Contributed by the Muscatine Art Center
Muscatine Art Center Invites Public to “Muscatine Fire Department History” Program by Mike Van Wey
In conjunction with the exhibition “100 Years of Service: The Muscatine Fire Department,” Mike Van Wey, retired fireman and author of Muscatine Fire Department: 128 Years of Dedication, will give two talks in the Stanley Gallery exhibition space. Both talks on June 16 and July 14 will start at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The exhibition is on view at the Muscatine Art Center through August 7, 2016.
Significant local fires in the mid-1800s were combated by Muscatine citizens who filled countless buckets of water to suppress the flames. A single fire in June of 1865 destroyed fifteen buildings in Muscatine. The high school burned down in 1868, followed by a grain elevator in 1869. Businesses and homes were lost in Muscatine. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 led many to question, if a fire could devastate a city with a professional fire department, what would happen to towns with only a bucket brigade?
On January 7, 1875, forty-eight men led by Gustav Schmidt formed Muscatine’s first volunteer fire company. The volunteers took on the name Champion Chemical Fire Co. Some other well-known volunteer departments included Rescue Hose Co., Relief Hose Co., Excelsior Hose Co., and the Hershey Hose Co.
In 1913, P. M. Musser gifted the first motorized fire truck in Muscatine. The city of Muscatine replaced 500 volunteers with a chief and 12 men beginning January 3, 1916. The professional crew was soon tested. On January 15, 1916, a fire broke out at the corner of Second Street and Iowa Avenue. Although the building was lost, the professionals fought heroically to prevent the blaze from spreading to the rest of the block.
In the 100 years since the fire on that cold day in January, the Muscatine Fire Department has experienced changes large and small, such as the addition (and eventual closing) of the “Central Fire Station” at 308 Sycamore Street and the introduction of many technologies. Mike Van Wey’s talk will explore these changes, historic fires, and important milestones.
The Muscatine Art Center is located at 1314 Mulberry Avenue in Muscatine, Iowa. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursday evenings until 7:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free. Donations are appreciated. Visit www.muscatineartcenter.org for more information about programs and events and to download a class brochure.