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Venice history buffs pitch a new home for ‘Old Betsy,’ the city’s 94-year-old fire engine

Article Courtesy of Earle Kimel and Sarasota Herald-Tribune (READ FULL ARTICLE)

Venice Heritage Inc. wants to build a display building to store “Old Betsy,” the city’s 1926 LaFrance fire engine on the Venice Cultural Campus. The hurricane-hardened structure would feature windows, sheltered by an arcade, where people could view the 94-year-old vehicle. [RENDERING PROVIDED BY BEECHWOOD BUILDERS]

Venice Heritage Inc. wants to build a display building to store “Old Betsy,” the city’s 1926 LaFrance fire engine on the Venice Cultural Campus. The hurricane-hardened structure would feature windows, sheltered by an arcade, where people could view the 94-year-old vehicle. [RENDERING PROVIDED BY BEECHWOOD BUILDERS]

VENICE, FL: Earl Midlam wants to build a new home for Old Betsy, the 1926 LaFrance Fire Engine — which is older than the city of Venice itself and was once used to fight fires from Gulf Gate to Englewood.

Tuesday, Midlam — one of the main caretakers of the 94-year-old engine, who also drives it during parades — and Venice Public Works Director James Clinch, will bring a proposal to the Venice City Council for a display building to be constructed with private funding on the Venice Cultural Campus.

“We need to preserve it; it’s in mint condition right now, especially with the air conditioning,” Midlam said.

Air conditioning is one key feature of the proposed $310,000 hurricane-hardened structure that would be located on the campus, at the corner of Nassau Street and Milan Avenue — positioned in such a way that it doesn’t even impact the number of parking spaces on the site. Other features include glass garage doors and windows, so people can stop and look at Old Betsy when she’s not out on parade. The side windows along Nassau Street would be shaded by a covered arcade and include benches for people to sit.

A solar panel on the roof would provide power for the garage interior to be lit constantly. “People could go by there day and night; there will be a covered area and some benches where people can sit,” Midlam said. “This way it’s going to be lit up. “You'll be able to see it day and night.”

Venice Heritage Inc. already has an account established to which donors contribute to buy fuel, batteries and other supplies to keep Old Betsy running. (Midlam, a former Venice City Council member, proudly noted that Old Betsy hasn’t cost the city of Venice anything since 2011.)

Local philanthropist William H. Jervey Jr. already has pledged a dollar-for-dollar match up to $100,000 in donations to create a new home for Old Betsy. VHI technically needs to raise another $110,000 on top of that sum, though Midlam said that last $10,000 is a contingency fund.  Tax deductible donations to the effort can be mailed to Venice Heritage Inc., P.O. Box 1190, Venice FL 34284-1190, with “Old Betsy’s New Home” noted on the check.  

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OUR MISSION IS TO

Promote and protect the heritage of greater Venice, Florida
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Preserve the John Nolen Plan of Venice
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Restore and maintain the Lord-Higel House
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Maintain and enhance the historic Triangle Inn
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Enhance the city of Venice Museum and Archives
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Educate the public about the history of Venice