Cincinnati F. D. Reclaims Historic Alarm Bell
An historic, 120-year-old bell hanging in the southwest bell tower of the University of Cincinnati’s Ohio College of Applied Science, Central Parkway and Walnut Street, was removed in October on permanent loan to the Cincinnati Fire Division Museum, Ninth and Broadway. Cast around 1853, the bell weighs over 1000 pounds. Its removal and transport required full rigging operations. Some 10 firemen from Ladder Company No. 1 and Engine Company No. 3, under the direction of city Fire Chief Bert Lugannani, climbed 90-foot aerial ladders to take the bell from its perch and return it to the Cincinnati Fire Department.
The old Ohio Mechanics Institute Evening College building (1850-1911) stood next to the Gifts Engine House, a fire station at Sixth and Vine Streets. Because the station was just two stories high, the city’s only fire watch tower and bell were built atop the taller OMI building.
Both bell and tower were citizens’ gifts to the Cincinnati Fire Department. It was probably in 1853 that the bell was first housed on the old OMI rooftop. According to local history, after the Gifts Engine House was abandoned on September 30, 1916, the bell was presented by the city to the Optimists Club. And on July 11, 1917, it was removed to the present OCAS-OMIEC building “to be rung on occasions of great importance.” A symbol of the city’s progress in fire science, the mammoth bell (replaced after 1866 by a telegraph alarm system), will call to mind days when, as written in the “History of the Cincinnati Fire Department,” published in 1895:
“Cincinnati was divided into four fire districts, forming four squares. On one of the central corners of these squares stands the ‘Mechanics Institute,’ upon the roof of which the citizens erected a tower at their own expense— the only ‘fire tower’ in the city. Its sides contained glass windows, which commanded a clear view of every part of the city. The tower was occupied by two watchmen who remained on duty night and day, relieving each other every six hours.
“In the center of the tower was a large wooden cylinder, resembling somewhat the mast of a ship. Through this by the means of machinery was worked the signal apparatus, which consisted of four glass globes, covered with red flannel cloth, and fastened upon a shaft. During the day from a distance they appeared solid, at night they were illuminated, and appeared a brilliant red.
“Upon an alarm of fire the watchman immediately, with the aid of a crank, hoisted one, two, three or four balls above the top of the tower, according to the district in which the fire was located, and (simultaneously), with the aid of a lever conveniently located, he struck the alarm upon a mammoth bell, weighing (one) thousand five hundred and forty-nine pounds.”