In my travels, I always love to explore the hidden museums, and a destination like York, PA is no different. While I’ve visited and enjoyed the top attractions like the Harley-Davidson Factory, York’s breweries, and the York Colonial Complex, there’s plenty more in the area to discover such as the Fire Museum of York County.
Like the other fire museums I’ve visited in Pennsylvania (the Pennsylvania Fire Museum in Harrisburg and the Fireman’s Hall Museum in Philadelphia), the Fire Museum of York County is located within an old fire station. The station the museum is located in was once the Royal Fire Company and was completed in 1903. The station closed in the late 70s due to budget cuts.
Today, the station is absolutely gorgeous and retains many features that it would have needed as a working fire station. The 100-foot tower still retains a bell while the two fire poles from the third story still head down to the garage where the fire trucks were kept.
Aside from the fact that the building itself is a time capsule of firefighting history in York, the Fire Museum of York County is filled with some great pieces that will interest lovers of firefighting history, history lovers, and even kids.
The ground floor of the museum features many of the museum’s largest items.
Inside the garage, there are half a dozen large fire engines, as well as a few smaller fire carts. The fire engines date from roughly the 1920s to the 1950s and are quite beautiful to see.
In the back of the garage, the horse stalls that would have been here when the station was built have been recreated to showcase what the firehouse would have looked like when all fire engines were pulled by horses.
On the walls of the first floor, you’ll find all matter of fire memorabilia and original pieces from the fire station’s history.
Moving up to the museum’s second floor, the highlight is a room filled with all types of fire alarms and mechanical fire instruments. There are even a few unused grenade fire extinguishers that were built over 100 years ago.
I also really enjoyed the large 1914 fire alarm panel that still works. It was really interesting to find out more about how people would relay fires to the fire station with relatively primitive technologies.
The third floor of the Fire Museum of York County featured three large rooms that were filled with displays.
The first room was the old fire station dormitory where the firemen would sleep while on duty. A bed has been set up here with his firefighting suit right next to the bed to show what would have looked like when firefighters slept on site.
The room also displays a variety of other firefighting clothing, including some historical parade uniforms that were worn by York firefighters.
The second room on the third floor is filled to the brim with display cases. This was the fire station’s parlor, and it features many historical items from fire stations throughout York County. While signage in this area is rather sparse, making it hard to figure out what you are looking at sometimes, the items on the display are still quite impressive.
The final room of the museum is the old fire hall.
Other than the garage on the ground level (which you can see down to through near the old fire pole in the fire hall), this is the largest room in the old Royal Fire Company station.
Just like a fire hall today, this room served the fire company but also was used for events by the local community.
The displays from York’s fire history continue inside this room, and there are even several large hose carts on display in the middle of the room.
The highlight of this room, and one of the highlights of the entire museum, is the Little General. This weather vane once stood atop the original York County Courthouse.
This building was located at the intersection of Market and George Streets in downtown York and was where the Continental Congress met in York in 1777 and 1778. It was in this building that the Articles of Confederation was adopted and the first Thanksgiving was declared among other things.
The weather vane, which was added sometime after the Revolutionary War, was saved from the rubble when the original courthouse was torn down in the mid-1800s and spent many years atop a local fire station. Today, however, it is safely within the Fire Museum of York County (A replica can be seen atop the rebuilt colonial courthouse).
Other pieces of interest in the old fire hall include band instruments used by firefighters in parades, old parade hats, and even mascots used by the fire companies.
Overall, I found the Fire Museum of York County to be incredibly fascinating, and I’d definitely recommend a visit by anyone that love firefighting history or even just loves learning about the past in general.
My only complaint about the Fire Museum of York County is that admission is only available via a combo ticket for visits to the York County Historical Society Museum, the Colonial Complex, the Agricultural and Industrial Museum, and the Botham House.
Having visited all but one of these sites, I definitely feel that they are all worth visiting, but it’s a lot to do in one visit, especially if you have kids. It would be very nice for there to be a ticket option where you can just visit the Fire Museum of York County without having to buy a ticket that gives you access to all of the sites.
Regardless, if you have the chance to tour and visit the museum, I definitely recommend it.
Note: My visit to the Fire Museum of York County was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Looking for more things to do in the area? Check out tours of Bluett Bros. Violins, Sunrise Soap Company, and the Haines Shoe House.
Fire Museum of York County
Hours: Saturdays: 10am-4pm
Cost: Adults: $15, Children: $7
Address: 757 W Market St