The Great Fire, Maryland Agriculture College, 1912

Triangle, December 1, 1912

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The Old Barracks and the “New Building” a Smoldering Heap of Ruins – Cadets Fight Fire Gallantly, But to No Avail

While the moon soared to its zenith calmly and amid a cloudless sky on the night of November 29, the landscape for miles around College Park was illuminated by the glare of a conflagration that was, before its extinction, to level two of M.A.C.’s proudest structures to the earth. To the loyal friends of the College who battled with the fire it seemed for awhile that nothing could save the remaining buildings; but in the end the loss was limited to the “Old Barracks” which has served its purpose since 1856, and the “New” Administration Building which was completed in 1904.

The exact origin of the fire will probably never be known. A dance was in progress on the first floor of the “New Building.” The guests were seated in the dining room in the Old Barracks about 10:15 o’clock, when fire was discovered, by a cadet, between the third and fourth floors in the northwest corner of the “New Building.” He promptly notified some of the cadet officers in the dining room, who in turn quietly announced that the College was on fire and requested the guests to go outside the building. The whole [illegible] was orderly and without [illegible]. The cadets then returned to the “New Building” to fight the fire.

As the Thanksgiving holiday had not expired only about thirty-five cadets were in the College. This small band at once attacked the fire, but owing to the difficulty in getting [illegible] the flames and the dense smoke [illegible] quickly filled the building, they were soon compelled to desist fighting the fire and began removing the records from the offices of the President and Treasurer. Meanwhile, the flames had burst through the roof and the upper part of the building became a roaring furnace. Undaunted the cadets struggled frantically to remove from the various rooms of the doomed building their absent College mates’ clothing and personal equipment. In this work they were aided by some of the young ladies, guests at the dance, who braved the dangers of the fire in order to aid the work of salvage.

The falling of a portion of the roof drove every one from the New Building, and, untiring, the cadets turned their attention to the Old Barracks in order to save the building if possible; if not, to empty it of whatever was valuable. While a party of students, now aided by some of the professors who had arrived on the scene, mounted to the roof of the Old Barracks and played streams of water upon portions of the cornice which were ablaze, others were busy carrying trunks and clothing out of the zone of danger.

But the heat was too great and [illegible] long the volume of smoke that poured through the hallways of the Old Barracks from the roaring furnace of the New Building, drove the cadets from the halls and made it urgent that the party on the roof should give up their brave fight. Several narrow escapes from suffocation were experienced as the party slowly beat its way down four flights of stairs through the [illegible] of thick smoke that billowed the halls. One boy became unconscious and was dragged by his companions down to the clear air outside where he quickly revived. By this time the Fire Department from Hyattsville had arrived and joined in the fight to save the other College buildings. The two dormitory buildings were given over as lost and all efforts were concentrated upon the prevention of the spread of the fire from the northwest corner of the New Building to the Science Hall, only about fifty feet distant. It was a long, hot fight, but at last the tide turned in favor of the heroic fighters, most conspicuous and effective among whom was Melton, the janitor of Science Hall.

By this time two companies of firemen from Washington had arrived on the scene, and although they were too late to save the dormitories, they remained until all danger of further spread of the fire was past. From this stage the conflagration was chiefly spectacular; and for those who find the soul thrilled by the awe-inspiring rush of roaring, leaping, gleaming flames crowned by billowing, eddying clouds of smoke, the spectacle was grand, indeed. By four o'clock in the morning the flames had lowered so that the anxious friends of old M.A.C. could seek some rest for tired bodies.

Members of the Faculty and friends in the neighboring towns took the homeless cadets under their care for the short remainder of the night. In the morning the cold glare of daylight showed the blackened walls of the Old Barracks still standing though badly cracked, while the New Building was a smoldering heap of ruins.

The loss, including the loss to the students whose effects could not be removed from the buildings, will probably total $150,000. The College risk was nearly covered by insurance. The fire probably started by the crossing of electric light wires between the floors of the third and fourth stories of the New Building.

As soon as the Faculty could be assembled resolutions were passed expressing the determination to keep up the work of the College without break in spite of the loss. The boys will reassemble at noon on Wednesday, December 4, and they will be assigned to temporary quarters in the neighboring villages until new dormitories can be provided. This action was endorsed by the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and it is expected that all of the boys will be back to College during the week.

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