THE CONFLAGRATION(S)

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the charter of Centenary University! To celebrate, the blog will be highlighting past posts about Centenary’s history.

Centenary has faced many trials throughout its 150 years, including two fires that occurred over a century apart. Both fires were of unknown origin.

150.06 The Conflagration 1

THE GREAT FIRE OF 1899

The first fire broke out in the original Main Building on October 31st, 1899. The Main Building was one of only a few buildings on campus and housed all of Centenary Collegiate Institute’s dormitories and most of its classrooms and meeting areas. It was built between 1869 and 1874.

Shortly after midnight, a night watchman discovered a fire in the basement and, being unable to fight the flames himself, awoke the institute’s bookkeeper. The two men, joined by three professors roused by the smell of smoke, found the basement fully engulfed. They quickly set out to awaken the building’s occupants, and within minutes, all were awake and exiting the building.

Although the building was destroyed, there were no casualties or injuries. Centenary created an interim program to allow students to finish the school year, and ran a day school while a new building was being constructed.

THE PRESIDENT’S HOUSE

On January 7th, 2015, Centenary University (then Centenary College) suffered another great loss – the President’s House. The President’s House was actually assembled from pieces of an earlier house, an 1890s mansion that originally stood in Morristown. It was moved in the early 1900s by the Hoffman Family, who rebuilt it and lived there for the next thirty-five years. Centenary (Centenary Junior College) purchased the house in August 1945, and turned it into the president’s residence and working space.

Fire departments were alerted to the fire at 4:45 PM, and over 22 different agencies responded to offer their help. Responders to the scene were plagued by bitterly cold temperatures and intense winds that thwarted their rescue efforts. They battled the flames until well after midnight, but the house was a total loss. The president at the time, President Barbara-Jayne Lewthwaite, did not use the house as a residence, so it was unoccupied when the fire started and there were no casualties. Immediately afterwards, plans were made to rebuild the house, and construction is underway. Centenary looks forward to using the new house once it is completed.

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