Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 10: Built Environment
Laurel House I, Laurel House II
Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel
Is part of the Esther and Fred Burkhard Collection

Laurel House I [showing roof-line] mccullough_II_067a IN distance on hill Barn, and below, Little Log. On road, Boy’s Industrial (destroyed by fire), Old Log in distance.

LAUREL HOUSE I Fire, January 1940

TAGS: Laurel House I, Fred Burkhard, Esther Burkhard, building fires, disasters, photograph collections, fire hydrants, frozen pipes, Glyn Morris, H.R.S. Benjamin, Laurel House II, Mary Rockwell Hook, Harlan Daily Enterprise

In January of 1940, on a particularly cold night, a curtain caught fire in Laurel House I. It was said that the fire started as the result of a candle lit in the women’s residential rooms. While the cause is still not fully known, the fire quickly spread. For about fifteen minutes the fire was held in check but when the suppression systems failed and the flames began to grow, the building was soon engulfed in flames. Several staff attempted to use fire extinguishers in the building but the extinguishers malfunctioned nearly blinding one staff member. Other staff members were working to unsuccessfully bring water from the nearby fire hydrants. It was soon realized that the hydrants and water lines were frozen solid and they were not able to move water through the system.

All they could do was retrieve as much furniture as possible from the burning building in the brief time given to them. They managed to pull out the dining tables and chairs and then watched helplessly as the building burned to the ground.

No lives were lost but the central building of the School was now gone and there would be no replacement until 1941-42. The local newspaper article that accompanied this set of photographs from the Esther and Fred Burkhard Collection, describes the tragedy.

“Laurel House [I], one of the largest of 19 buildings at the Pine Mountain Settlement School, about 18 miles north of Harlan, was completely destroyed by fire last night at approximate loss of $20,000. Although 20 girls used the building as a dormitory, no one was injured.

The fire was discovered about 8:30 last night, according to Glyn Morris, director of the school, but the fire squad was unable to extinguish it because of frozen hydrants. In the burned building were the dining rooms, kitchen, and laundry for the school.

Origin of the blaze could not be determined, Morris said. He added that about 80 percent of the loss was covered by insurance.

‘School will continue as usual,’ the director explained. ‘We will start building again in a short time and this misfortune should in no way interfere with the work of the school.’

For about 15 minutes the fire squad had the blaze well under control, Morris reported. However, the shortage of water caused by frozen pipes and hydrants hampered the squad’s work so greatly that the blaze spread again and burned the remainder of the building.”

— Harlan Daily Enterprise, n.d.

The photographs shared below are from the Fred and Esther Burkhard Collection. Similar images were not found in the Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections. Thus, this set appears to be the only record of the tragic fire of 1940. Because the images were in the Fred and Esther Burkhard Collection, this may suggest that Fred J. Burkhard was the photographer at the scene of the fire.


See Also:


MARY ROCKWELL HOOK 1940 Architectural Review

MARY ROCKWELL HOOK Correspondence 1940 I Box 19: 2-84
MARY ROCKWELL HOOK Correspondence 1940 II Box 19: 2-85