By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsJanuary 31, 2020
Stories live and breathe in the halls of Fire Station No. 1 -- stories that have touched virtually every nook and cranny of Fort Knox in some way for the past 85-plus years.
Joseph Harper, a Fort Knox Fire Department officer, hears and sees many of those stories, whether they reveal themselves in historic photos sent to him or told by an old firefighter walking in the door of Bldg. 469 and sharing a few personal moments from a bygone era. Stories line the walls of the historic brick station.
The stories can be found etched into bricks and hidden behind modern barriers. During a Jan. 31 visit by Matthew Rector from the Fort Knox Cultural Resources Office, Harper sat down and talked through some of the hundreds of photos he has collected over the last 19 years since he joined the force.
"This old firehouse has been around since World War II, and a lot of events in history have been lived and talked about inside these walls," said Harper. "It's an honor to work in a firehouse that has a lot of stories and history behind it."
On this date in 1934, the contract for construction of Fire Station No. 1 was awarded during a time when Fort Knox was beginning its transformation into a more permanent installation. The station is considered by Rector to be one of the first permanent structures built.
"In a way it's one of the most important anchors of the historic district," said Rector. "It's kept these other buildings standing, if you think about it. It makes sense for your fire station to be one of the first."
Construction on the building was completed and handed over to the U.S. Army nearly a year later. Many other brick structures followed close behind in what is now considered the historic district.
Nearly seven years later, as the nation entered World War II, at least six other fire stations sprung up, according to Rector. Harper said it's possible that as many as 13 stations might have been operational during the war, the vast majority of which were built in a standardized wood-frame architectural style.
Shortly after the end of the war, many stations disappeared, leaving only three remaining today.
From the start, Fire Station No. 1 became a hub of activity as well as the envy of other stations. Harper said one key design of the station often drew passersby each day.
"One guy said there was a clock, what we see in some photos," said Harper. "Everybody in town would come by the firehouse each day and get the time."
Harper and Rector compared notes, too, on stories surrounding the building's use as a shared space between the firefighters and police officers. Harper explained that the military police side also housed German and Italian prisoners of war for a while until a larger containment area could be built.
The building has endured flooding, technological updates, growth, and even a tank assault. In 1973, a disgruntled Soldier stole a tank and took it for a joyride, running into the corner nearest the street. He left a gaping hole in the police station, said Harper, apparently after being angry at the police for causing him to lose his security clearance.
"The building is built well," said Harper. "It has that firehouse look with the inlaid Maltese cross from when it was first built and designed. It also has the big arched traditional doorways and when you pass the station, you just know, 'Hey, that's a firehouse.'"
Harper admitted today's fire engines are getting big enough in size to outgrow the building; "but it's still really functional where it sits in the community, and it still does what it needs to do.
"With all the technology and trucks getting bigger and outgrowing stations, being able to still be in a traditional old-school firehouse with the arched doorways, oak-laid windows and architecture is something neat that a lot of firefighters won't be able to get in the future because they're moving to more modern firehouses."
Most other operational buildings on post have been reconfigured over the years to accomplish different missions. According to Rector, some having been reconfigured multiple times. The firehouse remains true to its original mission.
"For the last 85 years, this has remained a fire station, and the love for it is shown from the firefighters that have worked here," said Rector.
Harper said there's a special kind of life that flows inside; filled with history.
"A lot of Christmases have been celebrated around the table, a lot of fire runs in the middle of the night; a lot of stories told by a lot of guys who have stopped in and told them.
"The stories are what bring it back to life."