Florence Fire Department was founded on April 25, 1828 as a volunteer fire company made up of every male in Florence between the ages of 18 and 50. It decreed that each house must have its own ladder and its own leather bucket with a capacity of two gallons to be used only for fire-fighting.
With this equipment the men of Florence put out fires by forming a double line to pass buckets of water back and forth between the burning building and the nearest well or cistern.
The act also took steps to prevent fires by forbidding the keeping of more than 25 pounds of gun powder within 100 feet of a house and by forbidding the building of stables with hay, fodder, or hemp within the limits of the business district. Perhaps the most valuable clause in the act was fining anyone who turns in a false alarm ten dollars (equivalent to about $220 today) during the day and twenty dollars (about $435 today) at night.
By 1902, Florence’s fire equipment consisted of a hand-drawn two-wheel cart carrying a hose and a hook and ladder wagon pulled by horses rented at Jesse Pattons’ livery stable, located where the Negley Hotel was.
Wells and cisterns were obsolete. The town’s water system had been installed in 1890. The fire alarm system, however, was the same as it had been in 1828. When a fire broke out, someone would have to shoot a gun or run into town to announce the fire.
In 1915, the Fire Chief, Donald White, purchased its first motor vehicle, a type 20 American LaFrance (pictured in the above April 1915 photo). A phone was also installed in the fire station to be used for social calls as well as announcing fires.
In 1918 Gamewell Fire Alarm Company installed a modern five-circuit automatic repeater and positive non-interfering system of Fire Alarm boxes and a six-circuit Fire Alarm switch board. This equipment would be automatic even if all the city current were turned off.
Now housing the Abstract Company, this downtown Florence building is full of historic ‘firsts’ for Florence. As seen in this late 1940’s picture, the Lamar Furniture store resided here and was the first to be fully air-conditioned and electrically heated in downtown Florence. During renovations in 1944, the Lamar family unearthed 16 fireplaces hidden behind walls, which lead to the discovery that this was the original Florence Hotel building and was built in 1887 by William Basil Wood. The Florence Hotel was the first in the area to introduce both electricity and the telephone in 1888. In 1910, the building served as the temporary home of Rogers Surprise Store after Rogers experienced a devastating fire to their retail building on Court Street.
Thomas McGough (1906-2001) purchased the Florence bakery from M.P. Curran in 1941 and 5 years later, phased out the baking side of the business when he incorporated the Southern Frigid-Dough company.
Operating as a licensee of American Frigid-Dough, they wholesaled a line of frozen and ready to bake meat pies & dinner rolls. The plant on the corner of Poplar & College streets in Florence was specially built & occupied 11,250 square feet. They used the tagline “World’s Largest Bakery Without An Oven”.
In the late 1950s, the Southern Frigid-Dough company produced 65,000 pies per day with 90 employees. In 1958, McGough undertook a $200,000 remodeling & expansion program that would increase the plant’s capacity to 172,000 pies per day.
McGough retired and went into the real estate business as a home builder and one of the developers of the English Village Shopping Center.
The accounts of the “Great Western Land Pirate”, John A. Murrell are enough to fill many, many pages. A story built out of legend and exaggeration from fact, here is the condensed story.
Murrell planned his own outlaw empire with New Orleans as his capital and himself as king. With a gang of followers labeled the Mystic Clan, Murrel and his gang were robbers, counterfeiters, horse-thieves, and slave stealers. When stealing slaves, Murrell would present them with a proposal: he would steal them from their current masters, sell them three or four times, and give them freedom in the North. But, once the scam became too well known, Murrell would instead murder them. The process Murrell and his clan used when disposing of evidence was gruesome. They ripped open their victim’s belly and took out the entrails, replacing them with rocks and sunk them in rivers & creeks.
Captured by a slave in Florence near Cypress Creek (and memorialized by a local historical marker), Murrell was sentenced to jail. Murrell died nine months after leaving prison, and parts of his body were said to have been dug up and stolen. His skull is still missing, but one of his thumbs is in the possession of the Tennessee State Museum.
As stated, there is much to this legend and most cannot be separated from what might be fact. Read a full account of John A. Murrell online here.
Read more about the Tennessee State Museum displaying John Murrell’s thumb.
This editorial cartoon was featured in the April 13, 1933 issue of the New York World-Telegram newspaper. It shows a well-dressed fat man (labeled “Power Trust”) weeping into his handkerchief, a rolled-up piece of paper labeled “Plans” at his side. Behind him looms a huge dam bearing an American flag and a sign reading “Government Operation of Wilson Dam, Muscle Shoals.” In April 1933, President Roosevelt reversed the policy of his Republican predecessors and asked Congress to approve, not only the government operation of the Muscle Shoals Dam (built by the government during World War I), but also the establishment of a Tennessee Valley Authority. Private power interests, who had hoped to acquire the dam for a nominal sum, were outraged.