The Great Fire

THE GREAT FIRE – repost

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.

THE FIRE

The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.

THE BUILDING, ENGULFED

At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.

AFTERMATH, INTERIOR

THE RUINS OF C.C.I.

All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.

CENTENARY COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE NEW MAIN BUILDING

The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.

 

 

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THE RESURRECTION

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.

150.07 The ResurrectionAfter the fire of 1899, the Centenary community worked hard to rebuild the campus and revive its spirit. Professor Albert O. Hammond, head of the Classical Languages & Literature Department, was instrumental in keeping the school afloat. He took on the monumental task of creating, running, and paying for an interim school for the 1900-1901 school year.

During this time, the school focused on raising money to rebuild. The school built a new administration building and two dormitories. The three buildings were separate but viewing them from the front created the illusion of one massive building.

For the next ten years, students would celebrate the anniversary of the 1899 fire with a ceremony called the Salamander Celebration. Salamanders, as myths stated, were created from fire and emerged from flames as better-equipped and more magnificent beings. The ceremony ended with the burning of a miniature replica of the school symbolizing the rekindling of school spirit.

After the fire of 2015, Centenary made plans to replicate the President’s House. Construction is underway right now. Once completed, the house will be available as a residence for the President and his or her family, and as a location for special events.

The information in this post was taken from Albert O. Hammond, New Main, Salamander Celebration, and The President’s House.

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.

PROFESSOR ALBERT O. HAMMOND

Over the years, Centenary University has had many supporters devoted to its success. Professor A. O. Hammond is no exception; he dedicated over forty years to Centenary as a teacher of Greek and Latin, stood by the school through its extreme highs and lows, and earned the respect of students and staff alike.

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond joined the Centenary Collegiate Institute (CCI) faculty in 1878 as the head of the Classical Languages and Literature Department. He taught Greek and Latin, serving Centenary for forty-six years before retiring in 1924. A “scholar and gentlemen, [Professor Hammond] stood by CCI through prosperity and adversity, gaining the sincere respect and even reverence of generation after generation of CCI college preparatory students” (Custard, 63). In 1917, Hammond wrote the “History of the Centenary Collegiate Institute Compiled from Original Documents and from the Memory of Events Quorum pars parva fuit by Albert O. Hammond, A.M., during forty years a Member of the Faculty of C.C.I.”. Thanks to his manuscript, a great deal is known about the early years of Centenary. The book Through Golden Years describes Professor Hammond’s manuscript as a “priceless original source from which copious quotations have been made” (Custard, ix-x).

Professor Hammond was essential to Centenary’s success. When the school building was destroyed in the fire of 1899, the President and the Board of Trustees decided that the students and faculty would be dismissed until a new building could be constructed. Professor Hammond strenuously objected, feeling that the students should be able to continue their education uninterrupted. It was left to him to “open and conduct the school during the year 1900 – 1901…with the understanding that he should be financially responsible for the undertaking” (Custard, 89). He ultimately accepted the proposal. Thirty-four students remained in school, taking their classes in a rented hall and boarding with local families. Professor Hammond and recent Goucher College graduate Miss Hannah M. Voorhees each taught eight classes a day. Their hard work meant there would be no break in the continuity of Centenary’s history – no year without a graduating class.

postcard 47

While Professor Hammond taught classes in a rented hall, the new Main Building was being built.

The students of Centenary called Hammond their ‘Beloved Instructor’ and dedicated the 1906 yearbook to him. In 1940, he and his wife, who taught art at Centenary for twelve years, were honored with the Hammond Memorial Gates. A residence hall was dedicated in his honor in 1956 (it was located off the traditional campus, and was at some point sold). “Invariably too, alumni speak with admiration, even veneration, of Professor Hammond, the scholar and gentleman, dignified, kindly, serious, yet with a sense of humor.”

Here follows a letter of thanks to Professor Hammond from an alumnus of CCI:

“While I was at C.C.I., I never did very much with my Greek; I gave too much time to other things and especially foot-ball, but later I realized, as you told us one day in class, its inestimable value to tone’s education and from that time on I made Greek and Greek culture as much a part of myself as possible. So that during the war, serving for two years and four months as a Y.M.C.A. secretary, I was able to entertain and instruct the boys with many a pleasant Greek story; this was especially true during the time I was serving at the front. So you see that you too were serving unwittingly. I wanted you to know this and to thank you for all you have done for me, even though my gratitude is expressed rather late.”

Professor Hammond was greatly missed after he retired but long remembered by students and staff for his contributions to campus life.

 

THE GREAT FIRE

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.

THE FIRE

The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.

THE BUILDING, ENGULFED

At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.

AFTERMATH, INTERIOR

THE RUINS OF C.C.I.

All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.

CENTENARY COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE NEW MAIN BUILDING

The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.