N.C. Museum To Move into Restored Firehouse
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | June 4, 2009
The New Bern Firemen's Museum, located in downtown New Bern, N.C., is moving next door. For the past 20 years the museum has occupied a 1980s structure, but next year it will move the collection in the 1928 Central Fire Station building nearby.
Built six years after a devastating fire that destroyed about a third of New Bern, the Central Fire Station was used as a firehouse until 1999. Last summer, with the support of the city, workers completed exterior restoration work, and this summer crews will focus on the interior, and officials will finalize exhibits and raise funds for the completion of the $500,000 project.
When the completed museum opens in April, it will house its vintage fire engines as well as exhibits about the Great Fire of 1922, which destroyed 1,000 homes in a mostly African American neighborhood.
"Up until that point New Bern had a really thriving African American community," says Margaret Shields, the museum's development coordinator.
The Central Fire Station has two fire poles, legacies of the days when the structure housed two separate fire companies: one established by New Bern residents, and a second founded by Union soldiers in the final months of the Civil War.
"The Yankee soldiers living in New Bern could not count on the southern [company] to put out any fires. That's why they started this other company," Shields explains.
The New Bern Firemen's Museum opened in 1955, but the city closed it down in 2001 for economic reasons. A nonprofit, the Friends of the Firemen's Museum, formed and reopened the popular museum in 2003.
"We realized it was a loss," says Sabrina Bengel, chair of Friends of the Firemen's Museum, which she helped form in 2001. "The Firemen's Museum had always been a shining star in the city of New Bern because it was the hub of the community. ... We're very excited about being able to restore this building back to the 1920s."
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly stated that the city planned to turn the 1928 building into a restaurant. In fact, the city rejected this plan. We regret the error.
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