Normal School Fire of 1914

The State Normal School's only academic building burned down on March 27, 1914. Classes were moved to the nearby high school, with not a day of class missed. A new academic building, now called "Old Main," was built in the same year and is still currently part of the UW-Superior Campus.

The State Normal School’s only academic building burned down on March 27, 1914. Classes were moved to the nearby high school, with not a day of class missed. A new academic building, now called “Old Main,” was built in the same year and is still currently part of the UW-Superior Campus.1

 

The fire made front page news the day after it occurred. (Superior Telegram, Mar. 28, 1914.)

The Normal School fire made front page news the day after it occurred. 2

 

Below is a portion of the story about the Normal School fire printed in the Superior Telegram the day after the fire.

Building to be Rebuilt Immediately

“Nothing but portions of the fire-scarred and smoke-blackened walls remain standing today on the site of the magnificent Superior State Normal School. Fire last night totally destroyed the building at a loss to the state of Wisconsin of $275,000. The building is insured with the state public building insurance fund which is maintained by the state for the insurance of all publicly owned buildings.

The fire was discovered at 11:15 o’clock. Thomas Turbirty, night engineer and watchman in the school, Miss Bernice Jagers, one of the young lady students at Crownhart Hall, Miss Grace Geary, preceptress at the hall, and Leonard Moran, a local young man, discovered the fire about the same time. Turbirty, while making the rounds of the building, heard a strange crackling sound which he took to be caused by sparks on the electric switchboard. Going to the switchboard he examined it and found it to be in proper working order. Continuing his investigation he noticed smoke. He finally ascertained that this came from the office of Miss Kerwin, one of the training school supervisors, located on the first floor, to the left of the main entrance to the school.

Fire Behind Bookcase.

Entering the room he discovered flames between a bookcase and the wall. After turning in a fire alarm he secured a hand-chemical fire extinguisher  and made an effort to stop the flames. In the meantime Miss Jagers, who was just returning to Crownhart Hall from a visit downtown, noticed an unusual light in one of the windows of the school. Going to Miss Geary she told her of what she had seen. The two then watched for a moment.

“The light looked as though it might be a small fire or an electric light, but I couldn’t decide which it was,” said Miss Geary, telling of the occurrence this morning. “Finally I decided to call Mr. Hoover, the day engineer, and have him go to investigate. I got the wring number of the telephone and then called up Prof. Whealdon and told him of what I saw. Then when I looked again I caw that the light had grown larger. Bu this time I was convinced that it was a fire, so I called the fire department.”

Young Moran had also noticed the blaze in the meantime and ran over to the building where he joined Turbirty in his efforts to extinguish the blaze. For a time it looked as though they had it under control. The supply of chemicals being exhausted, Turbirty ran into the kindergarten to secure another extinguisher . . . .” 3

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1“Postcard of Normal School Burning,” image, 1914. University Archives, UW-Superior Special Collections; Superior, Wisconsin.
2“Building to be Rebuilt Immediately,” Superior Telegram, March 28, 1914. Superior Public Library; Superior Wisconsin. Microfilm.
3“Building to be Rebuilt Immediately,” Superior Telegram, March 28, 1914. Superior Public Library; Superior Wisconsin. Microfilm.