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Fire and Police Stations

Madison's Old Central Fire Station & Police Station (1900 ca.)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-23411

Police Chief Henry Baker

In May 1897 Henry C. Baker was named Madison’s police chief. He revolutionized the force, bringing the men under civil service, starting the patrol system, and, in 1900, building a new police station. He also began trying to establish sub-stations throughout the city in 1905. The entire force at that time consisted of one captain, one detective, one station keeper, one patrolman, one merchant policeman, and nine regular policemen. The day shift was noon to 11 p.m., and the night shift 11 p.m. to noon. The policemen all walked beats, and had to call the station every 30 minutes so they could be dispatched wherever necessary. The force had a handful of vehicles – a patrol wagon, ambulance and contagious wagon, and a wagon used by Chief Baker – and all were kept at the city barn. His annual budget was $14,000.

The new $10,000 police station was on South Webster Street. Pat Harnen was the first to be locked up there, on a charge of being drunk and disorderly. The tramp room in the basement accommodated 50. There were offices and two cells on the first floor, and the second held the office of the board of fire commissioners, the keeper’s room, the bath, the hospital, and the woman and children’s rooms.

Some turn-of-the-century cases:

The rubber ball nuisance is to be abolished. Last night every person who walked the streets was the target for hundreds of these little balls, made of hollow rubber and fastened to a rubber string which brings them back to the thrower. Young men lined up on each side of the walk had more fun than a box of monkeys pelting the balls into the faces of passersby… Chief Baker has instructed his officers to arrest any parties either selling or throwing the little nuisances. (October 1900)

No more dancing after 12 p.m. Saturday nights! Chief of Police Baker has downtown dances regulated so they let out at midnight on Saturday. Halls located near the outskirts have not been careful to dismiss on time. Lorenz Kleinheinz was fined $5 for permitting and participating in a dance as a public diversion after midnight while celebrating his birthday. (January 1905)

Mayor Curtis tells Police Chief Baker to enforce the no loafing ordinance. Twenty-seven men and boys have been loafing on the National Bank corner, spitting on the sidewalk and making comments to women. (March 1905)

Chief Baker is determined to stop the evil of men and women drinking in the rear rooms of saloons and saloon stalls. He arrested R. B. Hall, the proprietor of a saloon, for allowing two women and one man to drink in the back. The chief crept along the alley in back of the saloon to catch them. (June 1905)

Chief Baker has moved out 300 hoboes prior to the circus coming to town. They congregate on the east side and have beer parties in railroad boxcars. They bother people. (July 1905)

About this time citizens began complaining about young boys swimming in the lakes without clothes. Instead of arresting them Chief Baker went on a three-year crusade to get the city to build bathhouses on lakes Mendota and Monona.

Mark Gajewski