One hundred and one years ago today, November 29, 1912, the small group of Maryland Agricultural College (MAC) cadets and their dates attending a Thanksgiving dance in the Barracks were startled to hear an alarm raised in the midst of their celebration. Immediately the young men and women leaped into action, racing to the neighboring Administration Building, where the fire had started in the attic, to fight the flames and try and salvage their possessions and the college’s records, furniture, and equipment.
The intense heat, dense smoke, and lack of an adequate water supply on campus spelled disaster, and the conflagration spread to the Barracks. Fire-fighting equipment brought from Washington by train sat unused at the station in College Park; there was no one there to unload it. By dawn the following day, the MAC’s two central buildings were completely destroyed, and many feared the fire heralded the end of the young college.
The fire devastated the Maryland Agricultural College (MAC) community. Although a number of academic buildings were untouched, the two largest campus structures at that time lay in smoldering ruins. In today’s terms, not a single dormitory or dining hall would remain, and Memorial Chapel and Main Administration would be destroyed. University officials would be scrambling to resume operations and retain the student population, and President Loh would resign in despair over the enormity of the disaster.
Fortunately the MAC administration and student body proved resilient, and classes resumed after only a six-day hiatus. All but one student returned to school, families in the surrounding communities opened their homes to board the students, and classroom assignments shifted easily. The trustees immediately began planning the construction of new buildings, including Calvert Hall, the oldest dormitory currently in use, dedicated on May 30, 1914.
From the ashes of this incredible loss rose the internationally renowned institution we know today as the University of Maryland, built on the strong resolve and vision of MAC’s leaders and commitment of our cadets.
For more detailed information about the fire and its aftermath, visit the Great Fire website (http://www.lib.umd.edu/univarchives/fire/index.html) and watch the recent TerpVision story about fire.