History of the Bay Spring Fire Station & Community Center
At the start of the 20th century, Barrington’s fire department consisted of a rudimentary volunteer force that used equipment stored miles away in a garage and barn at the fire chief’s house at 562 County Road. Dissatisfied with the level of fire protection, industry executives, businessmen, and property owners in 1910 organized Barrington’s first fire company in the seaside community of Bay Spring.
For approximately $3,500, a two-story fire station was built at what is now 170 Narragansett Avenue on property owned by prominent Barrington resident Frederick S. Peck. The building was built for a dual purpose – a fire station on the first floor and a community meeting room on the second floor.
The Bay Spring Volunteer Fire Company provided protection to an area where fires could be devastating. At the time, Bay Spring was a lively summer spot featuring dozens of small summer homes crowded within blocks of the Providence River and Bullock’s Cove. The area was also home to most of Barrington’s industries, all of which have since closed, and the Bay Spring Yacht Club. The Barrington Museum archives include accounts of several major residential and industrial fires that involved the fire company. By 1930, the Town established a full-time professional firefighting force based in three fire stations, including Bay Spring.
Throughout the years, the building’s second floor, which features a large meeting room and stage, has hosted many events organized by the tight-knit Bay Spring Community. Town Council minutes include multiple references to community gatherings held at the building, including dances, dinners, fundraisers, and stage productions. By the mid-1920s, the station building was used predominantly for community purposes, so much so that a Councilman commented as a meeting, “The station house is used as a club house for everything but fire fighting.”
One of the most significant events related to the building is the 1938 hurricane. The hurricane produced powerful winds and storm surge that destroyed many homes in Bay Spring. The Bay Spring Fire Station/Community Center, though just two blocks from the water, survived the storm. In the aftermath, the building played an important role, serving as a Red Cross relief station where Bay Spring residents could find a meal and shelter. Having survived the storm, the building today is one of the oldest structures in Bay Spring.
In the years following the hurricane, town officials toyed with the idea of tearing it down to make room for a park or other use. In the 1960s, as the Town Council discussed whether to close the fire station, a Council member suggested razing the building. “It is the oldest building, and if it were eventually torn down, the site could be developed for recreational purposes,” a Council member told the Barrington Times. The proposal prompted a petition submitted to the Council in 1964 that was signed by 200 residents of Bay Spring protesting the closure, which was put on hold.
On April 15, 1968, budgetary concerns led the Town to close the Bay Spring fire station and consolidate the firefighters and equipment at the Town’s two other stations. Since closing the station, the Town has maintained the building for community use.
Today, the building stands out as the only historically significant public building in Bay Spring. The two-story shingle-sided building is consistent with the historic architectural character of the Bay Spring community. The building features architectural elements that reflect the fact that it is more than just a fire station. The south side, in particular, is striking, with a central Palladian window, a circular window near the roofline, and two diamond-shaped leaded glass windows located to either side of a door. The building’s original hip-roof bracketed cupola still houses a fire siren, Inside, exposed trusses in the second floor meeting room are reminiscent of the trusses in the much larger Council Chambers at Barrington’s Town Hall.
– Philip Hervey, Town Planner, July 2006
Sources: Barrington Museum archives, Barrington Times archives, Town Council meeting minutes, Town Land Evidence records