These days SoHo is populated by fancy eateries, high-end boutiques, the Apple store, and of course, the art galleries. On the weekends, the streets are packed with shoppers and tourists. This neighborhood is characteristic of several aspects of today’s New York: stylish, modern, hipster, wealthy, trendy.
But somewhere tucked away in that same neighborhood is a reminder of New York’s past that highlights an important public service that's often taken for granted. In fact, if you were in SoHo recently, you might have walked past it without batting an eye.
The spot in question is a renovated 1904 fire station that houses the New York City Fire Museum. Located at 278 Spring Street, the museum contains old fire apparatuses, artifacts and artwork from New York’s firefighting past from the 1700s to the present day. Its mission, according to museum executive director Damon Campagna, is to preserve the history of firefighting in New York City and promote fire safety. “The collection is owned by the FDNY and the people of New York City,” he says, “and we are the caretakers of that collection.”
The original firehouse was active from 1905 until 1959, when its company, Engine 30, was disbanded and the house was turned into the Department’s medical unit. According to Campagna, the FDNY ran its own museum in a spare bay of a firehouse on Duane Street, but the liquidation of the Home Insurance Company presented the Department with a unique opportunity. “Home Insurance had one of the most prestigious collections of fire-related materials in the world and maintained their own museum on Maiden Lane,” says Campagna. “When they faced financial trouble in the 1970s, they sold some of their collection at auction but turned the bulk over to the FDNY. At that point, the non-profit which runs the Fire Museum now was created to raise funds to renovate this firehouse, which was large enough to house the combined collections.”
Drawing about 40,000 visitors annually, Campagna says the museum attracts a broad mix of people, including foreign visitors. Families make up a large portion of visitors as well. “The Fire Museum is an exciting place for kids, and for parents, we offer an inexpensive alternative to other attractions in the city.”