Godfrey, IL Monticello Seminary Fire, Nov 1888

Monticello Seminary, 1910

The Girls All Escaped.

The Monticello Seminary Destroyed By Fire.

Godfrey, Ill., Nov. 4.-The famous Monticello Seminary was destroyed by fire at 1 o’clock this morning, and 125 young ladies had a narrow escape from a frightful death. The night was clear and cold, and at 10 o’clock every inmate of the college was in bed or preparing to retire. At midnight the fire broke out in the basement, directly beneath the kitchen, and burned for a considerable period before the danger was discovered. The smoke ascended through the halls of the main building, and, pouring through connecting doors into the halls of the dormitories in both wings, aroused the girls and teachers.

By this time the fire had taken possession of the first and second floors of the main building and was reaching out to the wings. The teachers showed rare presence of mind at this terrible crisis. Many of the girls were yet sleeping soundly, unconscious of danger, though the smoke was suffocating and the panic widespread. The women and older girls struggled bravely through the smoke, pulling the terrified girls out of their beds and instructing them to leave everything and run for their lives. The stairways at both ends of the wings were not yet in possession of the flames, and the frightened girls, clad only in their night clothes, rushed pellmell into the blinding smoke and escaped down the stairs. Some carried their clothes in their arms, some carried souvenirs of affection in the shape of books, birds and correspondence. All were dreadfully frightened by the awful glare in the rear, and yet many refused to move until assured that loving companions were safe. The girls huddled in groups in front of the building and remained until all the students were reported safe. They were then distributed among the neighbors in the town of Godfrey, and every effort was made to soothe their distress.

Before the escape of the students two servant girls, who were sleeping in an apartment over the kitchen, jumped from the windows and are believed to have sustained fatal injuries. Mrs. HASKELL, the principal, was almost crazed by the casualty. As the little town of Godfrey is practically helpless in case of fire, telegraphs were sent to Alton to asking for engines. Meanwhile the fire had taken entire control of the old college that has one of the most illustrious alumnae in the United States. The building was of stone, five stories high and 110 feet front. It was built in 1845 by Benjamin Godfrey, its founder, and was the oldest seat of learning of its kind in the West. Before 3 o’clock in the morning it was in ruins. The flames swept through the wings, chapel and all the school rooms. A fine gallery of paintings was destroyed, and a library that was the pride of the seminary. Valuable collections of souvenirs and gift from the Alumnae met the same fate. The outhouses and stables went down before the march of the fire, and the total loss is estimated at $250,000. Most of the young ladies lost everything except their night dresses and lives. Money, baggage and everything of value was abandoned. They take their loss good-naturedly, and are thankful for their fortunate escape.

The New York Times, New York, NY 5 Nov 1888