The Old Essex Firehouse is an early commercial building in Essex, NY built out of locally quarried graystone. Currently serving as a seasonal gallery for the Adirondack Art Association, the space has served many purposes over the years.
The prominent building located at the intersection of Main Street (aka Lake Shore Road) and Station Road (NYS Route 22) was originally built as a millinery (women’ hat maker/seller) and dry goods shop soon after 1800. In 1812 Henry H. Ross apparently expanded the building for use as his law offices (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 25), and later it became the home of the Essex Volunteer Fire Department.
An interesting tale exists that tells of a strongman who took part in the construction of the store. How much of a tall tale it may be you can determine. Maitland C. De Sormo’s Joe Call, The Lewis Giant tells the story:
“As further proof of Call’s almost superhuman strength H.P. Smith stated in his History of Essex County that he had seen a section of timber 50 feet long and 10 inches square, now forming the plate of Judge Ross’s stone store in Essex, which timber, it is said, Call had dragged with one end on his shoulder a distance of 20 rods, then up an inclined staging to the top of the wall and finally placed it in its present position.” (40)
The two-story wooden porch was a later addition (c. 1835) to the front of the building (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 25). Although the porch largely conceals the graystone facade, the dramatic sunburst motif adorning the pediment more than compensates. While the sunburst appears on Greek Revival buildings throughout the Champlain Valley, it is especially apparent on many early Essex buildings (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 25).
This prominent architectural adornment is one of the most notable features of the Old Essex Firehouse, and the building’s central location perfectly displays that symbol to all passersby. It has become emblematic of the Essex Village Historic District over the years and has influenced much local design and iconography including the Historic Essex (ECHO) logo and the new Essex on Lake Champlain logo.
Additional Resources for Essex Firehouse
This map (with satellite image overlay) will help you locate the Essex Firehouse and see how its location relates to other historic buildings in the historic district.
View Flaneur’s Guide to Essex, New York in a larger map
References for Essex Firehouse
“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” Essex Community Heritage Organization, 1986.
“Essex Village Historic District.” Living Places. Ed. Julia Gombach. The Gombach Group, 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.livingplaces.com/NY/Essex_County/Essex_Town/Essex_Village_Historic_District.html>.
Hislop, David C., Jr. Essex on Lake Champlain. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009. Print. Images of America.
“Historic Essex.” Historic Essex. Essex Community Heritage Organization. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.essexny.org/>.
McNulty, George F., and Margaret Scheinin. Essex; the Architectural Heritage. Burlington, VT: Queen City Printers, 1971. Print.
Smith, H. P. History of Essex County: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Syracuse, N. Y.: D. Mason &, 1885. Print.
Catherine C. says
Thanks for all the great architectural history George! Will there be walking tours next? Hope so!
G.G. Davis, Jr. says
You’re welcome. Thank you for reading the posts and commenting! There are far better tour guides in Essex than yours truly, but we are working away on a “Discover Essex” handbook that we hope to publish in time for this summer. And there a possibility that I’ll be presenting an evening of Essex stories, oral and digital, locally this summer. Stay tuned! And thanks again for your encouragement.