Latte-sippers leaving a downtown cafe need only glance underfoot to see a piece of Medford's history.
Thin grooves cut meticulously into the sidewalk are perhaps all that's left of Medford's first firehouse, old Station 1, at the corner of Sixth and Front streets.
The building housed the city's only fire engines and was the gathering place for the largely volunteer force at the turn of the 20th century.
The grooves played a key role in firefighting response, says Dan Marcisz, a Medford firefighter who has dabbled in department history.
The engines were horse-drawn then, and the grooves improved traction as the horses hoofed out to the street, Marcisz says.
"They were all horse-drawn there, never motorized," Marcisz says.
And the horses couldn't go zero-to-20 mph without them.
"When they had to dart out of the fire station, you didn't want them splaying all over themselves," says George Kramer, an Ashland historian who has chronicled the station's past. "Those grooves helped them out."
It all began in 1906, when Medford decided to stop holding City Hall meetings in the mayor's house — at the time, they wouldn't elect a mayor who didn't have room for the council meeting, Kramer says — and built the city's first public building.
The city bought the corner lot and built the firehouse on the first floor and the City Hall, including council chambers, on the second floor, Kramer says. On the roof was an enormous bell to summon volunteers.
The station and its sidewalk grooves continued to serve Medford until 1926, Marcisz says. That's when the city built a new Station 1 three blocks away at the corner of Third and Front streets.
"That's when we went to motorized apparatuses," Marcisz says. "We needed different facilities for the engines. We needed different-sized doors."
But they didn't need grooves in the sidewalk at the new station, Marcisz says.
While that knowledge won't buy you a $2.65 latte in the Melello's Coffee Roasters now housed at Sixth and Front, its sidewalk remains a public piece of local history that merits recognition and protection, Kramer says.
"You can't take it out. It's too cool," Kramer says.
"Maybe when Medford redoes all its sidewalks around there, I hope we either keep it or replicate it for that one little spot."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.