PHOTO OF THE DAY: 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
The history of the Freeman community is peppered with triumph, tragedy and loss which includes a number of memorable and devastating fires. The Sugar Bowl burned in 1922, Pullman Elevator in 1928, Fensel’s Hatchery in 1943, the Bethany Mennonite Church in 1945, the Park Lane elevator in 1955, Fensel’s Greenhouse in 1979, Jerry’s IGA grocery story in 1981, and the South Church in 1985 — to name a few.
But one of the biggest in this town’s history happened on this day 100 years ago when the Freeman Public School building was destroyed by a dramatic blaze. It happened just after 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, 1923 when the building located on what is today Lion’s Park started on fire (the front of the building faced east). Classes had been dismissed for the day and nobody was in injured, but the two-story wooden structure burned to the ground.
Two years later, after district patrons voted to rebuild — not on the same location but on a brand-new site east of the city — a new brick structure opened that would serve the full district through 1975 and elementary students through 2009.
The picture included with this was taken looking east and shows the back of the school building.
Here’s how the Freeman Courier reported on the fire on the front page of the Oct. 18, 1923 issue.
The public school building that served the community for twenty-three long years was destroyed by fire Friday afternoon. It was a few minutes after four o’clock when the fire alarm was given. The classes were dismissed and all children had left the school ground with the exception of a few who were practicing with some of the teachers preparing for a program. The minute the fire whistle was heard all rushed to the old school house, the firemen were on the scene with chemical engine and complete fighting equipment, had an adequate supply of water and the crowd was confident that the fire would be extinguished in a few minutes as it seemed to have just started but things developed differently than expected by the people watching the smoke coming out of the ventilating shaft which was about all you could see at first.
The first trouble the boys encountered was the trouble of locating the fire because that part of the building where the fire was was filled with smoke. The firemen entered the west room from the east door and were successful in making it out in that room. The boiler room and the coal bin is below the west room which seems to be the place where the fire started. This room was entered from the south by the boys and the hose turned on and they seemed to have things pretty well under control when all of a sudden fire in the attic coming up through the ventilating shaft turned the attention of the boys to fight the flames in the attic but being without a ladder that would reach to the roof of the building the fire had ample time to get a good start. The ladder of a painter was brought but by that time it was considered too dangerous to get on the roof fearing it might collapse so the building was abandoned after the firemen had tried their level best to save the building from being consumed by the flames.
A big crowd watched the building go up in smoke, some of the scholars stood with tears in their eyes. Hardly anything was taken out of the building. The insurance on the building is $6500 and $1000 contents for a total of $7500. Over $1000 were invested in books alone this fall before the school opened. The library contained over 10000 volumes, many new seats were bought lately at $30 a piece. Adding up the whole thing the contents alone is a loss of several thousand dollars not saying anything about the building. The board of education had a exceedingly busy week since Friday trying to make arrangements so that the work of the school can go on with as little interruption as possible. The high school classes will occupy the city hall but not enough rooms have been found so far for the grad school but the board is working indefatigably in their search for rooms which ought to be gratifying news.
As to the origin of the fire nothing definite is known. Some think simultaneous combustion caused it because there was big supply of soft coal in the bin. Other think something caught fire from the stove.