The Davenport Democrat minced no words in describing the new fire station proposed for the city.
"A handsome building has been planned by architect Hanssen at the order of the fire department committee of the city council to be erected at Fourth and Scott Streets, and the building will be one of the monuments of the present city administration."
The story was dated June 10 , 1901.
A century later, that very structure, built when horses pulled fire rigs, is still in use as Davenport's Central Fire Station. Last month, the city celebrated the station's centennial.
At a time when old buildings fall regularly to the wrecking ball, the fact that Central Fire Station not only has survived but retains its original use as a fire house after a hundred years is remarkable.
In carrying out the project, members of the fire station committee checked out fire stations in Chicago and Milwaukee, hired an innovative architect and kept the station's cost at $21,000. (The fire station in Milwaukee cost $28,000.).
The new station allowed the city to abandon its Hose House No. 2 on 2nd Street and consolidate it, the Hooks unit and the chief's office at Fourth and Scott.
"Davenport will also have more reason than ever to take pride in its fire department," the Democrat reported in its June 10, 1901 story.
The fire station's architect was Gustav Hanssen who opened his practice in Davenport in 1890. Known for his eclectic styles, Hanssen designed a number of fine residences in Davenport. Among his works is the Sacred Heart Rectory at 422 E. 10th St.
Hanssen combined Italianate and Neo-classical elements in designing Central Fire Station. The building had no supporting posts on the lower floor, allowing for an expansive 57-by-64 foot room that could accommodate the largest fire rigs.
Upstairs were the chief's bedroom, office and bathroom and room for the switchboard and repeater. A firefighters' dormitory, locker room, and bathroom with tub and showers also were on the second floor.
A tall hose tower was capped by a bell loft. Suspended in the loft was the bell of the old Liberty hose company. Cast in 1869 by Michael Donahue, the bell contained metal from 200 silver dollars to give it the proper ring for all fire calls.
Hoses are still hung to dry in the tower, but bell loft is long gone.
The Democrat noted the station's construction progress in a story published Dec. 1, 1901.
"The new central fire station is making a fine showing now and by Feb. 1, we will have as fine a house of that kind as there is in the country," the newspaper reported.
The story described how workers sealed cracks in the three-inch pine floor that covered the station's main room. Caulkers from the Kahlke boatyard packed the cracks to insure a water-tight floor "that will be the finest thing of its kind around here," the story said.
The story continued:
"The stalls in the rear of the building will be paved with vitrified brick, and each stall will have a sewer connect, while an air shaft in the roof will help to eliminate both odors and flies."
After members of the city council inspected the fire station in February 1902, the Democrat praised the contractors and the fire department committee for keeping the project within a reasonable budget. McCarthy Bros. did the stone work, Louis Strathman did the brick work, P.A. Reimers did the sheet iron and slating and C.W. Hines & Sons did the painting.
The story, published Feb. 23, 1902, reported that the station's main room could accommodate the big three-horse fire truck, which could be driven in a side door and wheeled into position at the front door for its next use..
"There is room there too for at least four more hose wagons, and in its rear are stalls for 10 horses, making the station extensive enough to accommodate the city's needs in the direction of the expansion of its fire department for some time to come," the story continued.
Indeed, Central Fire Station continues to serve the fire department, although chief Mark Frese says the building has space inefficiencies and access problems. The city has a master plan addressing future fire fighting requirements, he said, but there always will be a need for a downtown fire station.
Central Fire Station is a museum of sorts. Inscribed in the bricks lining the hose tower are firefighters' graffiti dating back to the building's beginnings.
John Willard can be contacted at (563) 383-2314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.