1896 Normal School
Backstory and Context
After the Normal
School building, the former Benjamin P. Cheney Academy, burned to the ground in
August 1891, the community rallied to deal with the disaster. First, they found
space for temporary classes in time to open the fall quarter with a delay of just
one week. They also sent a delegation to the legislature in Olympia to secure
funding to rebuild.
In 1893, the
legislature passed a funding bill for a new building. Back home there was a
celebration in honor of the work done by Daniel Percival, Stephen Grubb, and
William Sutton. But just two weeks later, Governor McGraw vetoed the
Cheneyites were not
deterred, they voted to tax themselves to build a new public school that could
be used by the Normal School (read more about this story). Meanwhile, they
redoubled their lobbying efforts in Olympia and through the press. Two years
later, in 1895, funding for a new building was approved.
The cornerstone for the new building was laid on October 15, 1895 during a grand ceremony attended by many dignitaries. The new Normal School opened for classes in October 1896.
The brick clad,
wooden structure had a granite foundation and front entry that had been
quarried from Medical Lake. The building was furnished with all the most modern
equipment. In additional to classrooms and laboratories, it had a large library
on the first floor. The men's and women's restrooms were also on the first
floor. The tower held living quarters for a few of the teachers.
At the back of the
building, attached by a corridor, was a circular gymnasium on the ground floor.
The second story of the addition held a 750 seat auditorium.
In a second disaster
for the school, late in the evening of April 24, 1912, fire tore through the
school, trapping two teachers, Mr. Wert and Mr. Miranda, in their third floor
tower room. Firemen pulled a carpet from a nearby home and yelled for the men to
jump. Mr. Wert was safely caught by the men, however, billowing smoke obscured
the firemen's view and they were unprepared as Mr. Miranda jumped. He was badly
injured, but made a slow recovery.
Senior Normal School
student, Harry Lindahl described the scene this way
One morning when I came to school, I found it in ruins, burned to the ground. When I came to school that morning and saw the smoke rising up and small flickers of flame with the firemen still playing their hoses on it, I thought - no school today. But I was to be disappointed, because [President] N.D. Showalter had organized ….they had classes in homes, classes in churches, and in the Cheney school - so school went on as usual.
All of the records were burned in the fire, but they had a wonderful person in teacher, Ceylon Kingston who remembered the names of the graduates and their grades. I know from personal experience that he had all my grades exactly right.
I had the honor of graduating in the Methodist Church. No other class can say that.
1896 Normal School brochure. J. Orin Oliphant; History of the State Norma School; 1924.
Cecil Dryden; Light for an Empire — The history of Eastern Washington State College; 1964.
Oral history interview with Harry Lindahl; 1975
The Southwest Spokane County Historical Society photograph collection