Friday, July 5, 2013

The Fire at Douglasville Grammar School

Think about Church Street for a minute. 
What are the main focal points as you mentally go from one end of the street to the other?

You might mention the large Regions Bank building, City Hall, the new conference center and parking deck or even the former First Baptist Church building.
The Douglasville City Cemetery might be your focal point or the recently vacated jail or even the armory building.

All of these are worthy focal points, but why don’t we zero in on the space between the church and the armory building.
Today we know a fire station sits there, but between 1918 and 1955 the space was home to Douglasville Grammar School, a three-story brick and wooden structure housing 25 classrooms and anywhere between 600 to 800 students.

From the pictures I’ve located it was a lovely building. Even though it wouldn’t meet today’s education needs, it would be a nice structure to connect with our past for offices, meeting rooms or even a boutique hotel of some sort.
Sadly, we lost the building forever on January 27, 1955 when a slow moving fire took it from us.
The fateful day was a Thursday.  Students and staff had already gone home when Jimmy Gable, a high school student at the time, noticed smoke billowing from the building as he traveled down Church Street around 5 p.m.

A newspaper article a few days later advised several surrounding communities helped with fighting the fire including Austell, Marietta, Villa Rica and even Atlanta, but the fire was too far out of control.
Even though the building was a total loss, a few of the high school boys and men on the scene were able to remove some of the desks from the basement classrooms and, most of the school’s lunchroom equipment was saved.

There had been some initial speculation that water-pressure had been an issue in fighting the fire, but it was ruled out. The cause of the fire was thought to have started in the school’s boiler room.
The school’s principal, Mrs. H.N. Kemp and Board of Education Superintendent, J.E. Walton scrambled to provide a place for the students to finish out their school year. Double sessions began at the high school with the older students attending class from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the grammar school students were in class from 1 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.

A new grammar school that had already been planned was quickly built, and as you already realize – Douglasville Grammar School did not rise again along Church Street.
The school became a memory for the hundreds of students and teachers who called it their educational home for 37 years.

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