“No more will the sound of the paddle reverberate through the halls of Old N.C.,” wrote freshman Eric McCoy North, class of 1909, to his mother three days later. “The scene of many a glorious rough-house and the place of golden tradition has become a trembling ruin and a steaming pile of brick and stone and twisted iron. Gone is the pride of Wesleyan, old North College, but the spirit and the glory, which was present at the founding of the college and which has pervaded the old building through three-quarters of a century still lives on to glorify and preserve the University in all calamity.”
At the time of the fire, North College was principally a dormitory, also housing university offices. According to a March 7 Argus article, several students detected smoke apparently coming from the Mystical Seven Society room in the attic around midnight. (“As to cause,” the Argus wrote, “nothing can ever be definitely known.”) A student contacted the fire department and other students notified the men living in the fraternity houses. By 2 a.m., the fire department was finally on the scene. Students helped to fight the flames, which appeared confined to the uppermost floor.
All the while, residents removed what possessions they could. “Just think,” North wrote, “about one hundred men going up and down stairs without any confusion, those going down laden with desks, chairs, beds, trunks and articles of every description. No one lost his most valuable possession, his head.” At 2:30 a.m., the fire appeared to be under control, and Professor F.W. Nicholson removed important college records to his house.
But it was not over. “The fire began to show alarmingly under the eaves and the south section was soon blazing up,” wrote the Argus, reaching its height around 4 a.m. “The spectacle was magnificent and horrible. Flames from the windows of the north section shot out for fifty feet and soon the whole building was one great mass of flame extending upward toward the sky and sending out myriads of glowing embers which were carried from one end of the campus to the other.” No other campus buildings were affected.
Before the end of March, plans were already under way for “a new modern dormitory”—the present building. Construction started in October 1906, with completion in January 1907. Insurance covered only $35,000 of the $130,000 cost (roughly $4 million today), with the remainder raised through a fund drive. Though strongly reminiscent of the old structure, the rebuilt North College is taller and, in the words of the Wesleyan University Bulletin of December 1907, “a splendid and highly commendable improvement over the old building.” UPFRONT —LEITH JOHNSON, University Archivist
The Wesleyan University Archives welcomes alumni, faculty, students, and visiting scholars researching campus buildings or any aspect of Wesleyan’s history.
—LEITH JOHNSON, University Archivist
The Wesleyan University Archives welcomes alumni, faculty, students, and visiting scholars research-ing John Cage, music and public life, or any aspect of Wesleyan’s history.