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The 1956 Marple Newtown High School Fire

Monday, March 22, 2021 9:30 AM | Doug Humes (Administrator)

On April 9, 1956, just past Noon, custodian George Earle was eating lunch in a basement room of the high school when he smelled smoke. He opened the door to an adjacent storage room and found it in flames. At the same time, teacher Anne Campbell saw smoke, and instructed her class to leave the building. The fire alarm sounded. A contemporary news article noted that 750 pupils and 38 teachers filed out in orderly fashion in two minutes.

The fire alarm was supposed to alert the nearby fire companies. But someone noticed that the phone wires from the building has been burned. Two students jumped in their cars and raced to the Newtown and Marple fire houses to give the alarm. Teacher Harry Harvey ran to his room to get records and money from an office safe and found himself trapped. Several students grabbed a nearby ladder and put it up to his window and Harvey climbed down. Students and teachers worked together to try to rescue records, musical instruments and furniture from the building. Eric McGillicuddy, great grandson of Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack, was hit in the arm by a chair and taken to the hospital for treatment. Responding firemen from 13 local companies poured water on the fire, and several suffered smoke inhalation, including Marple Chief Newt Kerber. At 3:05 pm, Newtown Chief George Mackey declared the fire under control.

The fire destroyed the original 1914 portion of the building, causing $500,000 in damages. The silver lining? The million-dollar addition then under construction largely escaped damage. Classes were suspended that week while the school board met to devise a plan for getting the students back to the classroom.

The original 1914 Marple Newtown High School (before additions)

The Haverford Junior High building had been recently closed for renovations, and so Haverford offered that building for use, and all grades but 11th and 12 grade went there temporarily.

Marple Newtown students at their temporary school - the Haverford Junior High building.

Marple Newtown students at their temporary school - the Haverford Junior High building.

The upperclassmen were relocated in the incomplete new addition, while work continued all around them. 7th grades were split up and attended classes at Garrett Williamson Lodge and the Marple grade school. In the Fall, the 10th thru 12th grades attended the intact portion of the old high school building for a morning session and the 8th and 9th grades attended from Noon to 4:15. Double sessions continued until January of 1958 when the new high school opened, and the renovated old building became the junior high.

The new Marple Newtown High School opened in January of 1958

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