from the research of Richard F. Butler
1956 was a year of disaster for Decatur County High School as the classroom routine was interrupted by two major fires. The year started with the gym burning in the early hours of January 22, 1956. A dance had been held in the building on Saturday night and the fire was discovered by Cotton Ivy and some friends on the way home from coon hunting a little after midnight.
The year ended with the high school building burning after school was out for the holidays. The fire started about 3:30 pm on December 30, 1956. An eye witness reports that it appeared to have started in the center of the basement where the gas furnace was located. After the fire was subdued, it was determined that all outside doors were locked.
On Wednesday morning, January 16, 1957, kerosene-soaked newspapers were found stuffed into a stovepipe in the second grade room of the elementary school building. The county sheriff and the state fire marshal’s office investigated the fires and the incident at the elementary school and concluded that these incidents were arson. They questioned several people but didn’t release any names. At the time, they announced that they expected to make arrests, but none were made.
Plans were already underway to build a new school building at the time of the high school fire. Bids for the new elementary and high school building were taken on September 18, 1956 and the contract was awarded a few days later.
Midnight Flames Destroy Decaturville Gym
The Parsons News Leader, January 27, 1956
A midnight fire of undetermined origin completely destroyed the Decaturville Gymnasium last Saturday night, along with all equipment stored in the building. Efficient work by the fire departments of Decaturville, Parsons and Lexington prevented the possible spread of the fire to other buildings and homes in the area.
According to Mr. Guy T. Kennedy, County Superintendent, the loss of the buildings would total approximately $115,000, and total loss of equipment including football and basketball equipment totaled approximately $18,000. Total insurance carried on teh building was $8,000 according to Mr. Kennedy, representing the amount of money the county had in the WPA-constructed building.
The school cafeteria was located in the basement of the building and was a total loss, necessitating the closing of school this week. However, the school board is making arrangements for temporary facilities and H. B. Evans, Principal, has arranged to rent typewriters and school is scheduled to resume on Monday of next week.
The fire followed a school dance which ended about 11:30 p.m. and was first discovered at approximately 12:30 a.m.
To the People of The Town of Parsons
We, the people of Decaturville, wish to express our sincere appreciation for the use of the Parsons fire truck and the assistance given by your officials in fighting the fire that destroyed our gymnasium. This aid and assistance helped to curtail the damage and we are truly grateful for your help.
Town of Decaturville
Will T. Rogers, Mayor
Fire Razes High School Building Here
Decatur County Herald, January 4, 1957
A second major school fire in less than a year destroyed the Decaturville High School Sunday at a loss estimated at $150,000.
Flames broke out in the basement of the two story brick structure at 3:30 p.m. It was almost five hours later before firemen had the flames under control.
Fire leveled the school’s gymnasium and commercial department last January causing a loss of $100,000. The cause of that fire has never been determined.
Authorities Sunday night were seeking the cause of Sunday’s fire.
Henry B. Evans, principal, said the building had been closed since Dec. 21 when Christmas holidays began. A pilot light was left burning in a gas furnace. Al the doors were still locked when the fire broke out.
Helping fight the fire were fire men from Jackson who brought a fire truck and members of the volunteer Parsons and Decaturville Fire Department.
The nine classroom building was built in 1925. Mr. Evans said the structure was valued at about $100,000. The rest of the loss include fixtures and equipment totaled about $50,000.
Plans for reopening classes on January 7 are being laid this week with all available space in store building, churches and such room quarters being converted into classrooms. The records of the school, some books and several pieces of equipment were salvaged. Sheriff Ola Duck and the state Fire Marshall are continuing an investigation to determine the cause of the fire.
Fire Strikes Decaturville High School
The Parsons News Leader, January 11, 1957
Fire of undetermined origin seriously damaged the Decaturville High School Building on Sunday, December 30. The flames began in the basement of the building about 3:30 p.m. and was fought for almost five hours before firemen from Decaturville, Parsons and Jackson brought the fire under control. A year ago, fire destroyed the school’s gymnasium.
The school had been closed since December 21 for Christmas holidays.
The building was built in 1925 and contained nine classrooms as well as the heating plant for the school. Much athletic equipment was also destroyed, but records and some books and equipment were salvaged.
School re-opened on January 7, utilizing space in vacant store buildings and churches.
An investigation is being made to determine whether the fire was of incendiary origin.
The building was valued at $100,000.00 and contents lost were valued at almost $50,000.00. The building was only partially covered by insurance.
Arson Attempt on School
Decatur County Herald, January 18, 1957
Discovery of kerosene saturated newspapers at Decaturville School Wednesday morning was described as a definite “arson attempt” linked with two blazes which destroyed the adjoining high school and gymnasium with[in] a year.
Decatur County Sheriff Ola Duck said the saturated newspapers were found stuffed in a stove pipe in the second grade room by Henry B. Evans, principal of the school and John White, Negro janitor.
The high school was destroyed by fire Dec. 30 and the gym went up in flames last Jan 22. Authorities are still investigating the high school blaze and Sheriff Duck said several persons had been questioned.
There is no doubt but this was an arson attempt, Sheriff Duck said and it appears the fires and this attempt are definitely related.
Arson Try Fails at Decaturville School
The Parsons News Leader, January 18, 1957
An attempt to set fire to another building of the Decaturville School failed Wednesday morning when gasoline-soaked newspapers were found stuffed into the smokepipe of a coal stove used in the Elementary School building which was destroyed December 30.
Flames burst from the stove as John White, colored janitor, was attempting to light a fire in the stove. White was slightly burned.
Sheriff Ola Duck was notified and is conducting an investigation. He stated that the case was a deliberate attempt at arson.
The High School Gymnasium was destroyed by fire in December of 1955, and about three months ago, gasoline was found poured on the attic of the agriculture building newest structure of the school plant.
A new school plant to house the high school and elementary school is under construction, but is not expected to be complete until late summer of this year.
Decaturville Fires May Lead to Arrests
Decatur County Herald, February 8, 1957
Members of the state fire marshal’s office and Sheriff Ola Duck are making progress in their investigation of the fires that destroyed the Decatur County High school gym on January 22, 1956 and the high school building on the following December 30.
Several persons have been questioned and released, pending further investigation.
Sheriff Duck said they have questioned a number of men who will be offered lie detector tests.
Investigating officers have admitted to a felling that they will be able to “break the case” with formal charges within the next few days.
County Court Makes School Appropriations
Decatur County Herald, October 18, 1957
The regular meeting of the County Court was held Monday. The court appropriated school funds as follows:
$50,000 for the Colored School at Decaturville
$30,000 for the Perryville School
$15,000 for the Lancaster School
Marlin Dodd of the 12th District was named to the School Board, replacing Wilburn Townsend who resigned. J. S. Barker was re-elected Service Officer to serve until July.
The court also voted to pay a reward of $1000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of person or persons responsible for the burning of the Decarturville gym and high school.
Legal Notice to Bidders
Decatur County Herald, August 31, 1956
Sealed proposals for the constructions of Decatuville Elementary and High School, Decaturville, Tennessee, for the Decatur County Board of Education, Decaturville, Tennessee, will be received by the Co. Board of Education on or before September 18th, 1956 at 10:00 A.M. Central Standard Time at the Court House, at which time and place they will be publicly opened and read.
Copies of the proposals, contract documents, drawings and specifications may be obtained by eligible bidders from Donald Cowan, Architect J. Carl Russell,Associate, 820 Nashville Trust Building, Nashville, Tennessee; a deposit of $150.00 being made for each set of drawings and specifications. Checks to be made payable to Donald Cowan Architect, J. Carl Russell Associate. The full amount of the deposit for one set of documents will be returned to all except the successful bidder. Sub-Contractors and Suppliers will be furnished plans and specifications at a production cost of $20.00 which is not returnable.
Any Contractor requesting and receiving plans and failing to submit a bona fida bid, forfeits his deposit.
Copies of the plans and specifications may be examined free of charge at the offices of the Superintendent of Schools or of the Architect.
Each bid must be accompanied by a certified check or bidder’s bond executed by the Bidder and a surety company licensed to do business in Tennessee, kn a sum equal to 5 percent of the amount of the total bid. The bond is required as a guarantee that if the bid is accepted, a contract will be entered into and the performance of it properly secured. The successful bidder will be required to execute a performance bond, covering and including labor and materials, in amount of one-hundred (100%) of the contract price.
Proposal forms must be properly filled out and no qualifying letter or statements will be considered.
Bidding shall be in accordance with the Tennessee General Contractors License Law. No bid will be accepted from any bidder who has not requested and received plans direct from the Architect. Bidders on construction to the amount of $10,000.00 or more must be licensed Contractors as required by Chapter 135 of the Public Acts of 1945 of the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee. Bidder’s name and license number must be placed on the envelope containing these documents.
No bidder may withdraw a bid submitted for a period (30) days after the date set for the opening of such bids.
The Owners reserved the right to reject any or all bids, and to waive informalities therein.
Any bid received after the scheduled closing time for receipt of bids will be returned to the bidder unopened.
J. Madison Smith
Decatur County Board of Education
Sale of School Property
Decatur County Herald, November 1, 1957
Department of Education
Decatur County, Tennessee
Sale of School Property, Frame Building of Decaturville school known as the Rogers Property.
Request having been made of me as Purchasing Agent of the County, by the Decatur County Board of Education at its regular meeting, September 12, 1957, by Motion No. 9 of said meeting, requesting me to sell, and I did on October 7, 1975, at 1:00 o’clock P.M., sell said property; but the bid being too low, the same was rejected and I will again offer for sale —
On the 9th day of November, 1957 , at 1:00 o’clock P.M., sell to the highest bidder for cash, all the estate, title and interest in said property belonging to the said Decatur County Board of Education, including bathroom equipment. The right is reserved to reject any and all bids, but will be sold in the manner stated above, at the highest and best bid, unless said bid is too low.
This 31st Day of October, 1957
Samuel L. Duck, County Judge