Maple Avenue Mystery

by Mike Kroll

The Maple Avenue fire station has been very much in the news for some time now -- and with the decision now made to relocate it to West Fremont Street just beyond the Knox County Health Department, attention will continue to be focused on this fire company. While researching what might happen to the existing fire station once the move is complete, we have unearthed an interesting historical mystery.

The current Maple Avenue fire station was constructed in 1907. The Galesburg City Council awarded Charles Hawkinson a contract to build it on June 3rd and it was completed and operational before year-end. The original purpose of Maple Avenue was to improve fire department response time to the burgeoning residential neighborhoods north of the Santa Fe tracks where many prominent Galesburg businessmen had their homes.

The mystery comes in when you consider the hand written Quit Claim Deed that transferred ownership of this piece of property from the Galesburg Board of Education to the City of Galesburg (for the sum of one dollar) dated January 9, 1933 -- 26 years after the fire station was built.

What the deed brings into question is the status of the existing Maple Avenue fire station property once the fire company is moved.

The Zephyr obtained a photocopy of the original deed from the Knox County Recorder's office. Most of the text consists of a legal description of the property and a waiver of liability absolving the Board of Education of any financial responsibility following the transfer. The interesting language comes at the end: ''Š This deed is made for the express purpose of using said real estate for the purpose of a public park or a public playground and for a public fire station and if at any time said premises are not used for above purposes then the title and possession of said real estate reverts to and becomes [illegible] said Grantor. This deed is made pursuant to a resolution of said Board of Education passed at a regular meeting thereof on November 14, 1932.''

It would appear that not only was the Maple Avenue fire station built prior to the Board of Education's conveying of the property to the City but also that ownership of this parcel reverts back to the Board of Education if the land ceases to be used for a public park or playground and a fire station.

When the property belonged to the Board of Education it was once home to the original Bateman School. A new Bateman School was constructed north of the site on Maple Avenue. The Galesburg School District later closed the ''new'' Bateman School and that building was demolished just this summer. This history explains why the small park that now abuts the Maple Avenue fire station is named Bateman Park.

But how did the city build a fire station on property that apparently belonged to the Galesburg Board of Education? The answer is deceptively simple. Prior to World War II, the Board of Education was not a separate legal entity as it is today. Instead, it was a city board much like any of today's boards and commissions that are appointed by the mayor with the consent of the City Council. In fact, prior to the 1940s the Mayor used to sit as the president of the Board of Education.

Although it is probably unlikely that Galesburg School District 205 would want this land back today the ambiguity of the hand-written quit claim deed will likely lead to some legal discussions between the school district and the city once the fire station is moved and the future of the existing fire station structure is under consideration.

A little historical material

Did you know that the ''original'' Central fire station was on South Prairie Street or that a contract to construct its successor (now the Community Center) on the south side of East Simmons Street between Cherry and Prairie Streets was let for $23,373 in 1905? At that time the Central fire station was responsible for covering the entire city.

In May 1906 the City Council authorized the purchase of a new ladder truck at a cost of $4,000 and one month later the City Council approved ''rules of conduct'' for the fire department. On August 19, 1907 the City Council accepted an undisclosed bid by O. N. Custer for the old central fire station on South Prairie Street where the Register-Mail building sits today.

Galesburg has a long history of downtown fires and this appears to have prompted the City Council's passage of the first building code ordinance on December 7, 1908, soon after the Holmes Building was gutted by fire. Two months later (February 15, 1909) the City Council passed its first fire safety ordinance that applied to public and commercial buildings.

Due to fear of a devastating downtown fire, prominent merchants petitioned the City Council to purchase a steam powered fire engine at the January 3, 1910 City Council meeting. The key advantage of a steam fire engine was the ability to pump greater quantities of water at higher pressure and thus greater distances than were possible by the hand-operated pumps then in use by the Galesburg Fire Department.

A month and a half later, the City Council passed the first ordinance regulating the sale and use of fireworks in Galesburg. On April 4, 1910 the Galesburg City Council established a pay scale for city firefighters. The annual salary for a first, second or third year fireman was set at $780, $840 and $900 respectively. As 1910 came to a close, the downtown merchants were still imploring the City Council to purchase the steam engine, unsuccessfully.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online September 8, 2001

Back to The Zephyr