Firehouse No.2 and City Hall
Michigan Historical Site Since 1993
By Erika Schlenker
Twelve years after the Great Holland Fire of 1871, the city built a firehouse located at 106 E. Eighth St. In addition to housing Columbia Fire Engine Company No. 2, the building was a place for council meetings, city offices, and the library. After the fire company moved elsewhere in 1978, the Firehouse Committee of the Holland Historical/Cultural Commission was formed to restore the building to its original state. It is the 14th Holland structure to be honored as a State Historic Site by the Michigan Historical Commission. Today, the structure is used for office space.
Early Fire Prevention and the Great Holland Fire
Before Holland had an official fire department, fighting fires was a community effort. Each house was required to have three pails on hand for water and a 20-foot ladder. Additionally, the city had three wells across town to store water in case of emergency. Unfortunately, this was not enough to stop the Great Holland Fire that occurred on Sunday, October 8, 1871 which began around 1 a.m. After the devastating event destroyed 243 homes, 73 stores and offices, 5 churches, 15 manufactures, 3 hotels, 45 barns, and 5 docks, Holland put greater effort into fire prevention specifications.
Building the Firehouse
In early 1880, the old town house was deemed too crowded for Common Council meetings. At the same time, Columbia Fire Engine Company No. 2 was renting the basement of Mr. R. Kanters, a prominent Holland citizen and former mayor, to house their company. Mr. Kanters proposed that a new building be erected that would serve as a firehouse and a place for council meetings. The city bought a lot in 1882 from Mr. Kanters at 106 E. Eighth St. for $7 per foot or $350 total. The City Council offered $100 for Robinson and Barnaby, a Grand Rapids architectural firm, to draft the design for the new firehouse. After the plans were drawn up, an additional three feet of land were needed, which Mr. Kanters eventually donated.
Frustratingly, no bids were received when the city first advertised the plans for the new building. When they tried advertising again in June of 1883, James Huntley proposed the lowest bid at $4,075 for a wood structure and $4,875 for a solid brick structure. With the Great Fire still hot in their memories, his brick structure was chosen for “fireproof” construction.
The construction firm was making good progress on the building, but the harsh winter hindered their labors to the point that they asked the city to finish the building. The company was deducted $100 for unfinished work, and the final construction was settled for $4,703.
City Use and Services
Finally, in March of 1884, the firehouse was completed. A dedication ceremony and oyster supper were held in celebration on March 8. Soon after, the building moved to full operation with the inclusion of several city services. The building’s second floor housed city offices and the library until the current City Hall was built in 1911. It even served as Holland’s first ward headquarters for voting during elections.
Horses were stowed there when they weren’t used for transportation by firemen as well as Holland’s first motorized fire engine. According to the Holland City News, published in November of the same year, citizens petitioned for a clock to be installed in the fire station tower. The Common Council rejected their request because they did not want to pay for a clock that would presumably favor the west or east side of town, depending on what side it was placed.
William G. Robinson was one of the best known West Michigan architects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition to the firehouse, he designed many prominent churches and homes for wealthy clients in the Grand Rapids area. The Holland site is considered to be Dutch Revival architecture, with its original pointed gable roof tower. This feature was designed for draining fire hoses over 50 feet in order to prevent them from bending.
In 1941, a low, one-story, flat-roof addition was built under the architectural smarts of Mr. Peter Elzinga of Holland. Archival pictures show the building originally having a set of double doors which were later replaced by a large garage door.
The fire station remained in service until 1978 when a new house was built near Kollen Park. Since the building is one of Holland’s oldest, many citizens believed it deserved to be preserved rather than sold or demolished. As a result, the Firehouse Committee of the Holland Historical/Cultural Commission was formed in 1979 to restore the building. They installed a new roof, but still had bigger dreams of returning the building to its original glory. A benefit dinner was held at the Holland Country Club on November 9, 1981, which brought in over $3,000 for the 97-year-old building. In combination with $5,000 from the city of Holland and $12,000 in pledges, the committee raised over $20,000. Their immediate goal was to restore the interior to its original condition and install replicas of the original double doors. Long term, they wished to create a replica of the original steeple. Dreams of turning the historic landmark into a museum were rejected due to lack of funds.
The building was sold to Architects Collective PC in 1985, which renovated the interior to accommodate modern office space but kept the site’s historic significance. That company then sold the building to Smith & Associates who pledged to return the firehouse’s exterior to its original aesthetic. Still today, the building is used for office space. Michigan Historical Commission honored the structure as Holland’s 14th State Historic Site. A dedication ceremony was held on June 16, 1993.