"We Must Rebuild": Milligan College's Fire of 1918
The Milligan College campus had always had some form of a classroom building, beginning with the Buffalo Institute Building. Built in 1867, the Buffalo Institute Building was two stories high with one room on each story. After Josephus Hopwood’s arrival, a new addition was added on to the original structure beginning in 1881, when the Institute became Milligan College. This new addition almost quadrupled the size of the original building and included a library, classrooms, a stage, and a chapel. Another new addition was built in 1913 to replace the old Buffalo Institute portion of the building. This new addition included laboratories and a bookstore. The next year, a gymnasium was added to the building in place of the chapel.
Only two other buildings constituted the campus in 1918: Hardin Hall, which included the kitchen, and the President’s Home (now McCown Business Office). Mee Hall had recently burned in 1915.
The Great War Comes to Milligan
In 1917, Henry J. Derthick became president of Milligan College, immediately traveling to potential donors, working to bring the college out of deep debt. Word War I brought changes to campus, including many of the college members’ involvement in the War Savings Campaign and the Red Cross. In October of 1918, the Student Army Training Corps, a program to train men to be officers while living on campus – in this case, the Administration Building – and attending the host college. While the S.A.T.C. program included volunteers and those drafted, some Milligan students also joined. Shortly after the S.A.T.C. program began on campus, Word War I was over on November 11, 1918. The college celebrated, but the celebration was short-lived.
During dinner on November 16, 1918, a fire broke out in the Administration Building. While some students unsuccessfully attempted to save items from the building, others organized a bucket brigade from the creek. Despite these efforts and those of the Johnson City fire department, only a few pieces of furniture and a few brick walls survived the devastating fire. Many of those living in the building had lost everything, and the college had lost records, the library, and teaching materials. The source of the fire has never been determined, although one of the S.A.T.C. men’s cigarettes was stated as the official cause (Milligan students were not allowed to smoke, but the S.A.T.C. men were).
Even though the college was devastated, work continued. Henry Derthick worked hard during this time to raise funds, including successfully lobbying Congress to pass a bill allowing Milligan to collect insurance money – around $23,000 – from the U.S. War Department. Campus flourished with these campaigns with the addition of Pardee Hall, a new Administration Building that would later be renamed Derthick Hall, and renovations.
Cornwell, Cynthia Ann, Beside the Waters of the Buffalo: A History of Milligan College to 1941, Milligan College, TN: Milligan College History Project, 1989.
Holloway, Clinton J. and Fierbaugh, Dr. A Lee, Scholarship, Community, Faith: Milligan Celebrates 150 Years, Milligan College, TN: Milligan College, 2015.
The Holloway Archives at Milligan College.
(2018)Henry J. and Perlea Derthick, with son, Roger, circa 1917 (thanks for identification and dating to Clinton J. Holloway, Scholarship, Community, Faith: Milligan Celebrates 150 Years, Milligan College, 2015, p. 24)
(1918-10-21)Correspondence to the president of Milligan (mistakenly thought to still be Josephus Hopwood) from Herbert Hoover, the head of the Food Administration, 1918