CALAIS, Maine — It takes a lot of hot dog sales, yard sales, bowlathons and road tolls to raise half a million dollars, but Dick Barnard is unwavering in his goal to restore the St. Croix No. 1 Firehouse.
“Dick has a reputation for getting anything from everyone,” member Cathy Walton said.
Local contractors have donated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of work: restoring the furnace, digging drainage trenches, repointing the brick, rewiring the electrical service, creating and keeping up a website.
Students from the St. Croix Regional Technical Center rebuilt the stairs and bulkhead. A nearby day care facility saved pennies and donated $200. An anonymous donor wrote a check for $3,000.
Taylor’s Appliances donated a stove for the firehouse kitchen, and Marden’s followed with a refrigerator. The Calais Rotary donated a large grill.
Barnard said he really hasn’t had much to do with the support. “People here just don’t want to see this building go away,” he said.
The St. Croix No. 1 Firehouse has a long and important history in Calais. It was built in 1874 to house two horse-drawn steam fire engines. The station isn’t named for the river flowing a few hundred feet away — it’s named for the St. Croix Steamer fire engine it housed.
The horses were replaced in the early 1920s, and the entire building was abandoned in 1970 when a new public safety complex was created on North Street.
Barnard said that for a while, the Happy Gang Senior Citizens used the fire station as a meeting place, but by 2003 the building was too costly for the group to keep maintaining and it was turned back to the city.
“A group of citizens stepped up and felt it needed to be saved,” Barnard said. “It is so historic. It served the Calais Fire Department for 96 years.”
The association was formed and now boasts about 40 members on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.
Barnard went to work once an engineering study revealed the building was suitable to be restored.
Over the past seven years, many improvements and structural repairs have been made. The ultimate goal, Barnard said, is to create a community gathering place and firehouse museum. Many of the original items from the firehouse — the brass sliding pole, antique hanging lights, the original flagpole — have already been col-lected. In addition, the association will display two vintage firetrucks, a 1916 Mack and a 1926 Mack pumper.
“There are not two paired like this in the continental U.S.,” Barnard said.
Barnard is proud that no taxpayer dollars have been used to fund the restoration. Grants and donations, both in cash and in services, have kept the project moving forward. Most recently, a Community Development Block Grant was used to restore the hose tower.
The latest effort is to restore the belfry and belvedere, which was removed several years ago for safety reasons, to the top of the hose tower.
Barnard said a contractor has been hired and the association is just $1,400 short of its goal. The restored belfry is waiting in a Baring airplane hangar, having been reconstructed by volunteers.
“They spent more than 300 hours on that project and were able to salvage the original windows,” Barnard said.
Barnard said the belfry and belvedere should be ready for installation by the end of September.
“The support has been so incredible,” Barnard said.
Anyone who wants to donate to the firehouse restoration project may mail a tax-deductible contribution to St. Croix No. 1 Fire House, P.O. Box 605, Calais 04619. More information can be found at www.scfirehouse.com.