Fire, History, and the Black Building

It will probably come as a surprise to no one that I’ve been thinking a lot about history lately.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that I started out writing science fiction, mostly set in the future. Of course, what twelve year old appreciates history? Or eighteen year old? While I’ve maintained my love for far-flung space stories, my interests have broadened.

My third published work was a history of the Albion Fire Department, which I’ve served on for so long that I’ve actually ridden on all but one of the fire engines the department ever owned … well, the gasoline powered ones, anyway. Now, the book signing I’m doing Friday in theory has no direct connection to that book, other than that I’ll have copies of it there. But things do have a tendency to connect, and irony has a tendency to be ironic.

You see, we’ll be set up from 4-8 p.m. in the Black Building, which was indeed built at a time when they used to name buildings. Black is a name I encountered a lot in researching local history. In fact, it first shows up on page four of Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights, when Black is among a list of ten businessmen who lost property in one 1867 downtown fire. Not an auspicious beginning, but Black picked himself up and erected another wooden building … which burned down in 1879.

I hasten to point out that Albion didn’t form a fire department until 1888. Those two fires both burned most of a block on the southeast corner of Albion’s main intersection (for you city slickers, currently our only stoplight).

J.D. Black learned his lesson, and on his third try went with brick. It says so, right on page seven. That building, which may have been constructed the same year as my home (I didn’t live there then), is the location of Friday’s art show and book signing.

The last mention in the book of the Black family comes in 1953, when Albion’s volunteer firefighters bought brand new uniforms, badges and hats from Black’s Mercantile. But south of the Black building, in the same block that burned twice, Albion’s second, third, and fourth fire stations would later be built. It’s the fourth firehouse where I started my career as a volunteer firefighter.

It’s all connected.

Wedding Courthouse Square (Black Building)
A wedding with the Black Building in the background, circa, oh, a whole long time ago.
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