Old Main Fire
On August 27, 1932, the central part of Old Main was completely destroyed by a fire. In this photograph, which was taken from the quadrangle side of the building, firemen are continuing to spray water on the smoldering ruins. The fire escape in the photo could be reached from both the wing and the central part of the building, which can be seen clearly in a photograph of the central part of the building taken before the fire. Note the width of the roadway between Old Main and the fence which surrounded the area between Old Main and the Carnegie Library. After the reconstruction of the building, this roadway was removed. East College is partially visible to the rear in the photograph.
On the day before the fire, young John Zeller, who would later become a faculty member and administrator at Bucknell, had been playing softball on Loomis Field. After the game, to get a drink of cold water, he walked up the hill to Old Main, where he observed the custodial staff polishing the oiled wooden floors in the building. Very early the next morning at his home on South Third Street, he was awakened by the sound of the fire alarm summoning the members of the William Cameron Engine Company to fight the fire.
The fire destroyed twelve classrooms, university records and files, and administrative offices. The extent of the damage is evident from photographs taken after the fire, which show the north and south sides of the center of the building. After the fire, temporary classrooms were created in other buildings, and the administrative offices were housed in West College. Since the commencement hall, located on the third floor, had been destroyed, the only auditorium remaining on campus was Bucknell Hall, but it could seat less than half of the student body.
On October 21, 1932, the Trustees resolved " that the sum of Fifty Dollars ($50.00) be donated to each of the fire companies that responded and went into action at the time of the fire at Old Main and that they also be thanked on behalf of the Board for the fine service they rendered." In 1933, the University reached an agreement with the fire insurance companies that $135,000.00 would be paid " for the loss of 'Old Main'".
"...the sume of Fifty Dollars..." BT '20'-'50, 10/21/1932, p. 2
"...for the loss of..." ib., 6/5/1933, p. 1
The major sources for the information on this page are the Minutes of the Board of Trustees of Bucknell University, 1920-1950 (BT '20-'50) and information supplied by John F. Zeller III, Senior Vice President , Emeritus.