VirginiaWind

NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Virginia Fire & Police Museum - The Destination That May No Longer Be One

By: Michelle Harper

NOTE: It is reported the Virginia Fire & Police Museum has closed

Michelle in the Fire and Police MuseumOn the anniversary of one of the most infamous dates in American history, VirginiaWind decided to make the Virginia Fire and Police Museum, located in downtown Richmond the "Destination" for the month of September. With the chilling images of September 11, 2001 still lingering in our hearts and in our minds, it seemed an appropriate way to honor those who dedicate their lives to serve and protect us every day. Unlike many of our travel articles, the focus is more on the destination than the journey. Upon discovering that this great historical storehouse is in danger of closing its doors forever, the trip became more of a mission than a joy ride.

Fire and Police MuseumThe museum is located on West Marshall Street only a few blocks away from Rt. 1 in downtown Richmond in a section of town that has yet to be revitalized. The gray concrete building with its red and white striped awning stands as a reminder of pride in a section of the community seems to have all but forgotten it. The bold letters over the door proclaiming "3rd Police Station" and "Steamer Company No. 5" seem a beacon of comfort in an area of neglect. You almost expect to walk in and see a policeman behind the desk ready to assist you as officers walk the beat outside or see the horse-pulled fire trucks come barreling out the red double doors in answer to the alarm bells ringing loudly through the air as it so often did in the early 1900's. These nostalgic imaginings are marred only by the fact that the doors to this museum are now closed (as of August 30th) and if enough funds are not raised, these doors to the past may never be open again.

Old photo of Fire and Police MuseumIt's difficult to describe a place that may no longer exist. So, I will just take you on the tour as we found it late in August:

One of the first images we saw as we walk walked in the door was a photographic collage in tribute to the fire and police rescuers of 9/11. This was in stark contrast to the echoing sounds of children laughing and playing throughout the building, which was being used for a birthday party.

FIre and Police Museum in RIchmondThe downstairs was crowded with rescue vehicles used throughout the years. Horse-drawn fire trucks, police motorcycles and even a hearse filled the large room almost to capacity. A watch desk stood in the entryway surrounded by various alarm bells and an official watch clock. Hanging on the wall was the remnants of an old Empire life saving net - the kind you see in old movies where dozens of firefighters hold a trampoline with a bulls-eye painted in the middle while everyone dramatically calls for the trapped victim to jump. Interestingly enough these nets had a wonderful success rate and were only retired when it was determined that they did too much damage to the knees and backs of the rescuers themselves, though no harm came to the rescuees. Another wall holds detailed pictures and descriptions of fires over the years from 1834- 1948.

RIchmond FIre and Police MuseumThe museum was filled with first-hand accounts of rescues and crimes throughout the years, as well as one family's personal history of 150 years of police heritage. Every possible useable space was packed with citations, photographs, law books and memorabilia. The upstairs was lined with display cases full of log books, records, shields, badges, pins, photographs, antique toys of rescue vehicles, including and exact replica of a 1919 engine built out of common materials by a disabled man who could only dream of being a firefighter.

From 1865 to 1898 the building contained jail cells. Echoes of this past history are evidenced by a scratched window, damaged by the diamond ring of one of the frustrated inmates. Wanted posters lined the walls along with posters of those who have been caught to remind us of the successes. In addition to tools of the trade, such as one-handed handcuffs and smaller ladies handcuffs, more personal images of law enforcement looked out at us from photographs of the faces of those who served, and in some cases died, in the line of duty. We couldn't help but be moved by the personal sacrifices and the sense of duty these people had.

Kent at the fireman's poleThe museums guide, Susan Longest, was enthusiastic and friendly. In the face of her layoff, she remained positive. Multitasking between her duties as birthday hostess and interviewee, we strolled with her as she went about her duties. According to Longest, the museum had over 65 thousand visitors annually until lack of funding forced the museum to reduce the hours of operation. Now with only a few hundred left in the bank account, the museum's board has decided to close the museum and focus on fund raising. Though Longest was optimistic, the situation is grim. Out of 56 grants written, the museum has only received 1, and is now depending on donations to reach the $125,000 goal needed to keep the doors open.

Richmond Fire and Police MusemJust as we vow never to forget those who died and those heroes of September 11th, we owe it to ourselves not to let these voices of history slip into the forgotten past. It would be a shame to let this building be consumed by the neglect that already is surrounding it. Ironically, the museum is located on the street corner, symbolic of the corner it is about to turn. We sincerely hope that you will be able to visit this wonderful Virginia Destination in the future. It would be a travesty of justice to lose the 150 years of personal history that is waiting to be discovered at the fire and police museum to remind us that sacrifice and dedication are not new, but are ingrained in those who choose to serve.

For more information and updates visit:
www.vafire-police.org

More Photos.

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