Horse-drawn fire engine
photo by Chattanooga Public Library
Gravity: It’s the law. Prior to 1908, the crew of Engine Company #1 was often reminded of that law. Travel from the fire station at 1033 Carter St. to a fire in downtown stayed on the same level. However, the horses pulling fire equipment had an uphill climb from the fire station to any emergency on the higher ground of Cameron Hill.
Necessity: The mother of invention. The Chattanooga City Council had a busy agenda when it met on February 19, 1906, and the meeting lasted almost until 10 p.m., according to the February 20, 1906 Chattanooga TImes. Among the items up for discussion was the purchase of property near the summit of Cameron Hill for a new fire station. The thought was that it would be easier and speedier for the horses to pull equipment from the new fire station down the hill to a fire. The site selected was the corner of West Sixth and Prospect streets.
The March 31, 1908 Chattanooga Star reported “Good Progress on Fire Hall” and that the building was nearing completion. Included in the construction were items not found at other fire stations. There was a brick tower where hoses could be hung to dry. A courtyard provided a place for the horses to be exercised whenever it wasn’t possible to take them out on the streets. The location was reported as providing “good get-away” times for the horses, and there was only one short pull required to navigate up Prospect Street.
“New Fire Hall Complete Now” proclaimed the Chattanooga Star on May 14, 1908. It was said to be the “finest building of its kind in the whole South” with “every known device for speed and convenience incorporated into it. “ Speed and convenience are essential in firefighting, and were even more so during the years when many houses and businesses were heated with coal or wood.
The Star reporter observed that “On driving up West Sixth Street the first thing that attracts one’s attention is the magnificence of the new station. The building is of brick, three stories in height, and capped in a dome or tower. “ Chattanooga Fire Chief William M. Toomey was “highly pleased with the new structure” which had been assigned the ID of Engine House No. 6. It became a familiar landmark on Cameron Hill, along with Boynton Park at the northern crest of the hill, the nearby H. Clay Evans Grammar School, and the mansions on the East Terrace.
The Number 6 station became the center of Cameron Hill community activities. Used toys were refurbished by the fire crew and taken to local orphanages at Christmas, according to the December 26, 1929 Chattanooga Times. Some of the firemen tested bicycle repairs by riding them. The Oct. 13, 1942 Chattanooga Times reported that the fire station would serve as a collection point for scrap metal for use in World War II. During many elections, the station was a voting place.
After the end of World War II, three downtown fire stations became the focus of a modernization and efficiency plan considered by the Chattanooga City Commission. The April 7, 1948 Chattanooga Times reported that Numbers 1 (Carter Street), 3 (Georgia Avenue) and 6 (Cameron Hill) had higher maintenance costs than other fire stations in town. The building structures were sound but items such as cost of heating with coal and leaky roofs were costing money. Additionally, the three stations had overlapping response territories.
A plan to merge the Numbers 1 and 6 fire stations and their crews proceeded during 1948 and early 1949. Cameron Hill had been an uphill challenge for horse-drawn fire engines leaving Fire Station 1 on Carter Street but was much less so for modern motorized fire engines. It was decided that the Engine Company 6 crew would move to the Number 1 fire station on Carter Street, that Fire Station 6 would be closed, and the property sold.
On December 22, 1948 the Chattanooga Times reported that Mose Siskin purchased the Number 6 Fire Station. He hoped to develop apartments on the site. The merger of the two fire stations was reported as being finalized in the March 14, 1949 Chattanooga Times.
The Number 6 Fire Station was listed as being vacant in the city directories of the early 1950s. In the 1953 edition, the Ron-Mar Apartments were listed at the former address of the fire station. However, the West Side Urban Renewal project and freeway construction were fully underway by publication of the 1960 city directory. The apartments were among the few buildings still standing on West Sixth Street; others were noted as being “Torn Down.”
Fred Hamby, whose family lived on Arcadia on Cameron Hill, said that "for many years all one could see of the original structures were the exposed foundation structures of the fire station at Sixth and Boynton Terrace. That old structure that originally had ancient fire engines and brick driveway and garages did not give up easily."
Fire Station 1, whose history is linked with Fire Station 6, moved to a new building on Cameron Hill in the 1960s. My father served as Captain with the Chattanooga Fire Department at this location. According to the Chattanooga Fire Department website (Station 1 (chattanooga.gov), Fire Station 1 moved again in 2001 to 218 East Main Street.
If you have additional information on the Number 6 Fire Station on Cameron Hill, please send your information to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 6 Fire Hall on Cameron Hill
photo by Chattanooga Public Library