Forming a More Perfect Community:

An Early History of the Friendship Fire Company

T. Michael Carter, Ph.D.
Friendship Firehouse Museum Office of Historic Alexandria, Virginia

It seems to be in our nature to observe anniversaries of important events. We “celebrate” happy events and “solemnly commemorate” sad or tragic events. It’s clear that John Muir felt both emotions as he composed “A lecture upon the origin, progress and present condition of the Friendship Fire Company” in the fall of 1857.

John Muir the proprietor of a hardware and cutlery store in the 200 block of King Street and Alexandria’s mayor in 1853–54, joined the Friendship Fire Company in 1835. He became the company’s Clerk and quickly focused on the history of the city’s first volunteer fire company. In 1836, he recorded in the company’s Minute Book a chronological listing of all the company’s members. In 1838, he listed the yearly important incidents in the company’s history. It was quite in his nature, then, to write a history of the company in 1857—the second anniversary of two momentous events: one of great pride for the Friendship Fire Company, one of profound tragedy for all of Alexandria’s citizen-volunteer firefighters.

The Friendship Fire Company was organized in 1774. They purchased the city’s first fire engine the next year from Mr. Gibbs of Philadelphia. The engine was kept in a structure o Royal Street on Market Square until 1838. In that year, the company merged with the Crescent Fire Company and moved to the north side of King Street near Columbus Street. In 1851, the company moved to the present location on South Alfred Street. Their engine house at that time was a two-story frame house with a steeple. This building was “greatly damaged” by fire in March 1855. On April 5th, the company appointed a committee to petition the City Council “to have built for us a two story brick Engine House.” Events moved quickly, and the company held the first meeting in their new engine house on October 29th. The cost of this new building was paid for by grants from the City Council, Banks and Insurance Companies, contributions from the members and citizens, and a “Fair held by the Ladies.” This Fair was held during the week of November 5, 1855 at the Sarepta Hall and raised almost $600.00 of the total cost of $2,000.00.

 

One week after the successful “Ladies’ Fair,” Alexandria suffered the worst tragedy to befall their organized firefighters. Near midnight on Friday, November 16, 1855, the fire alarm was raised for a fire a J.T. Dowell’s china store on the north side of King Street, between Fairfax and Water Streets. Contemporary accounts attribute the fire to arson. After battling the fire for almost four hours, and saving the adjacent buildings, the citizen-firefighters were inside Dowell’s store in a desperate attempt to save the building. The west brick wall of the building collapsed, crushing seven of the firefighters:

  • James Keen of the Friendship Fire Company
  • George Plain of the Star Fire Company
  • Robert J. Taylor of the Star Fire Company
  • John A. Roach, Jr. of the Star Fire Company
  • Carson Green of the Star Fire Company
  • G. David Appich of the Star Fire Company
  • William L. Evans who was not a member of any fire company

As we honor the many firefighters who have sacrificed their lives to save others throughout history, it may be appropriate to reprint here John Muir’s history of the Friendship Fire Company, and to remember Alexandria’s own “fallen heroes.”