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Special District History Tidbits

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Special districts are fundamentally and uniquely American. 

They’ve been with us since before the founding of the nation, have been vital for our growth and development, and are relatively unique to us. No other nation on Earth uses special districts so frequently to solve their problems.

Special districts are rooted in our colonial history, evolving from the early charter companies in the 1600s, which had been created to provide services the local governments could not.

Benjamin Franklin founded the first “official” special district in 1736, the all-volunteer Union Fire Company of Philadelphia.

Also known as the "bucket brigade," the Union Fire Company was established after a ship fire spread, burning the wharf, a marina, and 3 surrounding homes in Philadelphia. This incident gave Ben Franklin the opportunity to advocate for community services to protect citizens and property.

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The district began with 26 volunteers who carried leather buckets and linen sacks to put out fires and remove property from homes, and quickly gained over 50 volunteers from across the city. 

While the history of special districts is not always clear, we do know that there are innumerable brilliant and enlightening tales like this to be told.