Collinwood school fire

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Collinwood School Fire
The school after the fire
DateMarch 4, 1908 (1908-03-04)
VenueLake View School
LocationCollinwood, Ohio
Coordinates41°34′17″N 81°34′32″W / 41.57139°N 81.57556°W / 41.57139; -81.57556Coordinates: 41°34′17″N 81°34′32″W / 41.57139°N 81.57556°W / 41.57139; -81.57556
Lake View School, Collinwood, Ohio as it appeared before March 4, 1908

The Collinwood school fire (also known as the Lakeview School fire) was a major disaster that occurred at the Lake View School in Collinwood, Ohio, when a fire erupted on March 4, 1908, killing 172 students, two teachers and one rescuer in one of the deadliest school disasters in United States history.[1]


The Lakeview School was a fire trap; similarly designed buildings could be found throughout the nation.[2] During the fire, the school's masonry exterior acted as a chimney, sucking flame upward as the wooden interior burned; open stairways and the absence of fire breaks enhanced the chimney effect. Lakeview had only two exits, and fire quickly blocked the front door. Children rushed to the rear door, but, in a vestibule narrowed by partitions, they stumbled and climbed on top of one another, forming a pile that completely blocked the exit. Though later accounts sometimes described children pinned against inward-swinging doors, Lakeview's doors opened outward.[3]

The vestibule, however, created an impassable bottleneck for the crowd trying to rush through it. Collinwood's small volunteer fire department and horse-drawn engines arrived too late and were ill-equipped to battle the inferno. In less than an hour, the three floors and the roof of the Lakeview School collapsed into the basement, leaving only a hollowed out brick ruin. Almost half of the children and two teachers in the building died.[4]

Cause of fire[edit]

The origin of the fire remains uncertain, though explanations proliferated. Newspapers circulated many possibilities, sometimes blaming the building's janitor, Fritz Hirter, for inattentiveness and running the boiler too hot. Other times, girls smoking in a basement closet near flammable materials came under scrutiny.[5] A quickly completed coroner's inquest concluded that heating pipes running next to exposed wooden joists ignited the building. The coroner blamed the fire on "conditions" and held no one legally accountable for it.[6] Many parents condemned the quickness of the inquest and objected to its refusal to hold the school board, the architects, Hirter, or anyone else responsible.[7] J.H. Morgan, Ohio's Chief Inspector of Public Buildings explained the problem this way in his annual report to the Governor and citizens: "The cause of the fire cannot be determined. Many believe it originated from the heating system or boilers, but proof has been offered to the contrary."[8] A memorial plaque placed at the site by the state of Ohio in 2003 agrees that the fire was of "unknown origin."


The fire-safe building erected after the deadly fire, 1911

The town of Collinwood paid for the burial of nineteen unidentifiable bodies in a shared grave at Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery. After crews tore down the ruins of the school, disputes about the use of the land quickly arose: in the interests of efficiency and economy, the school board had initially planned to build a new school on the site of the tragedy, but mourning parents objected, and some also filed lawsuits seeking to prevent this.

After more than a year of dispute, the state paid for the land where the Lake View School had stood, and the town turned it into a memorial garden.[9] The new Collinwood Memorial School, built to the highest standards of fire resistance at the time, was constructed on an adjacent lot.

The Collinwood Fire, 1908, a multi-media website launched in October 2016, explores the tragedy, its historical context, and the aftermath.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Collinwood Fire, 1908:Introduction-Telling stories about the fire". Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  2. ^ William Ittner. "Modern School Architecture" American School Board Journal. Sept, 1908. p. 3.
  3. ^ On the myth of inward opening doors at Collinwood, see Alvin Silverman. "Explodes 'Myth' on '08 Collinwood Fire." Cleveland Plain Dealer. Apr 10, 1938, p. 1; "Architect Hirsh Says that All Doors of School House Swung Out." Cleveland Press, Mar 5, 1908. p.9.
  4. ^ For one among many accounts including these details see "How Children were Trapped is Now Easy to Understand." Cleveland News. Mar 6, p.4.
  5. ^ For some articles attributing the fire to various sources see "School Was Set Afire is Theory of Witness" Cleveland Press, Mar 5, 1908, p.1; "School Horror Laid at Door of Incendiary" Cleveland Leader, Mar 5, 1908, p. 1; "School Fire Due to Hot Boilers." Cleveland Leader, Mar 6, 1908.
  6. ^ "Fire Horror is Blamed to 'Conditions.'" Cleveland News. Mar 11, 1908; "Lays Horror at Door of Neglect" Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mar 11, 1908.
  7. ^ "Demand Further Probe Into Fire." Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mar 20, p1.
  8. ^ J H Morgan. Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Department of Inspection of Workshops, Factories, and Public Buildings. Springfield, OH: Springfield Publishing Co., 1909. p.5.
  9. ^ On the state buying land and proposals for a park, see, for example, "Favor Memorial Park." Cleveland Plain Dealer. Mar 13, 1910; on legal challenges to rebuild the school on the same spot, see "Collinwood Grief Flares to Anger." Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mar 5, 1909.

Further reading[edit]

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