Road Trip

Firehouse History in Alexandria

Sunday, August 19, 2007

WHERE: Alexandria.

WHY: Historic firehouses, firefighter dress-up and the little steam engine that did.

HOW FAR: About eight miles from start to finish, accessible by car or bike.

August feels like a furnace. And while you can't call the fire

department for a cool hosing off, you can explore Alexandria's centuries-old brick firehouses.

The city, home to eight working firehouses, has quite the firefighting pedigree. Old Town's Friendship Firehouse Museum, for example, once housed the Friendship Firehouse Company, which was established in 1774 as a crew of volunteer firefighters. The corps counted the father of our country as one of its own; George Washington even bought the company its first fire engine.

In 1855, Alexandria was hit with two big blazes. The first, in August, burned down the Friendship Firehouse. The community rallied, rebuilding on the site in time to reopen two months later. Then in November, a fire on the 100 block of King Street devastated the city and killed seven volunteer firefighters, who are buried at the Ivy Hill Cemetery. Not long after, paid firefighters were hired to protect Alexandria.

The sirens are now silent at the Friendship Firehouse, but alarms still ring at Alexandria's oldest operating firehouse, Company No. 201. The 1915 structure still bears the tracks that horses used to pull the steam engine, the precursor to the shiny red truck the company now employs.

Over in the Del Ray neighborhood, the building of Company No. 2, known locally as the Potomac Firehouse, once held Town Hall, its jail and, oddly, its vault. Young visitors are treated to plastic fire hats, and the crew will suit up to demonstrate the pole slide. Of course, when duty calls, everybody gets out of the way; it's time to let the company go beat the real heat.

NEXT: See and Print the Map (pdf)

-- Karen Hart

© 2007 The Washington Post Company