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