The Confusing Hopewell Firehouse (and Boro Hall and High School)

This is the same building, from the same angle – c1910, c1940, and today
(3-story High School, 2-story municipal building with fire truck garages, firehouse with wings added on sides)

This could be the most confusing building in Hopewell Borough – The current firehouse and former Borough Hall on the corner of Columbia Avenue and South Greenwood Avenue (2-4 Columbia Avenue).

Yes, these three images are the same building – The tall three-story High School built in 1910, the squat two-story Borough Hall renovated in 1940 with two fire engine garages, and then the spread-out Fire Department building that we know today.

== View the full Historic Property Brief on 2-4 Columbia Ave. (PDF) ==

Hopewell High School, built 1910

The original Hopewell High School was built in 1910 to relieve overcrowding in the school building on Model Avenue (12-14 Model), and in response to state mandates requiring a four-year high school program.

(The Model Avenue school was built in 1888, expanded several times, and then continued as a grammar school until 1926, when it was replaced by the current Hopewell Elementary School.)

The new High School was built at a cost of $20,000, but within two decades it too was overcrowded. This resulted in a 1928 vote to choose between expanding the Hopewell school (estimated cost $85,000), or building a new school in Pennington that was more central in the Township ($160,000). The result was a new Central High School in Pennington that opened in 1929, with 200 students from Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township, and Pennington.

The “old high school” building in Hopewell then was essentially abandoned in 1929 (at the start of the Great Depression), with no visible plans for its use. The newspapers report that it was used during the 1930’s by various local service organizations, primarily as a Y.M.C.A. youth recreation center, but also for Boy Scout meetings, and as a WPA playground in the second half of the 1930s.

Finally in 1937, the building was given to Hopewell Borough by the Hopewell Board of Education, for $1.

Meanwhile, at the dawn of World War II, both Hopewell Borough and the Hopewell Fire Department were looking for new and permanent facilities, as Columbia Hall (built in 1896 as the fire house), was being demolished in order to build a new theater (now the Hopewell Theater at 5 South Greenwood).

Hopewell municipal building, renovated 1940

So in 1940 the Borough remodeled the old high school building into a municipal building and firehouse. The total cost of the renovations was $18,257, of which approximately S4,500 was donated by the Fire Department.


Hopewell Fire Department bays, 1948

Which brings us to the big mystery of this building – What happened to the third story of the building? Some people have heard that there was a fire, but we have no record of a fire, and no documentation of renovations to remove the third floor, either in local newspapers or in the Fire Department histories in the Anniversary booklets. You would think that an important detail like that would have been mentioned somewhere!

In the following years, the building was extended with additions on each side, with the four fire engine bays on South Greenwood Avenue, and the three Emergency Medical Unit bays on Columbia Avenue, completed in 1953. Finally, in 2009 the Borough moved to 88 East Broad as the new Borough Hall, and the Fire Department took over the building.

1940’s building today

Today, the building still is confusing. The original building is completely invisible from South Greenwood Avenue behind the addition, and is still difficult to see on the diagonal from Gazebo Park, with the big Christmas pine tree in the way.

But from Columbia Avenue you still can see the front of the original municipal building that matches the 1940s photos, with the stone first floor with doors on each side, and the brick second floor with three center windows under a triangular peak with a small circular window.

** Does anyone have records of how and when the building lost its third floor? Or more information on how it was used during the 1930s? Or dates and details on the additions to the building?

Thanks again to the many kind contributors who have provided the photos and postcards, and records and Fire Department brochures, that allow us to assemble these stories. Please keep them coming!

== For more see the full Historic Property Brief on 2-4 Columbia Ave. (PDF) ==

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