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Scott County, Virginia


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Kingsport Times-News, Thursday, November 21, 1957

Fire Levels Gate City School

Blaze Starts In Building Boiler Room


By Doyle Howard


GATE CITY, Va. --- An early morning fire swept through the old Shoemaker Elementary School here today virtually leveling the structure.

     The flames, once they had gained headway in a wide natural draft between the walls, quickly consumed the three-story building.

     The fire broke out in the furnace room in the southwest corner of the basement of the building and was confined to the basement and the first floor for about two hours.

     The firefighters were helpless in near freezing temperatures unable to get at the smoldering flames until they had broken into the open in the upper floors.

Long A Landmark

     The school which opened as a four-year college here in 1897 had long been a landmark in Southwest Virginia.

     Circuit Court Judge Ezra Carter, one of Scott Countyís oldest citizens, said the building was named after a Confederate War hero, Col. James L. Shoemaker.

     Judge Carter said that Col. Shoemaker had contributed $5,000 toward the construction of the college.

College Discontinued

     The college was discontinued and the building served as a high school from 1906 to 1923.

     It had been an elementary school since an additional building was constructed in 1923 for high school classes.

     In 1956 the high school moved to a new and modern structure about one-fourth of a mile from the site.

Crown Was Pushed Back

    A surging crowd of spectators had to be pushed back by firemen and police as they attempted to get a close look at he fire.

     Several hundred dollars worth of equipment was saved by volunteer workers from one side of the structure while the other was in flames.

     Salvaging work continued until smoke and falling debris forced the men to abandon their task.

Equipment Saved

     Most of the equipment saved was from the cafeteria in the basement on the northwest side of the building.

     The flames were watched in awe by several hundred students who were awarded and unexpected holiday by the roaring flames.

     The fire was discovered by Ezra McNutt, the school janitor, when he went to the furnace room at 6 a. m. to check a fire he had started an hour earlier.

Flames Confined At First

    He said the flames were then confined "behind a boiler" but fwere eating their way to the ceiling.

     The janitor said he ran to a nearĖby school building and told another janitor to call the Fire Department. He said the alarm was finally sounded by an unidentified soft drink salesman who was making a delivery at the school.

     The Gate City Volunteer Fire Department responded with two trucks and about six men when the alarm was turned in. they were late joined by some 18 other workers.

Tried To Hold Flames

     Firemen attempted to hold the flames in one side of the structure but their efforts were in vain.

     Scott County School Superintendent Paul Collins said that the building was covered for $65,000 in insurance and that the equipment was insured for $13,000.

     A spokesman at the superintendentís office said that the building was condemned in 1950 but that repair had been made.

700 Without Classes

    The spokesman said that fire would leave about 700 pupils without classrooms.

     Superintendent Collins said that no immediate plans had been made for finding new classrooms for the students.

     "Right now, I couldnít even begin to think about that." He said.

Addition Built in 1915

     Information available at the superintendentís office showed that an addition to the burned building was built in 1915. This was the section that housed the furnace room.

It was here that the fire started and was confined for some time.

The first wall of the addition toppled at 8:30 a. m. and the others soon followed.

Three sides of the original building an one side of the addition were left standing.

Planning To Dynamite

Firemen were planning to dynamite these walls to eliminate and unsafe condition at press time.

     The local fire department was aided by one truck and six firemen from Kingsport directed by Chief C. M. Kenner.     Kenner said his department was called at 8 a. m. and that the building was doomed when he arrived.

     Gate City firemen were under the direction of Chief Greg.


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