The new Firefighters Memorial Plaza will not only feature a new life-size bronze sculpture of a firefighter, but also include a prominent display of history from Rome's volunteer firefighting past.
In addition to the new statue which is being cast in Colorado the plaza will feature an arch with five limestone keystones that were dumped into the Oostanaula River decades ago and forgotten by time.
The keystones were from an arch at the old Mountain City Company Number Two. It was located near what is now the intersection of West Fourth Avenue and West First Street — the plaza between the new Courthouse and Forum River Center. The station was co-located in a portion of the building that housed Rome's original City Hall. Company Two stayed at that location until spring of 1914 when it was relocated to South Rome.
Records are not clear when the Mountain City Company Two was founded however Rainbow Company One was started up in 1868 according to records put together in 1931 by then-Chief Horace L. Taylor.
The stones were recovered from the Oostanaula River where they had been buried in mud for who knows how many years.
"I have no idea how they ended up down there on that riverbank," said Chief Troy Brock.
Retired Rome banker Tom Caldwell recalls the days when he would walk the old dirt road along the river, long before Ridge Ferry Park was developed. He noticed the stones sticking up through the mud one day.
"You could tell they were cut by man but you couldn't read any of the writing on them," Caldwell said.
Rome Public Services Director Kirk Milam recalls that at one time the area where the Olive Garden, Starbucks and RiverWalk strip shopping center now sit at Riverside Parkway and Turner McCall Boulevard was at one time a landfill.
"There was probably stuff strewn all up and down the river at one point in time," Milam said.
He suggested that with the rise and fall of the river through the years the stones were exposed over time.
Caldwell remembers talking with then-city commission chairman Buddy Mitchell about them but it was several years later before Mitchell's son David, president of the M.H. Mitchell Inc. — a foundation dedicated to historic preservation efforts — rediscovered the stones and took the lead with city public works personnel in actually recovering them in August 2004.
Mitchell, who also serves on the board of the Rome Area Heritage Foundation, said the return and public display of the stones "assure that the memory of countless men who guarded our homes and city will now forever stand watch. The preservation of these stones will remind anyone who sees them that the challenge is constant and courage is eternal."
The bronze firefighter statue will be the focal point of the new plaza being constructed behind City Hall at the intersection of West First Street and West Sixth Avenue. The keystones will be displayed at the rear of the plaza in an arch such that people looking from the West Sixth Avenue frontage toward the statue will be able to see the arch behind the statue.
Grant Bittle, the foreman of a Brooks Building Group construction crew working on the Memorial Plaza, said there are two columns at the back of the plaza where the two foundation keystones will be set.
"Then we'll have to build a framework underneath the rest of it and set each one of the remaining pieces in one at a time and then pull the framework out from underneath it," Biddle said. "It will be dry-fitted together just how it was originally designed as a keystone arch that holds itself up."
The plaza is expected to be complete sometime this summer.