Rockford Area Historical Society News

Terry Konkle – President

Many readers responded to my “Nuggets of Rockford History” question from two weeks ago concerning the event that shocked our town on February 3, 1922. Everyone had the right idea of a fire but only six correct answers were received. Helen Hessler, Bob Boyer, Jack Bolt, LeAnn Merrills, Pat Rose and Kay Piereson knew that our high school burned on Friday morning starting at about 4:00 A.M. The three story brick building was located roughly in the middle of the block bordered by Ten Mile, Main Street, Maple and Monroe Streets. It was reported that the blaze began in the basement and eventually engulfed and destroyed the wooden interior which collapsed inside the walls. Those fighting the blaze were credited for keeping the inferno from spreading to other buildings.

Educational supplies, some school records, textbooks, library books, typewriters, science equipment, personal belongings, athletic and scholastic trophies and other items were gone. At the time, most of the students in the Rockford system attended the school, so our whole district was placed in a tough situation. School superintendent Ernest Chapelle had the task of trying to continue an educational program without a school. With the help of people and organizations from our community, he and the school board came up with a plan and students only missed one day of instruction. There was no school on Friday, but all grades were back in action on Monday, February 6.

Using the Methodist Episcopal Church and other community buildings to house various grades, our town did the best they could to educate our pupils. Approximately two weeks before the fire, the community had agreed to bond itself for the amount of $100,000 to build a new high school on North Main Street adjacent to Rockford Athletic Park. It would be a one story building and would house all of the students in the district. It was very fortunate to have plans for a new high school in place, but it would take a year before it would be ready.

At the time of the fire, there were fifteen members in the senior class. They finished their year and graduated on Wednesday, June 7, 1922 from the Methodist Episcopal Church. One of the class members, Myrna Giles, wrote in her journal “As far as school was concerned, everyone got along fine. We had numerous handicaps such as no laboratory apparatus, no desks to write on and hard seats (church pews). But we do not object for the best has been done. Our school board and faculty deserve a great big credit mark for getting things in shape.”

Good planning, hard work and the ability to adjust to and overcome adversity were important to Rockford during a tough time in our history. We met the challenge as we have done many times. The way the school fire situation of 1922 was handled is a great example from our town history of the positive way Rockford reacts to adversity.

Myrna Giles, whose father built many houses in Rockford, married Dallas Harger and spent most of her life in our town. She became the high school librarian and a good friend. She knew a lot about Rockford history and was very proud of the town. Let’s conclude with a statement she made about Rockford. She said, “Many people think Rockford is a pretty good town today (1995), but they should know that we have always been pretty good!” I certainly agree with her!

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