Milwaukee’s oldest extant fire station offers a glimpse into the life and work of a nineteenth-century fire crew. Firemen once killed time in cramped quarters on the top floor. Watchmen climbed a seven-story, wood-framed watchtower—its stubby remains are at the building’s southeast corner—to survey the neighborhood for suspicious smoke. If they spotted any, fire bells would clang, the firemen would sprint downstairs since the station originally lacked fire poles, and the horse-drawn fire engine would emerge from the broad, segmental-arched opening on the main facade, which originally had paneled doors. The station housed a “chemical engine,” a Victorian innovation that pumped fire-suppressing chemicals instead of water. When this station was built, the city’s water system did not yet serve the area around this fast-growing German enclave of wooden cottages, bordering the Brewers’ Hill neighborhood to the east. The station was named for Henry Lippert, who established Milwaukee’s modern fire department when he became chief in 1871.
The station has undergone many modifications. A rear wing housing additional stables was erected in 1908. A few decades later, its 1883 fire tower was removed after telephones and fireboxes had rendered it obsolete. In the early 1950s, the firehouse was converted to a library, and the engine-house doors were removed and the doorway filled in to create a window bay. In the 1980s, the building became home to the Inner City Arts Council (now defunct), and a colorful mural was painted on the west wall, paying tribute to Milwaukee’s African American artists, dancers, and musicians.