SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
One thing I find interesting about history is the way things come together in unexpected ways.
Yes, I find history interesting. That hasn’t done me much good – I always seemed doomed to repeat myself, anyway – but as spending time goes it beats the heck out of smoking pot, watching grass grow (the other grass, not pot), or a scintillating episode of “Water Polo With The C-List Celebrities”.
I like history so much that I actually wrote a history book, which you’ll hear a whole bunch more about later because it comes out this summer. I don’t presume to be an expert historian, so much of it is set during the town of Albion’s early history, where the witnesses are dead and so can’t call me on my mistakes.
It seems like every day of research I stumbled across something new, such as the connection between my own home and Albion’s first fire chief, the story behind Albion’s first recorded fire-related injury, and the effect of reading newspaper microfilm for hours at a time on eye strain. Most recently, I learned that the Churubusco Fire Department was organized at almost the same time as Albion’s was, and that they bought their first firefighting equipment from the same New York company – a company that earlier advertised in the newspaper I now work for.
I don’t care who you are, that’s cool.
Recently Darlene Bender put together Albion’s first mural, if you don’t count the one I created in crayon across my bedroom wall. And boy, was my wife upset about that. (By the way, if memory serves, Darlene’s sister once got an award for saving an Albion woman from a fire. There you go on the connection thing.)
I was asked if I had anything to contribute to the mural, but didn’t have any photos going back far enough. I didn’t think too much about it after that, until I saw an article about the mural and realized – there’s a theme going, here – that there were many connections between it and the history of fire in Albion, which just happens to be what my book is about.
Let’s take a look, shall we? Oh, come on, I won’t write on you with crayon:
Naturally, one of the scenes is of the current Noble County Courthouse, which has quite literally loomed high in Albion’s skyline for … well, let’s see … looks like it was built during the same period in which the Albion Volunteer Fire Department was being organized. The first courthouse built at that site was destroyed by – wait for it – fire, a story I relate in my book Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With The Albion Fire Department. Which from now on I’ll shorten to Smoky Days, because it’s, well, shorter.
The mural depicts a scene in which a carnival Ferris Wheel stands in the foreground. A similar Wheel, in use during the town of Albion’s centennial celebration, figures into another story of the Albion Fire Department, which I shall now shorten to AFD. (See above.)
Also shown is the Worden House, a hotel that stood on the Courthouse square where the Corner Stop (Hey, I still call it that) convenience store now stands. That building came very close to being replaced years earlier than it did, in a story that figures in to family, fire and ice, and the Civil War.
(Notice I don’t actually tell you the stories? Hey, I’ll have a book to sell, and it’s all in there.)
Another scene is of the Albion Opera House, which still stands on the north side of the Courthouse square. The reason it’s standing? The volunteers of the AFD, after an incident that happened the same year that they received their first motorized fire truck.
Then there’s the scene of the Atwood Buggy Factory, one of Albion’s early big industries, which I’m going to assume built buggies. This one’s an epic fail for me, because I did not include its story in the book, even though it burned in 1905 in its location just blocks from my home. Maybe in the second edition.
Hey, we all miss stuff.
Another scene: Albion’s train depot, which is where at least one, and almost certainly more, of Albion’s new fire apparatus were delivered back in the day. The initial construction of the railroad in Albion brought something else with it: the man who would one day be Albion’s first Fire Chief.
And so it goes. The mural is going to be installed on the side of the Black Building, at the corner of Main and Orange streets near the center of town. That structure, a three story brick, only exists because fire swept away the wooden building that once stood there – and took with it much of the rest of the block, which allowed room for the eventual construction of Albion’s second fire station.
Oh, and one more thing:
The AFD is celebrating its 125th anniversary on July 20th this year, because that’s a workable date for bringing the most people in to join in the festivities. But the actual, official anniversary of the fire department, thanks to an ordinance passed by the Albion Town Board, was May 4th, 1888.
The mural is planned to be up in time for Albion’s First Friday activities in May … May 3rd, the day before the AFD turns 125.
History is cool.