In February 1922 a fire destroyed the main block of Donnelly Street between Fourth and Fifth streets. The city lost many important buildings including town hall. The fire reportedly started when someone left an electric iron unattended. At the time, the community had limited fire service.
The town leaders decided to build a fire station. John Donnelly donated the land for the building. Construction was completed in 1923. The front half was used for the fire service and the back half served as the jail. This building is now the site of the Mount Dora History Museum.
The first known piece of fire apparatus was a manually-pulled, two-wheeled hose cart that allowed the firefighters to bring more equipment to a fire scene, similar to the Wirt Knox hose cart presently on display at the History Museum. An ad in the October 6, 1915 issue of Fire & Water Engineering Magazine, stated a Wirt style hose cart was designed for “progressive towns and boroughs” that required a light-weight, speedy hand-drawn hose cart.
In 1926, the city purchased a type 75 American LaFrance triple pumper. This vehicle was sold to the Sorrento volunteer fire department on November 27, 1953.
The building was used as a fire station and the jail from 1923 to 1941. At that time, the police and fire department moved to Fourth Avenue, west of Donnelly. Even though the police left, the prisoners remained until 1969 when the city then began transferring prisoners to the county jail in Tavares.
The fire department was completely volunteer until 1965. When the station moved to Third Avenue east of Donnelly in 1969, there were four firefighters on the payroll. In 1974, the Fire Department and the Police Department became separate entities. In 1993, they moved into a shared complex at the corner of Lincoln and Donnelly streets.
In addition to an original leather Cairns and Brothers fire helmet from Mount Dora and other fire equipment, the museum has an extensive collection of items reflecting life in Mount Dora from the 1880s to the 1930s. The rear of the building housing the museum features the restored jail cells.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1-4 pm at 450 E. Royellou Lane in downtown Mount Dora. More information about the museum is available here and a podcast featuring the original helmet is available here.
By Janet Westlake
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Above: The Great Fire of 1922 (Donnelly Street) Below: 1961 fire and police station on 4th Ave., downtown
Above: Wirt Knox hose cart. Below: Original leather fire helmet.
Above: Jail cell as it is today at the Mount Dora History Museum. Below: The 1923 fire station and jail is currently houses the museum.