The Great North Hall Fire

On October 16, 1937, Slippery Rock University's North Hall caught fire and burned to the ground, all because of one unfortunate ox.

October of 1937 was a big month for Slippery Rock. As of October 6th, six thousand letters had been sent out to Alumni, inviting them to homecoming. Students were getting ready for the homecoming dance, which was planned to take up both gyms, each with their own orchestra. Also featured that night would be an ox roast, a real shindig for Slippery Rock Teachers College. Around campus, the school had plans for a large renovation project, with costs at $860,000 that included improvements on North Hall, and a new library.

In the early morning hours of October 16th, the notorious ox was roasting over a large bonfire. How exactly the fire started remains a bit of a mystery; however, an empty man’s wallet and three flasks that were found near the bonfire paint an incriminating picture.

In addition to 167 female students, the Hall was also home to the President, Dr. Charles S. Miller, and his family. Dr. Miller lived in a large three room residence that featured five bedrooms and a library. The President’s son, Bill Miller, was thirteen at the time, and recalled the smell of smoke that was precursor to the inferno.

The wood frame of the building went up quickly. Thankfully, Dr. Miller’s family, the 167 students, and the other residents of North Hall, all managed to escape the building, and no one was killed or injured in the blaze, however damages in were estimated at $500,000. The Rocket reported seeing two boys jump from a second story window, what they were doing in the girls dorm remains a mystery. Almost the entire structure was leveled by nine o’clock that morning in perhaps the largest fire in Butler County, maybe even Western Pennsylvania. The south tower fire escape and the storeroom were the only recognizable features that remained. Footage of the fire was caught by a student on 16mm film, a short documentary is available on YouTube that uses this footage, and can be accessed through the link below.

The community was quick to respond. The student body held benefit dances, and other colleges sent in money. Funds were needed to replace books and personal effects lost in the disaster, but also for the $500,000 estimated for the creation of a new dorm, in addition to the money already set aside for campus renovations. By winter of that year, President Miller and Emma Guffey Miller broke ground for the new North Hall, the same North Hall standing on campus today.

After the fire, life continued at Slippery Rock. James Sheehy was prepping Anton Chekov’s “The Boor” for a performance on campus, radio dramatist Jill Edwards came to lecture on “The Department of Personality,” and the girl’s hockey team lost to Pitt. The girls from North Hall moved into the boys’ dorm at South Hall, and the boys were temporarily relocated to private residences in town.

On October 16, 1937, an ox roast reshaped the landscape of Slippery Rock’s campus, paving the way for the current North Hall. North Hall still has a girl’s only floor, a testament to its days as a single sex building. Slippery Rock girls, and later boys, got a brand new dorm, the school spent another $500,00 dollars, and homecoming became a bit of a downer, all because of, as the Rocket called it, “a little bonfire.”

Images

Students

Students

Coeds outside of Old Main during the blaze. The edition of The Rocket published on October 26th said: After the way the girls handled themselves during the fire, the boys all agree that we have the finest bunch of girls that could be found anywhere." View File Details Page

After 1

After 1

Taken at 7 a.m. the morning of the fire. Dormitory residents are seen here looking through the rubble for belongings. View File Details Page

Fall of the Tower

Fall of the Tower

"Fall of North Tower" View File Details Page

North and Main

North and Main

The still smoking rubble of North Hall, in the background stands Old Main. View File Details Page

Old North 1

Old North 1

1906 Postcard of North Hall. View File Details Page

Old North 3

Old North 3

A view from campus featuring some of its major landmarks. Left to right: Old Main, North Hall, the Chapel. No date. View File Details Page

Rubble 1

Rubble 1

A photograph taken at 7:30 a.m. Most of North Hall had already been reduced to rubble. View File Details Page

Rubble 2

Rubble 2

This photograph of the ruins of North Hall was taken from the top of Old Main. View File Details Page

South Side

South Side

The south side of North Hall, during the early hours of the morning of the 16th. View File Details Page

Storeroom

Storeroom

The storeroom of North Hall was not nearly as damaged as the rest of the building, which lay almost completely in ruin. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Kevin Lukacs, “The Great North Hall Fire,” Butler County Historical, accessed November 14, 2018, http://butlerhistorical.org/items/show/8.

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