By Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Charlotte Observer
Seven years after it opened, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fire Museum will close its doors at the end of this month.
The museum – housed in a renovated firehouse on Fifth Street near Graham Street uptown – will close April 30, after the museum's directors learned the new owner of the property wants to charge steeper rent.
So starting in May, firefighters and retirees will box up the antiques and pictures and send them back to families or storage rooms in firehouses across the city. Two antique firetrucks will be stored at a nearby machine shop.
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“It's our history.… It's a window into our past,” said Deputy Fire Chief Pete Key. “It's saddening and disheartening, but we have to face the reality: We don't have the place right now.”
The thought of erecting a Charlotte fire museum first surfaced in the 1970s but gained steam in 1997, when firefighters sought corporate sponsors and collected money from people headed to a Carolina Panthers football game. Fire Station No. 4 was renovated, mostly with donated time and materials.
Since 2002, the museum has opened its three red doors three days a week for tours and birthday parties. Admission has always been free.
On warm days, people walking through Fourth Ward would just walk in.
Josie Pitt had her fourth birthday party there Saturday afternoon. After fire safety lessons, she and her friends took turns climbing inside a mock firetruck. They even got to spray water from a fire hose.
“It is a loss to downtown,” said Amy Pitt, Josie's mom, taking a break from snapping pictures.
The museum's board of directors will continue to exist and hasn't ruled out reopening the museum in the future.
“It bothers me a little bit that it's going,” said board member Shane Nantz, a Charlotte Fire Department Battalion Chief and second-generation firefighter who works on the antique trucks on his days off.
“It's an important component for the community, but it's most important for the (new firefighters) coming in the door to see how far (the department) has come.”
Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046
Want to go?
The museum is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays until the end of this month. It's at 420 West 5th St. Admission is free.
Information: 704-338-7233 (704-338-SAFE).