A fiery history comes alive in Silver City | NevadaAppeal.com

A fiery history comes alive in Silver City

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Historian Larry Steinberg shares the history of the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department at the station during a lecture on Sunday. The lecture was part of Historic Preservation Month activities.

When he moved to Silver City in the 1970s, historian Larry Steinberg didn’t think he would become very involved. Then he started hanging around the fire department and it got in his blood.

“You never know you are a part of history. All the people I met when I moved here in 1972 have been instrumental in keeping this fire department going,” Steinberg said. “You start hanging out at a fire department and it grows on you.”

After he became a member of the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department, Steinberg began to wonder about the history of this small town department. Sunday afternoon, he shared what he had discovered.

“We may be the earliest constantly active volunteer fire department in Nevada. A lot of them have been founded, become defunked and then restarted, but we’ve remained active,” Steinberg said.

While the official establishment date for the department is in 1863, Steinberg found a journal that infers it could have been as early as 1861, just days after an inauguration celebration for Abraham Lincoln.

“Silver City has always been a community-based town and the fire department is the epitome of that,” Steinberg said.

The department purchased two hose carts in 1878 at a cost of $1,100 and upgraded to mechanized equipment by purchasing a 1929 Chevrolet in 1954. The original hose carts are still stored at the old fire station in Silver City.

The department was able to get by with no pumping equipment because the hydrant’s natural water pressure was 140 pounds-per-square-inch. The maximum that a pump could create was 125 PSI.

“That’s how we got by, our hydrants had such high pressure that we could survive with hose carts until 1953,” Steinberg said.

Over the past century, the department has helped combat several large fires on the Comstock, including the Dayton Courthouse in 1930, the Sutro Mansion in 1941 and a fire in Silver City in 1879 that helped usher in the city’s decline.

“At that point the Comstock treasure days were almost over and that fire destroyed 14 homes and the city jail and started the precipitous downfall of Silver City,” Steinberg said. “Then when the V&T Railroad pulled up it’s spur in 1881, that really started the decline.”

Steinberg also discussed the old uniforms worn by the department, including the long wool shirt and leather belt. The department’s colors were dark red and light blue.

“Their shirts wouldn’t have been cotton, because cotton burns. Wool smolders and wet wool does nothing, so they would have used that,” Steinberg said.

Among the stories Steinberg uncovered was the tradition of hose fights. Two telephone poles were erected with a piece of cable strung between them. From the cable was hung a large drum in the middle of the poles.

The goal was to use water pressure from the hose to push the drum to the opposing team’s side.

“The key was if you could get some momentum the drum would be over the top of the other team and they would have to move back. Moving four guys and a hose back looks like a spastic caterpillar moving backwards,” Steinberg said.

The lecture was part of the State Historic Preservation Office’s Historic Preservation Month activities, which are taking place statewide through the end of May.

Steinberg said he was happy to have the opportunity to talk about his town.

“I almost feel like that Silver City has been under attack the last couple years. The march of time has taken its toll on our town,” Steinberg said. “It’s good for us to refocus on the things that are closest to us.”

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at jshipley@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.


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