Georgetown Time Machine: Vigilant Firehouse

This week for Georgetown Time Machine, GM is checking out a photo of the Vigilant Firehouse at 1066 Wisconsin Ave. It is from the archives of the Historical Society of Washington DC. The record indicates that it is from between 1923 and 1927.

Like many buildings in Georgetown, it is blessed with a wikipedia page, which states:

The current building was built in 1844 as a two-story 22 feet (6.7 m) by 44 feet (13 m) rectangle with a single room on each floor, a square wooden cupola and a gable facing the street. An early addition was a two-story shed in the rear, likely used as a stable on the first floor and for hay storage on the second. A single story shed was added to the south, and a two-story addition to the north, both of which run the full depth of the building. Including the additions, the building measures 56 feet (17 m) by 81 feet (25 m).

On the front gable a stone is inscribed “Vigilant, Instituted, 1817” and below this is a wrought iron “V”, likely a trademark for the Vigilants. The “V” also serves as a tension rod tie and is matched by an “S” on the back of the building.

The Vigilants was a private fire company that operated in Georgetown from 1817. In 1867 it was absorbed into the government of the city of Georgetown. And then later it was reorganized under the DC government, which didn’t have a professional municipal fire department until 1871. (Side note: often you’ll see fire insurance badges on houses like this:

When there were only private fire brigades, you needed this on the front of your house in order to assure the brigades that they’d get paid for their services. The thing is, you often see them on homes in Georgetown built after 1871. This is an attempt, essentially, to add anachronistic bric-a-brac to the house, like a fake water pump or never-used horse tie-up post).

The fire department stopped using the building in 1883. It was then used for a variety of purposes, including manufacturing and warehousing. It’s unclear what purpose was was being used in the 1920s, but you’d likely suspect the then users to be surprised were they to be told that extremely expensive leather shoes would be sold there 100 years in the future.

You can see the ‘V’ for Vigilant in the old photo, and it is still there today:

You can also still see the white marble plaque near the ground dedicated to “Bush, the old fire dog”. Atlas Obscura tracked down the history of poor old Bush:

According to District Fire Company historian Albert J. Cassedy, the unfortunate animal “ran with the engine to all fires and parades and was a general favorite with all who chanced to form his acquaintance. He became careless about his diet, ate free lunch between meals and was taken suddenly ill July 4, 1869. The doctors pronounced it a hopeless case of arsenical poisoning, and after several severe spasms he passed peacefully in the sixth year of his age.”

No word on the breed of the dog, so project your favorite as you see fit…

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