the fire house. Greg told us how one of the finials were missing from a chair and later replaced, which lead to the photograph below being shared on the PY Facebook group.
In this image, courtesy of Daphne Shaffer-Fuller, you can see the chair with the missing finial. The globes on the chandelier are also visible in this photo. Four globes need to be replaced but when quotes were given for their unusual size, one company was asking $10,000 just to make the mold!
The alarm system in the fire house is an interesting piece of early technology. It’s still in operation as we learned at the end of the second tour. As we were wrapping things up the bells started ringing in code, which tell the firefighters which fire alarm box was pulled. The box number was also stamped on a ticker tape using a series of shapes, which I believe were triangles at this fire house. Box 214 would be indicated by two triangles, one triangle, and four triangles.
A listing of fire boxes and their locations are present in the facility, a small portion shown above.
Imagine being a firefighter and not having a ladder able to extend to the needed height. This is where a pompier ladder comes in handy. Greg showed us one found in the firehouse and described how it was used. The firefighter would hook it onto a windowsill, climb up and sit on that sill. He would then hook it to one on an upper floor and start the process again.
Bravery at its finest.
On behalf of Preserving York and those who participated in the tours (shown above), I’d like to personally thank Greg Halpin for the time he spent showing us around the Rex/Laurel Fire House. If you ever have the opportunity to tour it yourself, I would highly recommend it.
- Want to participate in future invite-only tours? If so, please join the Preserving York group on Facebook.
- We want to tour more historic location in York County so tell us your suggestions.