(Ron Rademacher writes “Road Trip of the Week” articles each week for Michigan News Source.)
Only about 15 minutes from the trails, in Allendale, is the Engine House No. 5 Museum. It’s one of the most unusual in Michigan.
Built in 1880, it isn’t just the beautiful historic architecture, nor is it the remarkable and rare artifacts inside. Unlike so many historic buildings lost to the wrecking ball, this one was saved from demolition at the last minute.
Preventing demolition was only the beginning, the building had to be moved. The engine house site, Leonard and Monroe streets in Grand Rapids, was needed for a new modern fire station. The building was dismantled brick by brick, and the whole works was put into storage. They did it in 10 weeks and 2 days. In 1981, reassembly began and the museum opened to the public in 1986. Just learning the full story of the problems that had to be solved makes a trip to the museum worth it.
Inside on the polished wood floor, are displays of fire equipment, and memorabilia, some of which is extremely rare. This is an historic firehouse, so it has two levels connected by a stairway going up, and a fire pole going down through a hole in the floor, that the firemen used when they responded to an alarm. It is worth going upstairs just to see the gorgeous chandelier in the break room, another treasure, that was literally pulled out of the trash heap.
There are fire trucks, steam pumpers, and even a fire truck that was hauled to the site of the fire, by men instead of horses. The collection of equipment and memorabilia is extensive, so plan for some time. The tour is well done and informative. There are treasures and rare items all through the museum.
One item that fascinates young people, is the fire box switching machine. It made emergency response possible in the days before WiFi and telephones in every pocket. This is a complex machine that went into action when a fire alarm box was activated, somewhere in the city. It would calculate the location of the fire, so the firemen knew where to go. It is an amazing machine and often baffles a generation, who have never been without a digital connection to the world around them.