This Month In Campus History: Fire!

Late one Saturday night on February 1, 1908, alarming news interrupted a social of the academy commercial class being held on the first floor of the Academy Building: the roof, the roof, the roof was on fire!

In The Spirit of Ricks: A History of Ricks College, 1888-1997 (available in the McKay Library and the Special Collections reading room), David L. Crowder detailed the response of teachers, students, and townspeople in saving the Academy Building. James Anderson, a teacher at the college, saw flames leaping from the building roof and ran to the Academy. Anderson and three students, Claude Ellsworth, Joe Loveland, and J. William Jardine, alerted the academy commercial class on the first floor and climbed to the attic to stop the fire. Attendees of the social brought a pan of hot chocolate to toss on the fire, while the four men used overcoats to beat the flames. Ellsworth went so far as to step onto the roof to toss burning shingles to the ground and pour water from buckets handed him by a quickly formed bucket brigade. Several well-mined yet misguided townsfolk also came to help, trying to save chairs, typewriters, and pianos by throwing them away from the flames and down the stairs (the typewriters were ruined, but the pianos were saved when others intervened). The fire was out by the time the fire department arrived and the academy commercial class returned to their social and to make another batch of hot chocolate (Crowder, 27-28).

The Academy Building in 1906. Notice how it rises above the surrounding sagebrush; easy to see flames on the roof.

The Academy Building in 1906. Notice how it rises above the surrounding sagebrush; easy to see flames on the roof.

A picture of the class of 1908. Unsure of who here, if any, was involved in putting out the fire.

A picture of the class of 1908. Unsure of who here, if any, were involved in putting out the fire.

As detailed in the Minutes of the Board of Education in Bannock Stake (available by request in the Special Collections reading room), later that month the Executive Committee of Ricks Academy authorized the purchase of overcoats for the young men “who were first at the scene of the fire . . . and whose overcoats were practically destroyed in fighting the flames” (Minutes, 204). From the minutes, it appears Anderson and Loveland both received coats (the committee authorized $30 for the purchase), as Ellsworth said he had lost no coat. The next meeting President Heath reported that Ellsworth had felt slighted because he had not received the same recognition as others and it was agreed that Ellsworth should also receive a coat (another $15 was allowed to be paid for a coat). Good thing, too. If February then was like it is now, living without a coat would be miserable here this time of year.

For more information, visit us to see our Campus Photo Collection for additional images of the Academy Building and various class photos. You can also read David Crowder’s account of the fire in The Spirit of Ricks: A History of Ricks College, 1888-1997, available for checkout in the library or for reading in Special Collections (call number LB2369.R68C76 1997). Additional details are available in the Minutes of the Board of Education of Bannock Stake Commenced in 1888, available in Special Collections (call number: LD4711.R52M6).

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