The Ballard Hall Fire of 1927

Posted by - - 1920s, Believers

It was just before 3 a.m. on March 8 when 18 men were roused from their beds by dormmates Carl Boppell and Donald Beal, who alerted them to a fire on the third floor of their residence, Ballard Hall. All men quickly escaped before the fire gained headway. The college’s fire-fighting equipment proved useless, and as the college waited for the fire department to arrive, they stood and watched the blaze devour their belongings and the place they called home. The students gathered on the side lawn, in tears, singing their alma mater.

There would be no solution other than to rebuild Ballard; that much was clear as the day carried on and the fire was extinguished. Despite the devastating loss of the building and its contents (including Dean Orrin Tiffany’s extensive library), the students, faculty and administration rallied to keep their spirits up and rebuild. That morning Dean Tiffany read a telegram sent to the campus from President W.A. Stevenson, who was traveling on behalf of the college, which promised that “a new and greater Whitworth would be built.” After hearing the president’s message, according to The Whitworthian, “the pent-up feeling among the students burst forth into tremendous applause.” Faculty worked to keep classes going despite the sudden loss of space. Even the president’s home served as a classroom. Women students in McMillan doubled up in rooms on the second floor while men took over the third floor, making their entrances and exits by way of fire escapes for the sake of modesty.

Spokane and the surrounding community also joined in the effort: Merchants provided supplies and clothing while churches sponsored benefits and other community members opened their homes to students.

The academic year would continue amid threats of merging financially strapped Whitworth with Spokane University, but, thanks to the efforts of Whitworth trustee Mark Matthews, the Presbyterian Synod came through with an expense fund to keep Whitworth moving forward as its own Presbyterian institution. Construction on the new Ballard Hall began in August, and the building was ready for occupancy in September.