Old Sandstone Destroyed By Fire – 1912 On Monday January 15th, 1912 a mass conflagration destroyed the famed old college hall of Mt. Morris College. “ Historic Old Sandstone is no more,” read the headline of Mt. Morris weekly rag, the Mt. Morris Index. Shortly before two O’clock in the afternoon the west side of old sandstones the roof, a fire was spotted near the base of the cupola. A small “jet “ of fire was initially sighted stated the Index. The fire alarm was given throughout the Village by the ringing of the fire bell. The bell was perched high up on the leg of the water tower, just one block due east of the Sandstone. The Villages hose cart (on display at the firehouse even today) was rushed through the zero degree temperatures to the scene by the Villages fire volunteers. Hearing the alarm, hundreds of town folk turned out to assist with anything they could at the scene. The first hose line was laid from a hydrant at the southwest corner of the college campus. As the line was laid into place the hydrant was attempted to be turned on, but the frigid January temperatures had it frozen solid. The hose was disconnected from that hydrant and relaid from the hydrant at “Cripes corner”. The amount of time taken to finally secure an operational hydrant allowed the fire to gain significant headway. As the fire hose finally started flowing water from its brass nozzle the entire west side of the roof was ablaze. The Index reported that “ the flames burst through the roof with a great volume and a dense cloud of smoke was carried high into the air. It was painfully evident the revered old structure was doomed for destruction” Another major set back for the vigilant volunteers was that the hose was found to be full of holes. Also the village had no fire engine either hand powered or motorized, to boost the hoses pressure. The volunteers had to rely solely on the pressure coming from the villages fledgling water main system. The volunteers were trying there hardest to quench the blaze but it was becoming evident that the flames were out numbering our volunteers quickly. It was reported that the water stream from the nozzle could hardly be thrown any higher than the 3rdstory windows. A second handline was laid from the hydrant at “Middlekauff’s” corner but it was never charged for some unknown reason. With no ladders to reach the roof and insufficient water pressure the volunteers attempts were no match for the raging inferno.When the fire was located, the majority of Sandstones occupants were in the College Hall (Now the Kable News Company building) attending classes. The Sandstones roomers quickly left class and headed to their rooms to try and save their possessions. The Index reported that on the fourth floor, the buildings highest floor “ten of the roomers, primarily from the west end of the floor lost everything”. Flames and smoke quickly drove the fourth floor occupants out of the building, retreating down the interior stairs and some even finding refuge by using the buildings fire escapes. About half of the students in the lower floors were able to at least retrieve the greater part of their clothing and personal effects. Some students carried their personal effects from the building. Others simply tossed their steamer trunks and effects from windows. The trunks generally shattering once they hit the cold hard ground. The Index reported” for a brief period the air was full of flying objects that were being thrown out of the windows and it was a dangerous venture to be near the building”. Trunks, clothes, pictures and books rained down the snow covered campus. Thick smoke hung in the brisk winter air as embers fell and were snuffed out by the snow. The gale winds blew sternly from the northwest showering the southeast business district and village with hot ember and ash. The deep January snow snuffed out the embers as they landed. The snow no doubt saved lots of other fires from igniting as well as saved the volunteers lots more work. At one point it was thought that some of the students were caught in the choking smoke and advancing flames. A quick check and rapid double check revealed that everyone had gotten out, mind you some only with the clothes on there back. Professor Sam Sherfy took probably one of the worst losses. He was engaged in teaching a class at the time of the alarm and no one told him of the raging conflagration across the campus. His room was in the west end of the fourth floor, near the origin of the flames. His loss was claimed to be excess of $400 dollars.Onlookers had driven miles to watch the piece of Mt. Morris history consumed into ruins. It was reported the girls over at the phone exchange on the second floor of the Wishard building were inundated with calls wondering what was burning. Once it was reported to be the Sandstone, people hurried to the small Northern Illinois hamlet. The fire ate its way down from the top floor methodically, slowly consuming each and every combustible item before heading to the next floor below. The fire finally reached the ground floor by late afternoon. By 6 O’clock in the evening the majority of the building had been consumed. Spectators slowly returned home as well as the volunteers. The stark roofless walls stood as a mere shell of the prominent institution that was there just hours before. By midnight the ruins were barely glowing. The Index reported that “red glow of the dying embers lit up the open spaces for windows in the standing walls in a manner that made the old structure look handsome in the last moments of her probably existence”The building had had several other fires over the years, but sufficient bucket brigades were always able to extinguish the blazes. The building even had a tornado remove the entire west half of the roof. The fire that eventually consumed the building was blamed on a faulty chimney leading to the heating plant. The fires origin was pointed toward an area on the fourth floor that was used for storage of old furniture and other flammable items. It is believed the heating plant was over stoked to try and keep the buildings steam pressure up. Keeping the pressure up in the heating plant was needed to keep the building warm in the frigid January temps. It is believed the chimney failed in the area of origin and ignited some nearby wood roof framing.The buildings construction was started in 1851 when the Rock River Seminary contracted local builder Jacob Meyer to build the new sandstone. Old Sandstone was built across from the original sandstone, which was built at the start of the Seminary in 1839. The fire building was completed in 1854 after the Seminary’s board secured a loan from Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois to meet outstanding financial obligations. The Seminary was one of the most prominent institutions in the Midwest, let alone the country in the last half of the 19th century. Many influential citizens, several who became important in our nations capitol were school by the Seminary like Senator Cullom, General Lew Wallace and R. R. HittThe building was insured for $4,500 dollars for the structure and $500 dollars for the contents. This was a gross under insurance of the building. When the building was built nearly 60 years earlier it cost in the excess of $20,000 dollars to construct. To add to the loss the building had been recently remodeled and refurnished adding to the loss.Thanks to the true Mt. Morris spirit and pride in the old Alma Mater funds were raised to resurrect old sandstone from the ashes. The native sandstone walls quarried 3 miles southwest of the building site along Pine Creek were found to be sound enough to rebuild. Amazingly enough old sandstone was rebuilt in time for the opening of the 1913 school year. Only Mt. Morris pride and perseverance could complete such a mountainous task. Old sandstone was safe for now………..