New exhibit highlights fire department history

A photograph of Garden City’s first two motorized fire engines, an early 1920s American LaFrance model at left and a late 1920s model of the same make at right.

By The Finney County Historical Museum

The Garden City Fire Department has been protecting lives and property since 1887, and the agency’s 130th birthday is being celebrated with an exhibit that opened this week in the Front Door Gallery at the Finney County Historical Museum, 403 S. Fourth St.

Entitled “Always Ready,” the display features photographs and artifacts dating back to the department’s first year of service, including a 20-foot wooden ladder from the city’s original horse-drawn ladder wagon, kerosene lanterns from the first local fire engine in the early 1920s, and a red felt firefighter’s uniform tunic and cap worn in the 1890s.

There are also nearly 20 additional objects and more than a dozen historic photographs, some borrowed from the fire department and others drawn from the museum’s collection of artifacts and images.

The Front Door Gallery is a 14-foot space located just inside the museum’s exhibit entrance, adjacent to the pedestrian entry arches at Lee Richardson Zoo. The gallery features about six short-term exhibits each year. Admission is free and autumn exhibit hours run from 1 to 5 p.m. daily, with the exception of Oct. 21 when the museum will close to accommodate Boo! at the Zoo.

A Garden City fire scene in the 1920s, just north of the former Stone Hotel and east of the First Methodist Church, which stood at a site now occupied by the city administration building.

While Garden City was founded in 1879, no municipal fire department served the community until citizens voted for bonds early in 1887 to establish a waterworks, purchase two hose carts with 1,000 feet of hose and order the ladder wagon.

That followed a restaurant fire north of the railroad tracks in 1886 which quickly burned beyond the ability of a volunteer bucket brigade to contain it, destroying a half-block of wooden frame buildings along Main Street.

One of the earliest photographs in the display shows the 54-member department gathered on July 4, 1887. Another, taken in the 1890s, depicts the separate ladder and hose crews in their uniforms, backed by a banner with the “Always Ready” slogan that became the exhibit’s title.

The new exhibit follows “Memorias de la Fiesta,” which focused on the 91-year history of the Garden City Community Mexican Fiesta. Previous displays in 2017 have included “Aiming True,” which showcased more than a dozen firearms dating back as far as the 1820s; a collection of historic quilts with links to Finney County’s past; and an exhibit about the Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boys Scouts of America, which was founded in 1946.

The acceptance test of a new 500-gallon American LaFrance pumper in the late 1920s, with water being drawn from the municipal swimming pool.

“Always Ready” will remain on display until the museum puts up its 2017 holiday season exhibit.  The opening of the display was timed to coincide with the annual conference of the Kansas State Association of Fire Chiefs, scheduled Oct. 20-22 in Garden City.

Visitors can also see various other long-term and changing exhibits, ranging from “My Place in Time,” a 19th Century kitchen, “Take Stock in Finney County” and “Spirit of the Plains” to “Celebrate Kansas” and “Buffalo Jones, Last of the Plainsmen.”

The museum gift shop operates simultaneously with the exhibits, featuring gifts and goods linked to history and culture, as well as items crafted by Southwest Kansas artists and artisans.

Information is available at (620) 272-3664 and museum’s office hours run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.