York Town Square

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Part II: Rex/Laurel, one of four York, Pa., operating fire stations, built a dozen years after Civil War

Cracks above and surrounding the V-shaped frame above the door in the Rex part of the Rex/Laurel Fire Station in York concern city fire officials. The cracks are visible to the eye, although not in this photograph. That’s David Michaels, assistant deputy chief, left, and chief Steven Buffington outside the station, which city officials are contemplating closing along with the Goodwill on East Market Street. They are considering building a new station. (See additional York, Pa., Daily Record/Sunday News photograph below.) Also of interest: Cumberland County reseacher seeks info on Emigsville’s American Acme-built fire engine and Photograph of York’s worst, bad fire

York City’s Rex/Laurel Fire Station has owls everywhere, even nestled above the engine bay of the Laurel.
They remind visitors of the day when fire departments in York had such mascots. The Goodwill Fire Company featured a wolf. The Rescue, a deer. And so on.
But no dog, no Dalmation in sight. (See below for more on Dalmations.)
These are some of many impressions about the impressive, but perhaps-to-be closed, Rex/Laurel station garnered in a recent tour.
The York Daily Record/Sunday News provided much insight in a recent story (with photos) headlined:

“New location considered to replace York’s aging fire stations/
It could take time to find the right buyer for the Rex/Laurel, the city fire chief said.”

Here are a few items of interest from the tour:

– The complex is actually two stations, the Rex and the Laurel. The Laurel came first in the late 1870s and the Rex, a ladder company, about a decade later. A merger of sorts took place with the carving out of a door between the stations in the late 20th century.
– The Laurel has an operational pole. As dangerous as such a means of descending from second floor living quarters to the engine bay seems, it’s safer than clunking down steep steps.
– The second floor of the Laurel has a large meeting room, typical of fire companies of its day. Membership in the companies provided social opportunities for members and financial and other support for the firefighters. The Laurel meeting hall has an ornate chandelier that was converted from gas to electricity.
– York Safe & Lock made a small vault for the Laurel with the company’s name inscribed on its outside in beautiful script.
– The tower is actually in good shape compared to the rest of the Rex/Laurel. It was rehabbed in the past two decades. Its upper reaches can be accessed through a series of metal ladders and stairs. Those persevering to reach the belltower can see the heavy bell marked “Laurel.”

As for its possible future uses, the Rex/Laurel could serve as a mansion for someone of means who collects autos. The vehicles could be worked on, stored and displayed in its bays.
It has plenty of living space in its upstairs. Perhaps it could be rehabbed into condos or apartments.
It could serve as a restaurant.
But its potential uses are fairly limited. It was built as a firehouse, and that’s really its optimum use.
It’s an architectural jewel that must be preserved.

Fire department staff dropped hay for firehorses through this round hole, now in the ceiling of the Rex/Laurel’s break room. The fire station was built in the day when horses pulled fire equipment. Hooks to tether firehorses of old are still in place.
Also of interest:
Part I: Rex/Laurel, one of four York, Pa., operating fire stations, built a dozen years after Civil War.
The York Daily Record/Sunday News weighs in on the proposed closure of fire stations: On fire houses and city finances.
This public safety website explains the importance of Dalmations to firehouses 100 years and more ago.

“Today the Dalmatian serves as a fire house mascot, but back in the days of horse drawn fire carts, they provided a valuable service. Dalmatians and horses are very compatible, so the dogs were easily trained to run in front of the engines to help clear a path and guide the horses and the firefighters to the fires quickly. They are still chosen by many fire fighters as pets in honor of their heroism in the past.”

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