The first phase of restoration is completed on a century-old firehouse turned museum

It hasn’t seen fire service in a century, but thanks to a historical preservation project, Fire Station No. 3 on Washington Avenue in Downtown Bay City will house fire apparatus once more.

Phase one of the restoration was recently completed, and at different times throughout this year, a handful of antique and vintage fire trucks will be on display.

Mike Snyder is Vice President of the Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum, currently located on Patterson Road in Bangor Township.

He says the old firehouse in Downtown Bay City was vacated in 1916 when it was consolidated with Fire Station #1 at McKinley and Adams streets. The old firehouse was put to a variety of uses. Over the years, its interior was cut up, re-arranged, and re-purposed.

When the museum took over the space, the first thing they did was to stabilize the outside of the building.

“And then, as you can see, we did the entire front or east facade. The building is really starting to look a lot closer to its 1890 footprint,” Snyder says.

He says the bones of the building were good.

 From 1890 to 1916, Fire Station No. 3 served the community from its Washington Avenue location. Now, the building is being remodeled into a museum. (Photo courtesy of the Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum)“It’s architecturally spectacular,” he adds, ‘but, it’s not been a fire station for 100 years, and so it’s had a little bit of a rough life in those 100 years. Our challenge is really getting it back to kind of its 1890 bones and footprint.”
The organization also faces the challenge of pulling together funding and restoring the building while meeting modern safety and legal expectations. With an estimated price tag of $2.5 million, the entire project will not only restore the building, but will make it safe for decades to come.

“The construction team has been phenomenal,” Snyder says.

Some of the safety upgrades include installing a sprinkler system and building a second stairway.

Snyder says right now there is only one main stairway in and out, and they’ll need two. They’re also making it as accessible as possible. Back when it was built, insulation, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation were non-existent, so all of that is being added, too.

When it’s finished, there will be about 7,000 square feet of space for displays, education, and events. Before any of that happens, though, there is still much work to do.

The contractors and crews are dealing with limited historical references to re-construct the building, including a few drawings.

“They’re going to make sure we do this safely and effectively, to make sure that whatever we’re doing will sustain that building for the next 100 years,” Snyder says.

Workers are trying to also make building easier to maintain and more energy efficient. Snyder says they’re also looking at ways to make adjustments that will attract interest from the community.

For example, the front doors allow people to see inside.

“If you go by the front doors, they’re the same style and visual appearance of what was there in 1900, other than the doors that were there were solid. From a museum perspective, the worst thing you can do is not let people look in,” so they’ve made some adjustments so people can look inside.

Snyder as the interior of the building is finished, they’ll start bringing in some of the displays.

“First of all, we’re going to end up bringing in some artifacts, a couple of older trucks, and a few pieces of historical memorabilia that will be on the ground floor.”

Just inside the building on the first floor will be a display of 10 fire trucks that will be rotated through the museum. One of those will be the “T-Rex” of fire trucks; a supertanker the museum acquired from the New York Fire Department in 1989.

“It was in service in the city of New York from 1965 to 1982, and at the time and still today, it is the world’s largest single piece of firefighting pump equipment.”

The rest of the trucks in the collection are fire trucks that have been in service in local communities.

“They’re like normal trucks, not what I would call the museum showpiece,” he says. “They were trucks that were in use on a day-to-day basis,” and he says some of them were the trucks that a community could afford.

Ironically, in its days as a firehouse, Fire Station #3 only had horse-drawn firefighting apparatus. When restored, it will be home to motor vehicles.

“Our earliest operating motorized truck is from the central Michigan area. It’s a 1922 Ford Model T that was outfitted by a company in Prospect Ohio.”

The truck was at the time a low-cost piece of equipment without any frills, but it was what the village could afford in its day.

Not only will the fire trucks be on display, but Snyder says many of them are operable and they are kept in working order. He says the super pumper, an iconic truck, is in remarkably good condition because of the diligence of museum caretakers and volunteers.

“We’re working diligently on gathering the information necessary to do a mechanical restoration.”

Along with the fire trucks, the museum houses more than 12,000 antique toys. Many of the toys are replicas of police, fire, and rescue vehicles.

The rotating collection of 60 fire trucks that was gathered and have become staples in the Antique Toy and Fire Truck Museum came from the collection of Jimmie Dobson, a 94-year-old Bay City resident with a passion for preserving emergency vehicles and their representations. Dobson’s family is still active in the curation of the museum and its stock, keeping up Dobson’s labor of love.

Snyder says they were gifted with some documents and articles about the building, but they are always looking for anything else that might contribute to the restoration.

“If anybody in their family historical archives has any kind of information about the building, drawings, pictures, objects from the building, we would like to look at it just to get the information.”

Snyder says they would make copies of any materials, so they don’t need to be donated.

Although the whole building won’t be open for tourists, Snyder says they will have limited hours during some of Bay City’s festival weekends and at other times this year. For example, he says they’re planning to be open for July 4th and during the Fireworks Festival.

They are always looking for volunteers and donations to help move the project along. Anyone who wants to help can visit the organization’s Facebook page.

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Read more articles by Denyse Shannon.

As a feature writer and freelance journalist, Denyse Shannon has written professionally for over two and a half decades. She has worked as a contractor for daily and weekly newspapers, national and local magazines, and taught introductory media writing at her alma mater – Central Michigan University. She also holds a Master of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University. She and her husband live in Bangor Township and enjoy sailing on the Bay, and are avid cyclists.