"Great Fire" of 1912 commemorated at University of Maryland

On November 30, 1912, flames ripped through two important buildings at the University of Maryland.

“The fire spread to the barracks and by midnight, two in the morning, those buildings were completely destroyed,” said University Archivist Anne Turkos.

Back then, the school was known as the Maryland Agricultural College, attended by 265 male cadets. That year, on the evening of November 29, several of them stayed at the school for the holiday and hosted a dinner and dance. But things took a terrible turn.

“They took a break for supper, the cry of fire fire comes and all the students and their dates jump into action to try and save furniture and the colleges records for the administration building,” Turkos said.

The barracks and administration buildings sat as ruins, but, fortunately, everyone survived.

“There are a couple of theories on how the fire started, one was that it was an electrical short in the attic, the other was that it was a pile of self-combusting oily rags left over from construction,” she said.

From the ashes, the school rallied back to life.

“In 1916, the state of Maryland takes over the college and renames it the Maryland state college of agriculture and then four short years later they merge the Maryland state college of agriculture with the professional schools in Maryland to create what we know today as the University of Maryland,” she said.

With the help of pictures, this major turning point is being commemorated this week in same spot that the fire happened a century ago.

Daniel Hayes of the university's facilities planning office said, “It's worthwhile to see where the university began its transformation.”

It’s also a reminder to current students that all was not lost on that day – instead, it sparked a new beginning.

“I’m just a part of this huge community that has so much history and I feel special to be a part of it,” said student Eric Tropp.