Russellville [KY] Colored Fire Company, 1873-1891(start date: 1873 - end date: 1891)
The Russellville, KY, Colored Fire Company was one of the first fire departments in Kentucky with an entire African American crew. The start date for the department is not known and the fire department may have come and gone over the years 1873-1891. Locating the names of the African American firefighters will require additional research.
Information about the fire department was drawn from newspaper articles that did not provide the names of the firefighters. One of the earliest reports recounted that at 10:00p.m. Friday, April 25, 1873, the fire engine owned by the Russellville Colored Fire Company was destroyed when someone intentionally set fire to the house where the engine was kept.
Five years later, there was a snippet about the company in the "Kentucky News" column of the Owensboro Messenger newspaper. "Russellville has a colored fire company. Blazes!" In 1882, there was an article in The Herald-Enterprise newspaper criticizing the city fire departments. The colored fire department was said to have 40 members who were paid $220 per year for pumping all the water out of the city cisterns, leaving no water in case there was a fire.
Almost ten years later, in 1891, the Russellville Colored Fire Department and the White Fire Department joined forces to fight the fire that broke out at the W. C. and R. T. Hays dry goods store on Main Street. The joining of forces had prevented the fire from destroying one-third of the city businesses.
Three weeks after the fire on Main Street, the Colored Fire Company disbanded. According to the newspaper report, the African American firemen walked away after the city council and the mayor would not release the men from property taxes and poll taxes. The article headline indicated that the men wanted better pay. It was hoped that a solution could be found because the fire company had done good work and was needed.
Sources: "Southern news," The Daily Memphis Avalanche, 04/28/1873, front page; "Kentucky News," Owensboro Messenger, 04/24/1878, p.2; "Water Works," The Herald-Enterprise, 11/22/1882, p.3; "Fire at Russellville," 12/02/1891, front page; "Want Better Pay: the Colored Fire Company has disbanded," The Russellville Ledger, 12/23/1891, p.5.