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Engine House No. 5 originally constructed in the city of Grand Rapids in 1880. Torn down in 1981 and reconstructed as a Fire Museum in 1984 at 6610 Lake Michigan Drive, Allendale, Michigan (just next door to West Shore Fire). Stop by for a visit or call ahead for a tour. (616) 895-4347

Built in 1880 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the bank of the Grand River, Engine House No. 5 served the community with a horse-drawn steam pumper and a hose cart. At the time of her construction, she gleamed in white brick with red courses, towered and turreted in almost Byzantine splendor. A great deal of small-town pride was taken in her dazzling architecture and in her horse-drawn steamers.

Inside the museumMatched teams of white and Apaloosa horses drew the steamers to hot and smoky work in the Grand Rapids community. At the house, a drop-down harness system was used for a speedy exit. Her apparatus was eventually motorized, as typified by the 1921 La France Engine posing on her ramp, and finally, on her 100th birthday in 1980, she was slated to be torn down. By demolition time, her brick had been painted tuscan red, most of her decoration covered over with plaster, and her usefulness was at an end.

But this once-noble structure wasn't leveled by a wrecking ball; rather, it was taken apart brick by brick and moved. Today, this Grande Dame rests-restored to her Victorian splendor-in the small town of Allendale, Michigan.

Except for a somewhat simplified wooden treatment of her 90-foot combination watch and hose tower, she is as she was, supported by brick walls 24 inches thick on the front and 18 inches thick on the sides. The engine room floor is polished wood, and displays of fire equipment and memorabilia are now where the horse stalls once occupied the rear. Above the stalls was a hay loft, and sharing the second floor was the dormitory and meeting room. The chief's office had its own brass fire pole with automatic shutters that opened when the alarm sounded. Beneath the tower is the watch office, equipped with a Gamewell alarm and an alarm repeater used in fire headquarters for distributing an alarm to other companies. Both rooms have been beautifully restored with period furniture and the former chief's office is a working space for the museum.

Inside the museumAmong the apparatus that is displayed on the engine-room floor is a rare restoration of a Babcock chemical wagon that was popular at the time of the building's construction with both rural and city departments. When water mains were still scarce, or not available in rural areas, chemical wagons carried their own small water supply, forced out by mixing acid and alkali soda to produce pressure.

The Babcock chemical wagon of 1877 is a far cry from the later vehicles that called the Grand Rapids Inside the museumfirehouse home. The 1921 La France is part of the fire museum's permanent collection. It served the town for 40 years and has been fully restored to running condition. Sharing the engine-room display area is a 1928 Ahrens-Fox pumper-also fully restored to running and pumping condition-whose aristocratic fighting face mirrors the architectural bombast of Engine House No. 5.