An application has been submitted to the Florida Historical Marker Program for the Fire House. The application was on the agenda for the Historic Marker Council meeting of February 29, 2012 but as of this writing word has not been received on whether the application was approved.
The Fire House will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its opening on October 14 of this year and the intention is to have the marker in place for an unveiling on or about that date. We continue to seek photographs and other historical materials related to the Fire House which can be shared in conjunction with the 75th anniversary celebration and otherwise.
It would be particularly appreciated if a photograph or something else related to the Aircraft Warning Service tower which stood behind the Fire House during WWII could be located. The only photographs of the tower known to Hassell + Snell at this time are aerial photographs taken by the Army from very high altitude in 1943. The images are very fuzzy and small and unless you knew what you were looking for and squinted hard you probably wouldn't even see the tower.
The Aircraft Warning Service was part of the Civil Defense initiative, which consisted of all volunteers. Aircraft spotters manned towers round the clock looking for enemy aircraft. They were throughout the country and there were a number of them in our area. The Ormond tower was the first established in the area and, as was common with such towers, was manned by men and women. Initially the post was led by City Clerk John Milligan but later by well known civic leader Eileen Butts. Under the leadership of Ms. Butts the post received an award for excellence in being familiar with enemy aircraft. Following WWII Ms. Butts led the effort to create the Ormond War Memorial Museum and Gardens which, of course, is thriving today just a couple blocks to the west of the Fire House.
The tower that was at the Fire House was probably pretty similar to that which stands on the ocean side of A1A in Ormond-by-the-Sea. Local resident Earl Williams has advised that his father volunteered at the Fire House tower and he recalls walking up the steps with him to the top. He says it was reminiscent of a fire tower. Earl still possesses a device which his father used to learn the shapes of enemy aircraft.
There appears to be much confusion regarding the tower in Ormond-by-the-Sea. That tower has been reported to have been one used by the Aircraft Warning Service. However, local historian Harold Cardwell, who has written numerous books on local history, says that the tower in Ormond-by-the-Sea was a Coast Guard tower and the tower at the Fire House was the Aircraft Warning Service tower. The Aircraft Warning Service was under the direction of the Army and the Coast Guard was under the direction of the Navy. In one of her books local historian Alice Strickland, now deceased, also referenced a wooden tower behind the Fire House during WWII.
While the Coast Guard may well have spotted for enemy aircraft at their tower the primary objective was spotting enemy watercraft, including German U-Boats. While it doesn't seem well known today many German watercraft were off the shores of Florida during the War, and many were sunk there. At times bodies washed ashore. Four Germans came ashore near Ponte Vedra, not too far to our north, and eluded capture for some time. The danger of enemy invasion was real and taken seriously. In any event, it is unlikely that the tower in Ormond-by-the-Sea was ever used by the Aircraft Warning Service.
The Fire House was designated a historic landmark by Ormond Beach in 1987, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 and received a Florida Preservation Trust Award for its renovation in 2011. To learn more about the history of the Fire House, or to see a slideshow including photographs of the Fire House, please click here.