Founded in 1799, Oldtown’s Independent Fire Company maintained their Independent No. 6 engine house at Gay and Ensor Streets for over fifty years. In 1853, the company tore down their original engine house and replaced it with the present home of the Baltimore City Fire Museum with its distinctive six story bell and clock tower. Designed by Baltimore architects Reasin and Weatherald, the firehouse is unique in Baltimore’s architecture. The 103-foot Italianate-Gothic tower was copied from Giotto’s campanile in Florence, Italy and features a cast iron “skeleton”—an early example of this material in use for structural purposes.
The newly formed Baltimore City Fire Department purchased the building in 1859 for $8,000, when it became known as Engine House No. 6. The firehouse’s apparatus was a steam engine weighing 8,600 pounds named, appropriately, the “Deluge.” In 1893, all members of the City’s fire department were paid, which ended the grade of “callman.” This silenced firehouse bells, which were used to summon the callmen. Many bells were given to churches, but Engine 6 hung on to its bell and it became a source of pride to Oldtown’s citizens.
Oldtown, on the east side of the Jones Falls, did not see damage from the Great Fire of 1904. Firemen pumped water from the Jones Falls to quell the advance of the flames—a move which saved east side landmarks such as the Phoenix Shot Tower. Engine House No. 6 also served as emergency hospital as the Sun reported at the time, “The upper floor of the engine house resembled an army field hospital in war time, with its scores of brawny men with seared and blackened faces and their tattered remnants of blue uniforms.”
In 1970, the tower was restored and the station remained in active service until 1976, when the Oldtown Memorial Fire Station (now the Thomas J. Burke Fire Station) became the home of Engine 6. In 1979, the old station became the home of the Baltimore Fire Museum and the Box 414 Association.