Jason Lloyd doesn’t mince words when asked about the condition of a unique building he purchased in 2010.
“Whatever the most horrible place you could think of, it was worse than that,” he said.
He is referring to the historic, red-brick Allison Hook & Ladder Building and, for Lloyd, a Harrisburg firefighter himself, restoring the circa-1909 building became both an obsession and a labor of love.
“There was never any grand plan,” he said. “It was just to save the building.”
Fast-forward nine years, and, today, the landmark on the 300-block of S. 14th Street has been fully restored and is back in service of the Harrisburg Fire Bureau.
The building remains privately owned, but four volunteers, constituting the revived Allison Hook and Ladder Co. No. 2, are now attached to it—though they actually respond to fires from the bureau’s modern, fully-equipped station on N. 16th Street.
“We want to help the community and put some firefighters back on the street,” said Allison Co. member Steve Austin.
Fire Bureau Chief Brian Enterline said that he was happy to see the volunteer company back and ready to return to the community.
“They have a strong link to Harrisburg fire history, and it made sense to bring them back on board,” he said.
Too Much History
In the early 1900s, Allison Hook and Ladder Co. No. 2 was founded.
At the time, it was common to have many stations, even in a small city like Harrisburg. Horses were used to pull fire engines, and communication was slow, so communities relied on firefighters located nearby.
Allison Hook & Ladder No. 2 was formed to fill this need for the Allison Hill community. Around 1908, the lot on S. 14th Street was purchased and, within a year, the two-story brick station was constructed.
The firehouse had a large number of volunteer firefighters and ran a two-piece hose and chemical wagon, as well as a ladder truck. Over the decades, the building was used for firefighter training and union meetings, in addition to serving as an active station.
But, starting in the 1950s, Harrisburg’s once-bustling stations began to fall into decline.
The city once had 14 firehouses, many volunteer-based. But, increasingly, Harrisburg’s volunteer ranks dissipated, and the force became almost fully professionalized.
Eventually, the city’s firehouses consolidated into just four and, today, there are only two working stations. Allison Hook and Ladder officially shut down in 1980. Since it was not of use to the Fire Bureau anymore, the building was sold back to the volunteer Allison Hook & Ladder Co. for $1.
Over the years, the firehouse served mostly as storage space and became dilapidated. The once-bustling firehouse was full of dirt, animal feces and trash. Windows were busted and boarded up and walls were crumbling. The historic structure was condemned.
Despite the building’s condition, Lloyd felt pulled to it.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what it will cost, I just want to save the building,’” he said. “It’s just too much history to let go.”
In Your Blood
It took 10 years of writing letters to the Allison Co. before Lloyd was offered the building.
Company President Barry Buskey explained how the volunteer group hadn’t been active for many years. Therefore, they had to reorganize simply to vote to sell the building. With no other ideas or plans for the station, they took a chance and sold it to Lloyd for $12,800 in 2010.
Thus began the second part of Lloyd’s long journey.
The 62,000-square-foot firehouse had a unique stamp tin ceiling, the original chief’s office, a spiral staircase, gear locker, four pole holes and a bedroom and meeting room.
The only problem was that you hardly could see any of it.
It took about three months of gutting the place and almost nine months of dry-walling just to get started on the renovation.
“It’s pretty much just been the firefighters working together to resurrect this place,” Lloyd said. “Once you come here and see this and get involved, it gets in your blood.”
Lloyd and other firefighters have put in years of labor, often after work or on the weekends, with most of the money coming straight from Lloyd’s overtime pay.
In the restoration, Lloyd wanted to keep the building as close to the original firehouse as possible. While much of the structure was gutted, the historic doors and wood trim remain. The upstairs bedroom was redone, but looks similar to the original. The meeting room was revamped to be a hangout space, including a bar with a back made from an old gear locker topped with antique fire helmets. Lloyd was also able to locate the fire truck that used to run out of the station and bought it, as well.
Over the years, he has collected historical items from defunct Harrisburg fire companies, as well as some from the city in general. One room, in particular, holds display cases of old postcards, photographs and other relics he found, mainly through searching online.
“It’s not a functional museum, but there’s a lot of historical stuff in here,” Lloyd said.
This past August, a number of Harrisburg’s historic preservation officials toured the resurrected Allison Hook and Ladder firehouse.
“There are people who go the extra mile because they are passionate,” said David Morrison, executive director of the Historic Harrisburg Association. “Jason has that passion. He has the vision. He has the drive when other people would’ve given up.”
A Lot of Need
With the countless hours that Lloyd and others have put into the firehouse, they hope others can benefit from it, as well. They’ve held block parties for the station’s neighbors, tours for various groups and benefits to raise money for people and organizations in need.
Enterline highlighted how the Allison Co. and the Fire Bureau at large have the same vision.
“Our goal has always been to have community-oriented fire stations,” he said.
Most recently, Allison Hook and Ladder established a community advisory board, which will consist of local leaders, business owners, clergy, educators and others. They will work together on community relations, historic preservation ideas, potential grant applications from public and private sources and fundraising activities.
A main focus is fire prevention education within Allison Hill.
“We want to try and help the community,” Lloyd said. “There’s a lot of need out here, and there’s a lot of good that can be done with the people we have. It’s all just to try and better the Allison Hill neighborhood.”
The Allison Hook and Ladder Co. No. 2 Firehouse is located at 315 S. 14th St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.allisonhookandladder2.org.