Friday, April 2, 2010

Disaster - The High School Consumed in Flames

Have you ever had the experience of being woken from a sound sleep, being incoherent or not grasping what someone is telling or asking you? To this day, that is what I remember about the night of March 27, 1962.

Around midnight, I was woken by my father who informed me the High School (our current Center School) was burning! I probably made (know I did make) some inappropriate comment and continued to doze. As the reality finally sunk in, I sat up with a start and looked out the window. We lived on the top of Barton Hill and my bedroom overlooked the Village Center. Flames had enveloped the entire downtown illuminating the night sky. Normally at that hour it would have been pitch blackness. That night however, the Congregational Church glowed yellow as the flames danced higher than the perch of that pointed steeple spire.

The blaze as reported in the Middletown Press showing the second story engulfed in flames.

Near total destruction to 16 classrooms – the entire Bevin Boulevard wing –totaling $600,000, occurred. The auditorium/gymnasium and the portion known as the old Center Grammar School was saved. A couple days later, some of us were allowed into the school to retrieve books if our lockers had been on the first floor of the burnt wing. It was an amazing outpouring by members of all the classes. Then grades 8 – 12 attended the high school. A huge percentage volunteered to assist in whatever cleanup we could, salvaging books and organizing them to be redistributed. School was cancelled for a week as the Board of Education, School Officials, Town Selectmen and numerous organizations such as the American Legion, the Library Board and Congregational Church all pitched in.

Immediately, those portions of the Bevin Boulevard wing salvageable were cleared, cleaned and made ready, as normalcy, or the closest we could get to it, set in.

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