"Fire at High School"
as written in the Batavia High School's school newspaper
the "Batavia School and Home Bulletin"
(also contains a history of the high school)
©2002 Transcribed by Kimberly Torp


Batavia High school
Caption reads:
"West School, Front Part Built in 1867; Addition Built in 1898; Now Used for High School.

Vol. III, February 14, 1913, No. 4


Blaze in Tower Causes Much Alarm and Considerable Damage

The historic old tower of the high school building -- grim monitor through four decades over many a pranksome youth and mischievous miss, and silent witness to fierce nocturnal battles for class pennants -- is no more.

The hungry flames of fire-ridden Batavia have claimed another victim, and the old building stands "de-horned" amid the ice of frozen tears mingled with some city water.

At about 3:25 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5th, students and teachers having classrooms in the front of the building were alarmed by the sound of breaking glass falling on the fire escape and steps below.

Mr. MERRICK and one or two students in his room on the first floor ran to the front door just in time to meet a number of citizens running toward the schoolhouse and shouting that the tower was on fire.

Passing back into the building to sound the alarm, Principal MERRICK was met by Miss WHITMORE, who had just been told of the fire by William BENSON, a freshman boy, who, among others, had seen the fire from the outside. The gong was at once sounded and the building quickly emptied, the students not being at all "panicky," because many thought it simply a fire drill. The men teachers rushed for the second floor, and, getting the hose on that floor ready, passed up to the tower, where the fire could be seen burning briskly in the upper part of the structure. The small school hose was too short to be effective. At this discouraging point the firemen appeared at the tower entrance. They had in this brief time made connections and dragged the heavy hose up four flights of winding stairs. Effective work was now done on the inside, while other leads of hose played on the outside. The fire was a persistent one and awkward to get at, and, to make the work still more difficult, the high wind which was blowing carried burning brands onto the roof of the Congregational church, igniting it in three places. One lead of hose was taken to extinguish this.

While the fire fighters were gradually putting out the flames, workers were busy on the inside keeping the water from standing on the floors. The apparatus and nearly all the equipment in both the physics and chemistry laboratories were moved into the west end of the building. The pianos on each floor were also moved to safe quarters.

The fire was undoubtedly caused by sparks from a near-by chimney being blown into the tower, which was filled with bird's nests and was made largely of wood.

Thursday the teachers worked in their departments taking an inventory of all damaged books, fixtures, supplies and apparatus. The loss to building and equipment is fully covered by insurance.

Large chunks of plaster have fallen off in some of the rooms, and the danger of more falling will necessitate metal ceilings replacing the old.

The decorating done a little over a year ago is considerably damaged.

The entire top of the belfry tower was burned away, many windows smashed and the masonry of the tower somewhat damaged by heat.

The old tower has been a landmark in Batavia since 1867, and its destruction turns our attention backward to some of the events in the past history of the school.

To the younger generation it may be news to know that in the year 1838 the east and west sides of Batavia were one school district. School was held in a small, one-story school building, on the lot where the East school building now stands. This soon became too small, and it was decided to make two school districts, to be known as Districts No. 5 and 6.

The school in District No. 5, west side, was held for about six years in the Congregational church, which afterwards became the Catholic church, and stood on the lot north of the present Methodist church. The school was then removed to St. Joe's church, on the present site of the Episcopal church. This served for school purposes for nearly six years, when the church was sold to be used as a "reaper factory."

The rooms on the second floor of the building on the corner of Batavia avenue and First street, now used as a saloon, were secured and used for a short time.

Anticipating the future growth of the town, the taxpayers decided to build a school house. The lot on which the Lutheran church stands was purchased, and a one-story stone building was erected. In 1858 a frame addition of two rooms was made.

In the spring of 1863 the Institute (now Bellevue Sanitarium) was rented and used by the older pupils for one year. Two years after this the school board - consisting of F.H. BUCK, D. HALLADAY and Joel MCKEE -- urged the erection of a new building, which was completed in 1867 at a cost of about $40,000. It was one of the best school buildings on the river at that time. A few taxpayers grumbled because so much space was used for halls and stairways.

The building contained four school rooms, and an assembly room on the third floor. The school numbered about 225 pupils. In 1885 the assembly room was divided and used for classrooms.

The building now known as the Church school was purchased in 1888, remodeled and occupied by the high school. Ten years later an $8000 addition was built on the west side of the center building. The high school came back to the building in 1902.

In the spring of 1911, after much preliminary work, the two districts were again made one.

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