It is difficult today for people to realize the important role that the fire companies played in the lives of early communities. In Madison this role may be better understood because here volunteer fire companies still exist and flourish. Firehouses were the social centers of the town, and it was necessary for them to have special extensions to accommodate this usage. Architecture was not only functional but also highly stylized and fully decorative.
Firehouse No. 1 at 403 East Main Street is Italianate in style, with a tower that derives from those that were all over Italy in the Middle Ages, especially in the Tuscan and Lombard regions. The tower's upper courses of brick, which originally flared out, were removed a few years ago when they were found to be dangerously unstable. The tower is not, therefore, as true to type as it was originally.
Atop this tower is a figure of a fireman forming a weather vane. This figure is affectionately called "Little Jimmy." The original "Jimmy" was provided by John Adams's metallization shop for $28.85. The original building was erected probably in 1875 by the Madison Street Railway Company as a trolley barn. James White was the architect. It was sold for $8,000 in 1888 to the Fair Play Company, which built the tower and made other alterations. Three horse stalls were added, and the names of the horses painted above the doors can still be seen. One of the old fire wagons is still on view. The record books of the fire company, organized in 1841, have been preserved and are an invaluable source in tracing various items of historical interest. The building was one of the most important social centers in the town. Dinners were served from the kitchen at the rear.
According to the Historic American Buildings Survey history of this building, the company decided in 1896 "to lay brick on the sidewalks around the property.... The brick was purchased from the Nelsonville (OH) Sewer Pipe Company for $61.66. The brick that was laid is partly still in place to the front of the engine house and was called the 'star pattern.' The design of this brick ... has been selected by the National Trust for Historical Preservation for the logo design of its Main Street Project, working on the preservation of business districts in smaller American cities.