— Port Townsend —
This is the last remaining
wooden fire bell tower in the
Port Townsend's Fire Bell Tower is a 75-foot wooden structure built in 1890 to hold a 1,500 pound brass bell and the city's new $900 fire engine.
The ringing bell rallied the community to fight fires, providing a coded signal as to the location and severity of the blaze.
In October of 1889, the American Telegraph Company began erecting poles and stringing wires—the poles to be equipped with boxes containing signaling devices for the transmission of fire alarms. Gamewell Company "Excelsior" model fire alarm boxes were installed at strategic locations throughout the city. By 1933 twenty-one were in service.
An "indicator unit" in the fire station at City Hall received the transmission and its 14-inch brass bell rang in a timed pattern. The device decoded the signal and displayed the specific alarm box number. Firefighters, arriving at the fire hall, checked the number on the indicator and rushed off to the location of the fire.
The bell ringer unit transmitted the coded location of the pull-box alarm to the Bell Tower. One of the fire¬fighters at the station would then select the number of times the bell ringer would cycle the coded signal for one, two or three alarm fires.
Since 1890 the wooden tower has weathered countless storms. Every decade or so, the community comes together for yet another round of fundraising for its restoration. In March 2004, the Washington State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) named Port Townsend's Fire Bell Tower, restored by the Jefferson County Historical Society and the City of Port Townsend, as the recipient of the 2004 State. Historic Preservation Officer's Award for Resource Stewardship.