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A century ago, fire stations had horse stalls and lookout towers, elements long gone from today’s structures.
Modern buildings are designed to accommodate the latest in emergency equipment, vehicles and supplies that are needed within minutes across the city.
A new exhibit of photos, models and information about the fire stations in Columbus, highlighting their architecture, is on display through the end of the year at Bartholomew County Public Library.
The display, on the main floor near the front entrance, is the second for the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives, housed at the library. This spring, the group presented a display in remembrance of architect and photographer Balthazar Korab.
Volunteers Rhonda Bolner and Jim Nickoll said the exhibits acquaint newcomers and reacquaint longtime residents with the architecture of the community, serving as a reminder of the wealth of iconic architecture in the city.
For the fire station exhibit, the volunteer group gathered photos, copied blueprints, conducted new research and moved two architectural models to the exhibit area.
Nickoll said they liked the idea of sharing information about the fire stations because they are the most prevalent civic buildings, outnumbered only by schools.
The city also has a number of fire stations that were designed by renowned architects thanks to the payment of fees by the Cummins Foundation architectural program.
The exhibit showcases a significant period of time in Columbus history, starting with the oldest fire station still standing at 13th and Hutchins streets. Although it’s no longer used by the fire department, it was an active station from 1909 to 1963.
The newest is Fire Station No. 2 at Arnold Drive and Ray Boll Boulevard near Columbus Municipal Airport. It was completed in 2008 and has the distinction of being visited by former President Bill Clinton in 2008 when his wife, Hillary, was running for president.
Visitors to the exhibit can take their time reading biographies of the architects and learning more about the various architectural styles of the stations.
Other fire stations have earned national recognition, won design awards and mentions in architectural books and magazines.
One large photo, which appeared in Life magazine in the mid-1960s, has been enlarged and mounted on a board.
Although most of the exhibit material came from existing archives’ materials, Nickolls and Bolner also went to each of the city’s fire stations. They took photos and talked to firefighters about the buildings where they spend many of their working hours with friends and co-workers.
“They were genuinely excited to share stories and let us walk through and see the different parts of the buildings,” Bolner said.
They learned about days spent sharing cooking duties and yard work while waiting for emergency calls. They also told how they eagerly offer tours of their stations to schoolchildren and other groups.
The archive volunteers saw some clear trends in fire station architectural designs over the years, including stations becoming larger and the buildings serving more purposes, such as for having community meetings and space where firefighters could exercise.
Their research also revealed fun facts, such as details about fire station pets, how brass fire poles are disappearing and which stations are most popular for architecture students to visit.
“It’s fun finding those interesting details when you’re digging around,” Bolner said.
The archives group hopes to have at least two exhibits each year.
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