Preserving local history is one of the most vital responsibilities of a community. Museums provide a space where stories are memorialized for eternity; a space where the legacies of great individuals and milestones have a home. The Hoboken Fire Department Museum, located at 213 Bloomfield Street, couldn’t exist without the help of the firefighters both active and retired, and people from the community and abroad who have donated countless artifacts. This museum has something for everyone. It’s an enjoyable experience for all ages. Read on to learn all about the Hoboken Fire Department Museum.
The building itself was built in 1870 and served as a firehouse for the following fifteen years. Photos of the firefighters poised in front of the active firehouse with their large wagon of wooden ladders can be found on your left as you enter the museum. Similar to other towns in those early days, Hoboken had an all-volunteer force. The front of the building bears a sign stating “Association of Exempt Firemen”. Rumor has it, in exchange for their service, they were “exempt” from certain civic duties, including taxes and street repair.
Most of the firehouses and schools in town were built before WW1. In 1891, When the department professionalized and expanded, the building became obsolete and the city used it for storage until the late Deputy Chief, Bill Bergin founded the museum in 1985. Some of the guys on the job were interested in preserving the legacy of the Hoboken Fire Department and Bill made it his mission to create a space where the firefighters of the past and present could be honored.
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With the help of some retired firefighters like Joe Kennedy, Fred Stanewitz, and Andlou Muraca, Bill was able to secure the current location of the museum, and together, they did a full renovation of the building. The historic landmark is now a partner of the Hoboken Historical Museum.
The back end of the building was used as a stable for the horses. Prior to the advancement of electricity and engineering, horses were the main form of transportation. Photographs of the stable and a small sculpture memorialize the trusty steeds of the horse-drawn era.
There is a charming and casual aesthetic within the museum. It was created by and for local residents, so it has a homey feel that allows you to interact with many of the artifacts, rather than just looking at them.
When the museum first opened, Bill rummaged through the backrooms of the current firehouses for old tools and uniforms that were collecting dust. Oftentimes, when people moved into old buildings, they would find photos and artifacts stashed in their closets and donate them. The museum continues to receive unique donations from people locally and internationally and is now home to approximately 1,000 artifacts.
The second floor served as a meeting hall for the exempt fireman and is now used for HFD special events. Photos of firemen who have been on the job over the last 20 years decorate the walls of the hall, trailing down the staircase and into the main floor. As you explore the history, a live feed of HFD radio communications plays in the background.
Unlike most firefighter museums, visitors are able to climb onto the vintage red 1932 Ahrens Fox – Chemical Hose Wagon, typically in the museum’s uniforms and hats, to ring the bell and snap a photo. Known as the “Cadillac of engines,” it still runs once a year for the Memorial Day parade.
Visitors can learn about some of Hoboken’s historically tragic disasters like a pier fire that took place in June 1900. The fire started on the piers and spread onto two German steamships, resulting in over 200 deaths and millions of dollars in property damage. Visitors can read about other fires in the scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and framed photos of the incidents.
Displayed in glass showcases sit a variety of artifacts from the 1880s-1900s, such as ceremonial awards, noise-making instruments, lamp accessories, a lifeline rope, hand grenade fire extinguishers, international fire department patches, and more. Mounted above the showcases are large tools the firefighters used for opening tin roofs and entering buildings manually.
Visitors will also see vintage fire hats, portraits, official records and fire hoses dating back to the 1800s, uniforms, oxygen tanks and toys dating back to the ’50s, magazines, and photos of firefighters over the last 20 years.
Framed photos of “Lucky”, the old firehouse Dalmatian and her pups can be found on the wall leading up to the second floor. It’s said that Dalmatians were firehouse dogs because their fearless nature made them perfect for guiding the horses to and from the fires.
The museum is open on Saturday and Sunday from 12PM – 5PM. Admission into the museum is $3 for adults and free for children under 12 years old.
The Children’s Experience
When the children aren’t fighting make-believe fires while sitting on the engine, they can play with the many toys set up in the back. There are books, puzzles, civil service trucks, building blocks, and more. In addition, they can play dress-up with uniforms and hats to complete their firefighter experience.
Stop by on a Sundays for children’s storytime between 1:30PM – 2PM. Stories include but are not limited to the firehouse.
If you happen to be in town for the holidays, every Christmas the museum hosts a holiday party for visitors, complete with live music, crafts, and snacks.
Firefighters risk their lives every time an alarm sounds to provide safety and ensure peace of mind. Their bravery deserves to be honored and commemorated. Fire museums like this one offer a space for important moments in history to live on and visitors to connect with those stories through viewing, reading, touching, and experiencing the preserved artifacts that once played a crucial role in our society.