The Campus Living Room
By Mike Greife
It was during the wee hours of a cold, winter morning on Saturday, March 6, 1915, when a fire of disastrous proportions threatened to delay the opening of the spring term for students of Normal School No. 2 in Warrensburg. However, that threat was quickly diminished when the Warrensburg community rallied around the school and its faculty, staff and students to assure that classes would continue uninterrupted.
It was night fireman John Butler who looked out of the window of the powerhouse on the windy night to see Old Main, the school's main classroom building, on fire. He quickly sounded the alarm, and the local fire department fought six inches of snow and a frozen fire hydrant in an attempt to save the building.
However, at daylight it became obvious that Old Main, which had been built in stages between 1872 and 1882, along with the Science Annex and the Training School, had been destroyed. Although much of the furniture, including two pianos, had been carried from the Training School and saved, 45 years of academic records and 40,000 volumes that made up the school's library also were lost.
Normal School President William J. Hawkins announced the next day the spring term would begin on Monday as scheduled, much to the amazement of some. However, with his announcement, the Warrensburg community sprang into action to assure that the president's promise was kept.
Community leaders joined normal school administrators in surveying the community for locations in churches and public schools where classes could be held. Every church in the community offered facilities, as did the local fraternal organizations. Private homes with large rooms offered accommodations, as did Selmo Park, the Nickerson home that was later to become the president's residence. Classes started as promised, and the students in the Training School reported, as scheduled, on Tuesday morning.
Jesse J. Culp, president of Warrensburg's Commercial Club, called a meeting of community leaders, and committees of business and community leaders were formed to assist normal school officials. A committee was formed to obtain books to replace those lost in the library, and a citizen committee departed for Jefferson City to meet with Gov. Elliott Major about funding to rebuild the Normal School.
Major called on the House and Senate to appropriate funds for reconstruction. Within days, legislators forwarded funding authorizations totaling $470,000, including $280,000 for a new administration building and science hall and to rebuild the training school,The fire also fed the rumor mill that due to the massive loss, the Training School would leave Warrensburg and relocate to another community where facilities were readily available. The president of Normal School No. 1 in Kirksville even offered President Hawkins the opportunity to send the Normal
No. 2 students to his school. The quick action of the governor and legislature quickly put to rest the rumors.
Construction began on the new Science Building, and the cornerstone for the new administration building was placed on July 11, 1916. Salvaged from the rubble of the fire, the cornerstone of Old Main later was placed in the base of the right gatepost at the north entrance to campus.
-With acknowledgement to Education for Service by Leslie Anders