Museum displays vintage cast-iron toy fire apparatus

Museum display 

Posted: Thursday, October 8, 2015 3:41 pm (Daily Commercial print edition on October 10, 2015

MOUNT DORA — When the town’s first fire station houses the city museum, a new museum exhibit featuring vintage cast-iron toy fire apparatus is a natural.

The collection of more than a dozen toy fire engines from 1910 to the 1940s at the Mount Dora History Museum is sure to bring out the little kid in anyone who ever dreamed of being a fireman, as well as highlighting the building’s past.

But there’s another good reason for the new exhibit that opened last week.

“We did this because it is Fire Prevention Week,” said Janet Westlake, president of the Mount Dora Historical Society. “It will be on display until the end of the month. “We have tried to boost fire emphasize because the building is original fire station.”

In addition to a manually-pulled, two-wheeled Wirt Knox hose cart on permanent display, similar to the first known piece of city fire apparatus, the museum has an original leather Cairns and Brothers fire helmet from Mount Dora and other fire equipment.

The back half of the multi-use structure was also the town hoosegow.

In February 1922, a fire destroyed the main block of Donnelly Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, according to the Mount Dora Historical Society website.

The fire reportedly started when someone left an electric iron unattended and the city lost its town hall and many other important buildings because Mount Dora had limited fire service at the time.

Town leaders decided to build a fire station and John Donnelly donated the land for the building. It was completed in 1923, with front half used for the fire volunteer fire department and the back half as the jail.

The building remained the fire station and jail until 1941, when the police and fire departments moved to Fourth Avenue, west of Donnelly. But the prisoners remained until 1969, when the city began transferring prisoners to the county jail in Tavares.

Both departments moved several more times before relocating into a shared complex at the corner of Lincoln and Donnelly streets in 1993.

The toy fire engine display isn’t the first time the museum has celebrated Fire Prevention Week, which was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 in 1920, when President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation. It has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which Oct. 9 falls since 1922, according to a society release.

In 2013, the Florida Antique Bucket Brigade, a statewide group which specializes in firefighting apparatus, tradition and history, brought several fire trucks -- some from the early 1900s -- to the alley in front of the museum to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the old fire station, now museum.

Westlake’s husband Les was one of them.

“He was a volunteer firefighter in Pensacola and owns an antique fire truck,” Westlake said.

It’s a 1928 model American LaFrance fire truck complete with antique soda and acid tanks, and wooden ladders on the side.

The museum is located at 450 Royellou Lane in Mount Dora, which had been an alleyway and is a big reason why the historical society works so hard to help draw attention to its museum.

“We continually have to work on raising our awareness,” Westlake said.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1-4 p.m. with $2 admission for adults, $1 for students, and free to Historical Society members. For more information, call 352-383-0006 or visit www.mountdorahistorymuseum.org.

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