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Dramatically, at midday on February 12, 1879, a fire destroyed most of the Edifice except for its outer walls. Greencastle had experienced two major town fires in 1874 and 1875, which had virtually wiped out the south and east sides of the public square and much of downtown, including many fraternity halls. Hence the city fathers had been wrestling with the problem of an adequate water supply and a fire company, which had not been yet resolved. The Edifice fire climaxed this series of disasters.

The fire began at noon, and the fire company arrived about a half hour after its discovery because of a delay in getting the horses that pulled the equipment from the livery stable. Almost immediately water from the nearest cistern was used up; the fire lasted about four hours. The students tried to rescue what they could, and thanks to Captain Wheeler and his cadets there was some system to it all, though later generations might fault the Captain for spending more effort rescuing his cannons than saving books from the library. All the explosives were removed and some of the books were salvaged, many remaining to this day in the library's Whitcomb Collection. Also saved were some specimens from the scientific cabinet and a few odd articles. A student cut the head from the large full-length painting of Bishop Roberts, which hangs reframed today in the hallway outside Meharry Hall. But most of the furniture was gone, the clock destroyed, the charming college bell known for its beautiful tone melted down. To the chagrin of later historians all the records of the preparatory department disappeared.

In two weeks the trustees met, hired an architect, and began rebuilding. The cost was $17,000 and the renamed West College was open for use by the following October. Additions were made on both east and west. The main entrance now faced east rather than north, as originally constructed. The first floor contained a gymnasium and armory with quarters for the military department; the second, an assembly hall and classrooms for the preparatory department; the third, rooms for the university library, the museum, and an alumni hall.



The rear of the Edifice at the time of its
destruction by fire in February 1879.






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Depauw University e-history | E-mail comments to: archives@depauw.edu


People, Events & Traditions

Cyrus Nutt

The Edifice

Tommy Goodwin

Matthew Simpson

John W. Ray

William C. Larrabee

Rebellion of 1856- 57

Literary Societies

Thomas Bowman

The Civil War

Joseph Tingley

Alexander Martin

The Edifice Fire

Bettie Locke (Hamilton)

East College

Japanese Students