Calhoun High School Destroyed By Fire In 1942

(02/22/2001)

Transcribed by Norma Knotts Shaffer from microfilms of The Calhoun Chronicle dated 2/19/1942 and 3/5/1942 with photos courtesy of Virginia Weaver Buck.


CHS Fully Engulfed in Flames


Burned Out Shell Following the Fire

2/19/1942 - Fire originating in the electrical control room in the basement of the building gutted Calhoun high school building in South Grantsville early Saturday morning.

The flames were discovered about 12:30 a.m. by Ray Busch and son, Bill, on their way home from work on a drilling well. The alarm was given and it took about an hour for the town hose cart to reach the scene. Then it was found that some of the hose sections were full of ice. More than an hour and a half from the time the blaze was discovered until water was adequately pouring on the flames. By that time flames had spread to the upper floors of the building through the lath and plaster partitions and the oil-soaked wooden floors, and in less than ninety minutes the roof structure was blazing high in one of the most spectacular fires ever witnessed in Grantsville.

More than 500 pupils from all sections of the county were enrolled in the school this year. It was the only high school maintained in the county.

Damage to the building is variously estimated at from $185,000 to $250,000, with insurance of $140,000. The contents of the building, on which a low estimate of $25,000 has been placed, was insured for $5,000.

Only the walls of the building were left standing. They were undoubtedly so badly damaged that they will have to be torn down.

Records of students' grades were saved intact, as well as other files from the office of the principal. The greater part of the equipment of the home economics department which was located in the basement rooms of the building was saved. A large number of typewriters in the commercial department were destroyed, only the machine used in the principal's office being saved. The valuable equipment of the manual training shops were removed several months ago to the NYA training building above town and were not in the fire.

The building was built in 1924 by comparatively high tax levies running over a number of years, and cost in the neighborhood of $250,000.

High School Will Be Continued

Arrangements for continuing the present year of high school will be made at a meeting of the board of education with principal M.T. Hamrick and other teachers of the school Monday afternoon.

The two local churches, the American Legion, the Masonic lodge, Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc., and other organizations and business men in Grantsville are cheerfully cooperating in every possible manner to furnish space for classrooms.

Seating and desk arrangements is the worst trouble the board will have to contend with. Only about a hundred school chairs were saved from the fire.

In the next issue of the Chronicle we will be able to give details of the school's reorganization, place of meeting of the various classes, and other information of interest to the pupils and patrons of the school.

Must Rebuild High School

Regardless of the times, war conditions, priorities, or what have we, the Calhoun county high school system must be re-established. No greater calamity could befall us than to have the boys and girls of the county out of school for four or five years at the age when their characters are most easily moulded. Today's freshmen in high school, and possibly those back further in the grades, will be needed to rehabilitate the country after we win this war.

It is too soon to talk of definite plans for this work, but we must be ready to make any sacrifice to get the school system working again. We should have expert advice in all phases of the matter. The building program should be worked out by folks who know more about this than do any of us. The transportation end of the business should be considered; thirteen year-old children should not be kept up from four o'clock in the morning until seven at night in order to do first year work in high school. Junior high schools in various sections of the county may be the answer to some of our most vexing problems.

Time should be taken out to give these matters most earnest consideration, but we must bear in mind that this priority business is not going to get any better for several years.

3/5/1942 - Insurance adjusters have been on the ground but so far have come to no agreement with the board of education as to the amount of damages that will be paid. It is said the adjusters are unwilling to pay for the walls which remain standing. The walls were built of a variety of stone far inferior to the grade of stone which is being used in the new court house, and were laid up by unskilled workmen in the cheapest manner possible. Many feel that the damaged walls are totally unfit for a modern building. If there is any way to avoid it the people of the county are not going to sell for less than a first class building.

Umpires have been chosen by the board and the insurance companies to settle the question of the value of the standing walls.

The building is said to have been partially covered by policies in several old line stock companies in the amount of $140,000.00. Contents were insured for $25,000.00.

High school is progressing as well as could be expected in various buildings and rooms in the town under the direction of Principal M.T. Hamrick. Study hall and assembly is conducted in the American Legion building on Court street. Rooms in the Calhoun County Bank basement, the Methodist and Baptist churches, Masonic building, W.J. Mathews store basement, Chevrolet garage, Godfrey L. Cabot building, NYA building above town, and possibly other places are being utilized for class rooms. Teachers and students are cheerfully doing with what have and making the most of it. It may be that the uses of adversity are as sweet as they were in the days of Avon's bard, an that something good will come of our recent misfortune.

No plans have been made by the board of education for rebuilding the high school or otherwise improving school conditions in the county. Little can be done until the matter of the insurance is adjusted. Then the question arises of whether or not federal or state funds to help with the project will be available.

The business of rebuilding the high school and providing better housing for some of the graded schools of the county where junior high school work may be done is something that should be given the most earnest consideration of all citizens of the county. Due study should be given the matter by those capable of advising the rest of us, but there should be no shilly-shally delay, even if an election is approaching.

The welfare of the youth of the county at this particular time is of much greater importance than the personal ambitions of some jaybirds who would hamstring their own kids and hang them by the heels rather than take a defeat in pycaunish politics.

Every family and every faction, political or otherwise should be able to get down around the table and work out something that will give Calhoun county children a whopping fine school system, even if everything else is looking tough all over the world.


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