All images courtesy of the Austin Fire Museum
In 1871 the Austin Brass Band led the first San Jacinto Day parade through downtown Austin to the Capitol and so began what would become an elaborate celebration of community.
The Austin Volunteer Fire Department and the Texas Veterans Association combined for many years to make April 21st an unforgettable occasion. The Austin Brass Band led the first San Jacinto Day parade in 1871, a procession that included battle veterans, members of the Texas Legislature, and the Austin Hook and Ladder Fire Co. No. 1 and the Washington Fire Engine Co. No. 1 fire units. The parade formed on E. Pecan St. (present day E. 6th St.), marched West to the Avenue (present day Congress Ave.), and then North to the Capitol Building. The fire units, decorated with crimson banners, were followed by a formation of 200 volunteer firefighters.
In later years, the celebration became more elaborate. In 1876 the Austin Statesman wrote “…….the most imposing scene and procession and display of elegant horses, ten in number…………the horses alternated according to color and were adorned with flags and streamers, and their hoofs were even bronzed and shone like gold.”
During the annual festivities, the Fire Department would stage competitions for the fastest hose company, tallest firefighter, ugliest firefighter, wittiest firefighter, and many other assorted categories. Because of these San Jacinto Day commemorations many of the surviving Department ornamental relics are dated April 21st and are on display at the Austin Fire Museum.
San Jacinto Day was an annual event for approximately 50 years and was often one of the largest community gatherings in Austin until the early 1900’s and the end of the volunteer era.
On June 1, 1916 the Austin Fire Department became an all paid fire department with 27 members. With so few families associated with the department, the enormous annual celebration began to shrink until the tradition of celebrating San Jacinto Day in the Austin Fire Department disappeared.
In 2007 The Emergency Services Pipe and Drum Association with the Austin Fire Museum undertook an annual event to revive this tradition and rebuild the lost traditions.
This 2017 San Jacinto Night will mark the 10th anniversary of this celebration of brother and sisterhood of the fire service in our community.