People and Places with Pierce: The New Bern Firemen’s Museum


NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) – “It’s the best place in New Bern,” said Bobby Aster, retired fire chief of the New Bern Fire Rescue Department.

And that’s saying something for a city full of history. The New Bern Firemen’s Museum showcases the city’s rich firefighting history.

“It’s the oldest chartered fire department in the state of North Carolina,” added Aster. “The New Bern Fire Department consisted of two volunteer companies, the Atlantic Company and the Button Company. This fire station was built to bring the two fire companies together.”

The department moved out of this original fire station in 2000, but that wasn’t the end of the road for this historic building.

“We realized that the most valuable artifact in firefighting in New Bern was this building, this fire station, this wonderful old fire station,” said Nancy Mansfield, president and chair of the Friends of the New Bern Firemen’s Museum.

“That all of the equipment belongs to the City of New Bern and was our original equipment is what makes us so unique,” said Aster. “This is one of our original steamers. This is an 1884 steamer.”

“Because all of this stuff came from New Bern, we can tell the most wonderful stories about how that stuff was used not just mechanically how it was used, but stories about the people that used it,” said Mansfield.

And oh what stories there are to tell.

“The volunteer firemen wanted a new fire truck,” said Aster. “The Board of Aldermen wouldn’t give them one. So they dismantled the existing fire truck and they buried it under the kitchen. Well this area right here. We found a patch in the concrete. So, the story may or may not be true. We really don’t want to research to find out because we love telling the story.”

As beautiful as the downstairs exhibits have turned out, everybody is really excited about what’s going on up here. A big renovation happening upstairs with several interactive exhibits set to open by the spring.

“We’ll have this huge exhibit on the Fire of ’22, which is the biggest fire that’s ever happened in North Carolina,” said Mansfield. “The other big exhibit up there will be a children’s museum where the children can walk around and touch anything.”

But one of the kids’ favorite spots is something you might not expect in a firemen’s museum.

“The kids certainly like to see Fred the fire horse,” said Aster. “Fred was our devoted fire horse for so many years. He passed away in 1925 while answering a false alarm. Why someone in 1925 decided to mount a horse we don’t know, but we’re glad he did.”

Just like they’re glad to have a museum full of unique firefighting history.

The New Bern Firemen’s Museum still needs donations to cover the cost of renovations and new exhibits on the second floor of the former fire station. Click here for more information on how you can help.

Pierce is always looking for interesting and unique people and places to visit. If you have an idea, send him an email or a message on Facebook or Twitter.

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