From the Office of Historic Alexandria
Alexandria, VA – On Saturday, August 7, the Friendship Firehouse will welcome Alexandria residents and visitors to its annual celebration of firefighting and community past and present. The festival took a hiatus last year, like so many traditional events, but this month you can help celebrate Friendship’s 247th year.
Join us on the 100 block of South Alfred Street from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm and learn about fire safety today and through the years. See City of Alexandria firefighting equipment up close. The festival will have live music, craft vendors, displays by community organizations, and food and beverages will be available. Free Friendship fire hats for the kids!
To comply with COVID-19 safety protocols, entry into the historic Friendship Firehouse Museum will be staggered. This family event is presented by the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association and the Office of Historic Alexandria.
The Friendship Fire Company was established in 1774. It was the first fire company in Alexandria. Members were volunteers who were motivated by concern for the safety of property and for the community’s well-being.
Today, the historic Friendship Firehouse is a City museum. Firefighting apparatus such as the Rodgers 1851 hand-operated suction engine, decorated with Friendship’s clasped-hands insignia, are found in the first floor Engine Room. Ceremonial helmets, capes, and other regalia are exhibited with the original furniture in the Meeting Room. Visitors learn about firefighting and the company’s important presence in the community through the years, including its support and participation in civic events and parades.
Members of the Friendship Fire Company were men with vocations such as bricklayers, coachmakers, carpenters, bakers, merchants, painters, and tavernkeepers. Company records detail how firefighting was a collaborative effort. For example, Friendship’s Minute book entry for September 27, 1810, discusses appropriating funds for compensating African American men “who aided and appointed in working the Engine during the fire which took place on the night of the 24th.”
In 1855, a devastating fire developed on lower King Street. Many private citizens assisted the five Alexandria volunteer fire companies, Friendship, Sun, Relief, Star, and Hydraulion, in fighting the blaze. James Keene from Friendship, and George David Appich, William Evans, J. Carson Green, John Roach, George Plain, and Robert Taylor from the Star Fire Company lost their lives.
John Dogan, a laborer of African descent, was severely injured. When the Firemen’s Monument cornerstone was dedicated in Alexandria’s Ivy Hill Cemetery, Dogan marched in the firefighters’ procession to the memorial site. He was given the honor of carrying a partially melted firehose nozzle that survived the fire. This relic is on permanent display at the headquarters of the Alexandria Fire Department.
Women spearheaded fundraising to support the Friendship Fire Company. On June 29, 1855, the Alexandria Gazette noted that “Preparations are being made by several ladies and their friends for holding a Fair for the purpose of raising funds for building an Engine House for the Friendship Fire Company.”
As reported on November 15, their efforts were successful, “The gross receipts from the Fair, held by the ladies of Friendship Fire Company of $925…will fully enable [the Company] to consummate its wishes as regards its engine house.” On December 16, the newspaper reported the Company thanked “Mrs. H. Bradley, Mrs. S. Field, Mrs. P. Ballenger, Mrs. W. Harris, and Miss J. Griggs and the other Ladies recently associated with them in conducting the Friendship Fair.” Fairs benefitting Friendship are also documented in 1860, 1867, 1868, and 1872.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Friendship Fire Company fought fires less frequently as the Alexandria Fire Department and career firefighters were organized. In the early 20th century, the Friendship members formed a veterans organization.
Today, the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association continues as an active philanthropic and public service organization. Its mission is to assist in preserving the Friendship Firehouse Museum, support the Alexandria Fire Department, promote civic involvement, and provide scholarships and benevolent and philanthropic services to the Alexandria community. The Association honors the legacy of its 18th-century founders ̶ dedicated citizen firefighters ̶ and values the contributions of today’s first responders.