Ever suddenly “discover” an interesting detail or other gem–even though you’ve passed it countless times? Station Number Two Fire Museum, situated between Mass. Ave. and St. Clair Street is indeed a gem worth discovering. It is worth making a visit to the museum when it reopens in the spring. Until then, here’s a glimpse into Indianapolis’ firefighting past.
By 1872, Indianapolis had grown too large to be adequately protected by its network of volunteer fire brigades. To better protect a city still consisting of predominantly wood buildings, four fire stations were built within the mile square of downtown Indy. Wedged between Massachusetts Avenue and St. Clair Street at the northeast corner, was Station Number Two. Featuring classical and Italianate details, Station Number Two was designed by Robert Platt Daggett (1837-1915), a Connecticut-born architect who relocated to Indianapolis in 1868. Daggett designed dozens of houses including the one James Whitcomb Riley called home for years, as well as many of the retail blocks that once lined downtown, including the Vajen Block. His son, Robert Frost Daggett (1875-1955) would join his father’s profession, designing Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, the Indianapolis Athletic Club and buildings for Eli Lilly and Indiana, Purdue and Butler Universities, including the latter’s Jordan Hall.
In 1894, a livery stable was built next door, providing 40 horse stalls and storage for the terribly narrow Station Two. In 1932, as the age of the horse-drawn and steam-driven fire engines had become obsolete, and the larger and more efficient gasoline-fueled fire engines arrived, the city retired the small station. 748 Massachusetts Avenue housed a number of business thereafter, one of which removed the former station’s bell tower. By 1984, as Indianapolis Metropolitan Professional Firefighters Association Local 416 was looking for a downtown location for its new Union Hall, the former Station Two was a shadow of what it once was. Ironically having become a firetrap, laden with flammable remnants of a former laminating business, the structure was purchased by the Firefighters to preserve their heritage.
Local Firefighters donated photos, memorabilia, equipment, time and sweat to restore the station. The building’s bell tower and interior features, like its twin fire poles, were restored. Along Massachusetts Avenue is the Indianapolis Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial, honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and serving the city. Housed within the restored station are the Local 416 offices, conference rooms, a small but very cool museum that offers free admission. Within the preserved livery building is where IFD’s “Survive Alive” program teaches school children about fire prevention and evacuation best practices from realistic mock-ups of street and home scenes, complete with doors that heat up to simulate house fires. The museum is open Monday – Friday 8am-4pm and on Saturdays from April – October.