Story of 1901 Fire and Aftermath
On Wednesday, December 11, 1901, tragedy struck the College of Wooster’s campus. Around 2:45 am, David Gill, a janitor, reported a fire in the main academic building after he heard an explosion. By the time the fire department arrived, the fire continued to burn uncontrollably.1 Students and faculty could only watch helplessly as the walls and ceiling of the main academic building collapsed and the fire burned unabated “with a red and horrid glare”.2 The mood turned despondent as students and faculty realized that the fire had destroyed valuable science equipment and Professor Scovel’s unpublished manuscript. President Holden was out of town when the fire struck, but sent a telegram to the College: “We have lost our building. Let us stand together until we shall rear another”.3 The students, faculty, and community were still reeling from the effects of the fire, but a mission to raise money to rebuild a stronger and larger campus quickly began. Although the cause of the fire was never determined, most believed that an explosion in one of the chemistry labs was responsible.4 Immediately after the fire, the faculty met in the library to discuss what action needed to be taken, followed by a 10:00 am meeting with the students in the gymnasium. Students sang the college song to keep up morale and the decision was made to finish the academic year only a day late and hold final examinations in the library.
1 “Flames Work Destruction. The Outlook Encouraging,” The Wooster Voice, December 14, 1901, Vol. XXI, No. 14.
4 Louis E. Holden, “Autobiography”, 1926, Presidents Box 4, College of Wooster Special Collections.