Central Fire Stations, Providence

The story of two central fire stations located on the perimeter of Exchange Place, now Kennedy Plaza.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

An evolving and growing city like Providence at the turn of the century had an evolving and growing fire department as well. On March 1, 1854, a paid fire department was established to replace the “volunteer” bucket brigade before that. Previously every citizen was required to acquire two-gallon leather buckets.

In 1881, the Providence fire department had 72 men on its roster, with 101 call men. There were scarcely more in 1884. There are more than 400 in the regular department in modern times.

The first central station (seen in the first 3 photos) was built over the Woonasquatucket river with wooden pilings in 1873–1875. It was called the “Three Ones” because it housed Hose, Hook & Ladder, and Protective Companies number 1. To us, its mansard roof and steep-faceted central tower resembled City Hall, which was being built at the same time (1875). It was in use for only 25 years before being expanded and replaced by the Central Fire Station designed by Martin & Hall and built by the Gilbane Corporation. The new station opened in 1903.

It was a lovely building with great details similar to that of the Union Trust Company (Stone, Carpenter & Wilson, built 1901-02 at 170 Westminster Street). The multi-colored stonework and brick courses added an elegant finesse — one which is evident in many of Martin & Hall’s other designs. At the time that it was constructed, its central tower made it the tallest building in Providence until the State House was constructed a year later1.

Its central location and size did not make it immune from progress. We are not exactly sure why it was replaced, but in 1938 it was demolished and the newer central Police and Fire Station was built at La Salle Square. The newer combination police/fire station opened in 1940 and was then itself replaced as well in 2007.

#Current Events

The location of the former Three Ones station is now the site of the Federal Court House which was completed in 1908. The location of the former Central Fire Station is now the Post Office Annex, 2 Exchange Terrace.

#History

It is tempting to think that the first central fire station, the “Three Ones”, was in the same location as the turn-of-the-century station. In fact, when the first Union Station burned in 1896, more of the Cove lands were filled in to enlarge Exchange Place, which up to that point would have been considered a single wide street that ran in front of City Hall and the old Union Station.

Sanborn Map, 1889, from the collection of Brown University. Upper left shows City Hall, with the old Union Station and the Cove encroaching into what is now Exchange Place. The “Three Ones” (funnily enough, just under the large “1“ in the upper right) is drawn over water in the location of what would become the Federal Court building in 1908.

From Robert O. Jones, Architectural Historian, RIHPHC

Construction of this Central Fire Station was authorized in 1900 and the building opened in 1903. John Hutchins Cady in his book “Civic and Architectural Development of Providence” credits Martin & Hall (Frank W. Martin & George F. Hall) as the architects. The City sold this property to the federal government as a site for a Federal Building annex [A.I.R.: Postal services outgrew the Federal Court House and eventually moved into an adjacent annex building which replaced the 1903 Fire Station].

This fire station was demolished in 1938. Fire Headquarters moved temporarily to the old Richmond St. Fire Station until the consolidated Police and Fire Station at Lasalle Square was finished in 1940, which itself was subsequently demolished in 2007.

This 1903 building replaced an earlier Central Station of 1873 that stood on pilings in the river. Its site is occupied by the present Federal Building, [A.I.R.: Then called the “Providence Post Office, Court House and Custom House.” Notice that postcard #7 and #8 labels it a Post Office] opened in 1908, on Kennedy Plaza. The 1873 station was called the “Three Ones” because it housed Hose Co. 1, Hook & Ladder Co. 1, and Protective Co. 1. I’m not sure if the title “Three Ones” was ever used for the 1903 building.

  1. According to one of our anecdotes. We are inclined to believe it, even though no other record provides proof of this statement.