NEW ALBANY —
Officials with the Vintage Fire Museum and Safety Education Center are in favor of staying in New Albany, as the organization has an interest in purchasing the former Baptist Tabernacle building.
Unable to reach an agreement to purchase its current home in the former Coyle auto building, the museum’s board had considered moving to Jeffersonville. However Curt Peters, president of the museum’s board of directors, said a move to the former Bales Auto site would be a second choice to keeping the historic fire collection in New Albany.
“There are a lot of people we think that are supportive of our project and would help us purchase that building,” Peters said of the former Baptist Tabernacle structure.
Located at 318 E. Fourth St., the former church lost its roof during a 2008 wind storm. The city later sold the property for $1 in exchange for the new owner’s agreement to refurbish the building. Peters said a buyer has stepped up to purchase the Coyle building, so the museum is up against a deadline.
“I would say time is ticking for us to have to move,” Peters said.
The fire museum could utilize both storeys of the Baptist Tabernacle, with the heavier equipment being featured on the main floor, Peters said.
One truck that museum officials hope to showcase at the Baptist Tabernacle is a 1921 American LaFrance engine. When New Albany was blanketed with water during the 1937 flood, photographs of the American LaFrance engine propped on a raft were displayed in newspapers throughout the country. The firefighters waded the engine through the city to help pump water from flooded homes and businesses, as well as to rescue anyone stuck in the waters.
“It caught people’s imagination,” Peters said.
The American LaFrance eventually was bought by the Leavenworth Fire Department before it was retired.
Peters said the engine was featured during New Albany’s 1963 sesquicentennial parade. It was obtained by the fire museum and brought back to the city 18 months ago, and Floyd Circuit Court Judge Terrence Cody recently donated funds to restore the engine. Retired New Albany firefighter and museum board member Jim Mauch was instrumental in bringing the American LaFrance back to the city, Peters said.
The engine will be restored by museum board member Jeff Rider, and it was recently loaded into his shop for repairs. Peters and his wife, Pam, recently traveled to New Hampshire to pick up four American LaFrance wheels for the engine.
“We intend to build a raft and place it on it in the museum,” Peters said of the fire engine.
And the push continues to raise the necessary funding to secure a permanent home for the engine and the historic Fred Conway collection that has been featured in the museum. The volunteer board has primarily depended on donations and fundraisers to foot the operation. There is a proposal before the Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission to move the museum to Clark County, but Peters said New Albany public officials also have shown support.
New Albany Councilwoman Diane McCartin-Benedetti said museum officials submitted a business plan to the city when the plan was to keep the collection at the Coyle building. She said she would be interested in reviewing a new business plan if the museum is to occupy the Baptist Tabernacle before deciding whether it would be a good investment of public funds. Benedetti said she’s pleased the museum may stay in New Albany and is interested in retaining the facility.
The former church would be a good location for the museum in part because it would be near the New Albany fire headquarters, she said.
“They would complement each other, and it’s still close to being off the main drag of Spring Street,” Benedetti said.
The museum remains open at the Coyle location at 411 E. Spring St. Visiting hours can be made by appointment, and the museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
For more information, visit the website vintagefiremuseum.org.