Scattered around on the front of many Georgetown homes, you’ll see plaques like the one above. What they are are fire insurance marks.
They worked basically like a big heavy insurance card. The reason you needed such a prominent proof of insurance was that there weren’t municipal fire departments. If you’re house was burning down, you would rely on the fire brigades run by the insurance companies themselves. Having the plaque ensured that they’d do the job. There were also independent fire brigades that would race to a fire and try to stake a claim on the fire, in order to get paid by the insurance company. (Like in Gangs of New York).
The mark above was for the Fireman’s Insurance Co. of Baltimore.
This one is for the Associated Firemen’s Insurance Company, also of Baltimore.
This one is for the United Firemen’s Insurance Company of Philadelphia.
Courtesy of DBR Antiques.
This specific one isn’t from Georgetown, but similar ones are around the neighborhood. They are from the Fire Association of Philadelphia.
Courtesy of Schwarz Gallery.
This last one is similar to yet another type of fire mark common to Georgetown. It’s for the Mutual Assurance Company.
Washington DC established a municipal fire department on July 1, 1884, and thus the fire mark began it’s new life as an odd antique hanging off the front of old buildings.