Demolition begins at historic Toano firehouse

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Jacob Rice grew up in the community-built James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department. He now works as a firefighter. (Adrienne Berard/WYDaily)
Jacob Rice, a firefighter, grew up in the community-built James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department, where his father was a volunteer. (Adrienne Berard/WYDaily)

After 50 years of serving the Toano community, the fire station of the James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department entered into demolition Thursday to make way for a driveway leading up to the bay of a new $6.3 million firehouse.

The station was dedicated to Toano in 1966, three years after James City County gave its volunteer firefighters a lease on land to build a new station.

The Toano community contributed time, materials and money to get a brick fire station built on the corner of Forge and Richmond roads.

“We built ourselves a fire station,” said Billy Apperson, who began volunteering for the department in 1959 and continues to work there as a public information officer.

After construction was completed, the station served as a community hub, where the people of Toano could get their fill of fish frys, play Bingo and celebrate life’s big moments like weddings and school graduations.

For Jacob Rice, who has worked at the station since he was 16 and whose father volunteered there before him, the demolition was chance to pay tribute to a lifetime spent inside the firehouse.

 Demolition began Thursday on the Toano firehouse. The demolition will make way for a driveway leading up to the bay of a new $6.3 million firehouse. (Adrienne Berard/WYDaily)
Demolition began Thursday on the Toano firehouse. The demolition will make way for a driveway leading up to the bay of a new $6.3 million firehouse. (Adrienne Berard/WYDaily)

“It’s definitely emotional to watch this come down,” Rice said, watching a track hoe tear apart the walls of the station’s kitchen. “I grew up as a kid in this firehouse…Ever since then I’ve had a love and passion for the job. My heart has always been here, with this building, because I started here….My whole life, since I was born, was in and out of this firehouse.”

Across the street from the station, a small group of past and present volunteers gathered to watch the demolition. Many brought their families.

Captain Mel Bryant said his daughter has been asking when the department’s next fish fry will be, an event he used to attend as child. Bryant hopes he — and the rest of the volunteers who grew up in the building — will be able to pass those traditions on to future generations.

“We have so many new people who are excited about the new building,” Bryant said. “They don’t have the same ties as we do to the old building, but they get a sense of its value from the older guys in the department.”

Chief David Nice says the department plans to hold a public event to pay tribute to the firehouse. He is also keeping some of the bricks to display in the new building.

“The sad part is you know the effort the community put in to build this,” he said. “A lot of us raised our families here, our kids and grandkids. It was a family. That’s the power of the unity of the members here. It feels like home to us.”