City Hall and Fire Tower (Mid-19th Century), Ustiuzhna, Russia


This view of the fire tower (kalancha) and town hall (gorodskaia duma) in Ustiuzhna (Vologda Oblast) was taken in 1998 by Dr. William Brumfield, American photographer and historian of Russian architecture, as part of the "Meeting of Frontiers" project at the Library of Congress. Located on the Mologa River (a tributary of the Volga River), Ustiuzhna was known already in the mid-13th century for its rich deposits of bog iron, which led to its development as one of the earliest Russian centers of metalworking. Fire was a perennial scourge of Russian towns (built primarily of wood), and in the early 19th century measures were taken to organize a more effective response to this danger. A key part of this effort was the construction of fire towers, which served as observation platforms at the center of towns or police precincts, and as points for relaying fire information via a system of signals hoisted on the tower's mast. The kalancha at Ustiuzhna, dating from the mid-19th century, was a well-preserved example of unusual design. The structure’s masonry ground level supported a wooden upper story (used for local administration) and an octagonal fire tower. The ingenuity of the structure proved its undoing: within two years of this photograph, this national landmark burned, leaving only the brick lower walls.

Last updated: January 11, 2016