CENTRAL SCHOOL - 1892 - Montgomery InGenWeb Project

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Source: Weekly Argus News, April 9, 1892 p 4

It was 4:15 o’clock Saturday evening and the firemen were lounging comfortably in front of the city building when an alarm of fire was sent in from Box 24, corner of Washington & College streets followed a moment later by one from Box 30, corner of College & Plum, which summoned them to the most destructive blaze that Crawfordsville has experienced in many a day. The horses were hitched in a jiffy and the wagon left the house, but the minute they turned up Green Street a blaze burst from the dome of the Central School building, three blocks away and the firemen realized that there was a job before them. Many a practice run has been made over the same course but Driver Doc Griffin recognized the terrible reality of the situation and the gallant team was sent up the street at a break neck speed that would have done credit to an exhibition run. A line was quickly attached to the hydrant at Hurley’s Corner which was grasped by willing hands and carried to and up through the building onto the third floor while the hose wagon was driven around to the College & Green Street hydrant and a line taken up the south entrance. The scuttle was pushed up but the whole attic and dome was one seething sheet of flame and after playing upon it a couple of minutes and seeing how fruitless it all was they retired to the second floor and the wagon was sent back after more hose and the hook and ladder trucks. It soon became evident the building was doomed and after the ladders arrived all the time was devoted to blooding the first and second floors. In less than 15 minutes from the alarm the massive dome fell with a fearful crash and in probably 20 minutes more the slate roof and heavy roofing timbers began to crash through onto the third floor on the north side and the west wing. By this time, two more line of hose were added, making four in all and those too played upon the flames which were not materially check until 6:30 o’clock. The firemen continued their work till nearly midnight and retired but several men with one line continued to throw water on the smouldering ruins till 7 o’clock Sunday morning.

The Discovery

A number of persons saw the smoke before the alarm was turned in but it seemed that the first discover was made by Chief Dorsey’s wife, who lives but a half block away. She noticed the smoke and sent word to her brother-in-law, Earnest Dorsey, the janitor. Dan Pickett, a fireman and a couple of assistants, were plumbing in the basement at the time and Dan ran to Box 24 and sounded the alarm while Earnest Dorsey, getting a small hose, rushed to the third story and attacked it, thinking that he might be able to check the fire but the minute he pushed up the scuttle, a draft was furnished, the flames swept down in a sheet and he descended his ladder, narrowly escaping serious burns. At that time the fire was under great headway and Dorsey believing that the building was a goner, began to make preparations to move his family and furniture out of the basement.

The Crowds

The Democratic convention and the weather combined, brought an enormous crowd to town Saturday and at the time of the alarm the business thoroughfares were thronged, but 10 minutes later the streets were swept cleaner than were those of the Kansas towns that were visited by Friday’s cyclone. Everybody was there from the blubbering first-year pupils to the seniors and teachers; the townsman; tradesman and farmer. The yard and streets were packed on all sides. Guards were placed on the doors else some of the children, anxious to save a few books must have certainly been killed. As it was the teachers and a few older heads were admitted and did noble service in saving books and other paraphernalia. It was a place to study childrens disposition for, while some were crying bitterly, others were exhuberant and in high glee, anticipating a vacation.

The Injured

It is acknowledged the most dangerous fire that ever visited Crawfordsville; that no one was killed or seriously injured is almost miraculous. As it was, Fireman John Bell inhaled hot air besides being struck by falling bricks and timbers while working in the third story and was taken home insensible. Frank McNeeley had a finger cut nearly off and his brother, Albert, suffers from a broken bone in the back of his hand. Ol Gill received several severe cuts and Jim Kennedy was slightly injured by falling bricks while Dan Pickett is now in bed from over work and exhaustion. While the cornice was burning fiercely on the south side, a ladder was raised and several fool-hardy ones started up. Many turned their faces expecting to see them dashed to the stone steps below, but they were prevailed upon to seek places of safety and not a moment too soon for scarcely had they left when it burned loose and fell with a fearful crash. Onlookers wandered around in close proximity to the falling wires and cornice but ‘tis said Providence has a special eye that watches over fools and idiots and the eye was on duty Saturday for none of the former were killed.

The Origin

A dozen different stories as to the origin were flying around Saturday evening. The first that it was due to a natural gas explosion, gas burning accumulated in the dome and exploded, which the adherents to this theory claimed explained for the sudden puff with which the flames burst forth. It was soon discovered however that there were no gas pipes nearer the dome than the basement and that the gas had not even been turned into them. The most reasonable theory is that advanced by Janitor E. Dorsey and Fire Chief OC Dorsey which is that it caught from the chimneys on the west wing which were being burned out with paper and packing. They think it very probable that rust has eaten away the lining of the chimney between the ceiling of the third floor and the roof and that at this point it caught fire the slats through the dome acting as a draught. Another plausible theory is that some of the flaming paper or packing was blown from the chimney through the slats in the dome, the wind being in that direction. In either case the fire had slumbered for the chimneys were blown out about 3 o’clock.

Water Pressure Supt. Horner of the water works company, says the pressure, when the bell tapped, was 92 #. As soon as the firemen signaled for direct pressure it was turned on and the pressure then ran from 100-120#. It was at a time when the daily papers were being run off and still the pressure was 10# more than the ordinance called for. He says the company has nothing to fear a severe examination of the matter.

Loss and Insurance

The building originally cost about $75,000 but could now be built for considerably less. It was insured for #5,500 divided among the following companies: Northern Assurance $3000, CN Williams agent; Northern Brittish & Merchantile $1,000; German American 41000 and Franklin of Philadelphia $1000 all with CL Thomas; Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Co $3,000, AC Jenison; Royal Insurance, Liverpool $3,000, CW Wright; Phenix $3000, AD Thomas; Queen of Liverpool $3,000, DW Harter; Underwriters Policy Co, $3,000 HS Braden; Germania, of NY, $3000 Ed Voris; Continental of New York, $3,000, Cumberland & Miller; Liverpool, London & Globe, $3,000 EC Voris; Glen Falls, 3,000, George Hough; and $500 on furniture, etc with the Fireman’s Fund Co. Prof. Wellington’s loss on his library and personal belongings aggregates about $500 with an insurance of $200. The printing press and most of the school records were saved.


The trustees have hardly had time to breache, much less to think of rebuilding, but it will be gegun as early as practicable and they hope to have everything ready for the opening of the fall term next September. There has been considerable discussion about a law prohibiting the erection of three story school buildings but as near as can be ascertained a bill to that effect was presented at the last legislature but never became a law. It seems to be the prevailing opinion that if it can be remodeled and made two story without looking dumpy and out of all proportion that should be the course pursued otherwise a scheme has been proposed which seems to meet the approval of all and that is to make it three stories as before but to leave out all partitions and convert the third floor into a large assembly hall which would be quite the thing for school exhibitions and entertainments of a similar character. Such a project was broached when the school was built but on account of the weight of the dome it was not possible to leave out the supports but now this difficulty is abridged for according to the prevailing style of architecture, turrets and fancy towers to relieve the roof would be preferable to the old dome. A competent architect could arch the roof so that it would be perfectly safe and the scheme which is an ingenious one has found decided favor with a number of trustees and those who have served in that capacity and know whereof they speak. Prof. Wellington says such a hall could be used to a great advantage.

Immediate Arrangements

The dreams of pupils anticipating a vacation will be cut short and all will be provided for by next Monday at the farthest. Two rooms in South Hall at the college have been procured for the high school pupils and they will resume their studies tomorrow. There are four available rooms at the Mills building, three at Lincoln and two at Willson. Miss Spillman and Mrs. Wilson with lower grade pupils will occupy the latter two and begin operations tomorrow. Desks are being place in the others and everything will be in order in a few days. There is also a possibility of getting the old Christian Church and a couple of rooms at First Presbyterian church and a couple of room at First Presbyterian Church. Prof. Wellington will fit up an office as centrally located as possible and has the Brooker building corner of Pike & Water streets under consideration.


Lincoln building is insured for $5,000; Mills for $6,500 and Wilson for $4,300. George Hurley kept a continual stream upon his residence else it would have burned. Mrs. Betsy Wasson’s residence the ME Parsonage and Dr. Detchon’s barn also caught but were extinguished before any damage was done. There is a peculiar fascination about the wrecked building and a crowd wandered about the rooms all Sunday morning through the three inches of water and ashes. During the afternoon a big crowd gathered to view the ruins and discuss the situation - kbz

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