ARTICLES ON THE 1914 FIRE

THE NEWS HERALD
FROM MARLENE WOMAC

http://genforum.genealogy.com/fl/jackson/messages/493.html

One year later on Nov. 17, 1914, the school experienced one of its worst scandals. The headlines of the Times Courier of Marianna reported: "TEN LIVES LOST IN INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL FIRE - White School Building No. 1 Destroyed - Victims of Death on Second Floor - Fire Escapes Could Not be Opened. THOUGHT TO BE 
INCENDIARY."

The burned building was designed to house 100 boys. It was built of brick with much interior woodwork, which made it a veritable firetrap. It had, however, recently been equipped with fire escapes, and the institution had a fire-fighting organization, but not adequate water supply.

The newspaper reports stated that "not one body could be identified in the fire. Flames spread while all slept except two inmates, detailed as guards, who 
rushed upstairs to fire escapes that have never been opened and screaming for help, "were soon mercifully smothered to unconsciousness."

I.A. Hutchison, Panama City's representative in management at the reform school, left immediately for Marianna. He attempted to clear up some of the conflicting stories. Later, he reported "the horrible holocaust" was sensationalized by false accounts "of locked doors and keys that could not be reached."

LATER ON: SAME PAPER & WRITER:
An investigation revealed that "officials higher up" had neglected their responsibilities. Those in immediate charge were found to be "frequenters of houses of ill fame" while on duty. Several others reported absent from work, grossly neglecting the care of the boys.

In 1915, a second investigation committee, appointed by the state to ascertain the cause of the fire, blamed management. Then, according to the Panama City Pilot, instead of confining themselves to the issue, the committee and candidates for public office turned the fire into a political issue.

They recommended the removal of the facility to some point in Central or South Florida. "Why should West Florida be the seat of any of the state's institutions," queried other newspapers, echoing the comments of downstate politicians.

But in an allocation lost to passerby on the grounds, a small wire-fenced cemetery, marked with white crosses, remains from the big fire in 1914.

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FROM FLA STATE ARCHIVES
http://thewhitehouseboysonline.com/FSB-TIMELINE.HTML
Nov. 18, 1914: A fire erupts in a ''broken and dilapidated'' stove in the white boys' dormitory while
almost all of the staff members were in town. Six boys and two staff members die in the fire, resulting in a grand jury report.
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Sunday, October 3, 1999

Few envisioned controversies of Dozier School
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of two articles on Arthur G.
Dozier School, Florida's oldest training facility, located in Marianna.)

MARLENE WOMACK
Contributing Writer

A century ago when Marianna residents built the Florida Industrial School for Boys, which later became Dozier School, few envisioned the numerous 
controversies the institution would experience or the many secrets the grounds would hold.

The concept of a reformatory for juvenile delinquents was a new idea in 1847 when Henry Hayes Lewis, a freshman in the Florida Legislature, introduced a bill to establish this type school for both "white and colored boys" in Marianna.

As early as 1825, New York City founded a "house of refuge," the predecessor of this country's reform schools. Other large cities such as Boston and Philadelphia soon followed. All were supported through private donations and rehabilitation was attempted through education and work.

But it remained for England to pass the Reformatory Schools Act in 1854, demonstrating the success of separate institutional treatment facilities for juveniles, for the idea to spread in the United States. These training facilities became known as state industrial schools.

Determining the age when teenagers should be sentenced as youthful offenders or adults continued to be the issue, however. The courts finally decided to attempt reform with those who appeared not to be unduly vicious on the presumption that they had acted without exercising clear judgment. Those the court deemed incapable of reform were sent to ordinary prisons.

THE COMMUNITY

Marianna had a population of approximately 2,000 at the turn of the century. Surrounded by numerous farms that had once been huge antebellum plantations, this prosperous town of the Old South had yet to construct electrical lighting, a sewerage system, a public waterworks, telephone lines or an ice plant. Cotton ranked as Jackson County's number one crop with bales of cotton often lining Marianna's streets.

Houses were built on large lots with room for horses, chickens and spacious gardens. Hogs and cows roamed free and often slept on the wooden sidewalks at night.

Meat sold for 5 cents per pound and syrup at 20 cents per gallon. In the cooler winter months, fish peddlers drove wooden covered wagons up from St. Andrew Bay to sell salt fish and oysters in a vacant lot near Green Street. Trains on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad stopped at the depot as they had since 1882 when the tracks were first constructed through town.

In Marianna the jail remained a major concern. Although the town had the only secure jail west of the Apalachicola River through the 1850s, Jackson County grand jurors recommended the facility's windows be enlarged to admit more pure air into the dank hollow that bred disease just prior to the Civil War. After the war numerous jailbreaks occurred. But in 1899, Marianna proudly boasted a new secure jail, and townspeople breathed a sigh of relief.


THE EARLY YEARS

In her book Our Yesterdays, J.S. Rhyne tells of the first years at the reform school when inmates "worked in fields with their feet shackled by chains."

During that time, the management was under constant pressure to turn out "enough bundles of hay and bushels of corn, peanuts, and other products" to justify the amount the state paid for fertilizer for the farm.

The superintendent answered the complaints in 1913 by reminding the legislative committee reviewing the school's proceeds that "with the work done by the boys, some little and 'very bad boys' at that, the show in produce compares favorably with that of other farms."

He called their attention to the fact that this was not only a farm, "but a home and a reformatory where boys also received an education."

Marianna State Reform School, as the facility was commonly called, accepted boys of all ages. On Aug. 28, 1913, the Panama City Pilot listed 9-year-old Robert C. 
Mitchell as "unmanageable." His mother appeared before Judge D.K. Middleton and gave her story. After Middleton committed Mitchell to the institution, Sheriff W.A. Brown escorted him to Marianna.

One year later on Nov. 17, 1914, the school experienced one of its worst scandals. The headlines of the Times Courier of Marianna reported: "TEN LIVES 
LOST IN INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL FIRE - White School Building No. 1 Destroyed - Victims of Death on the Second Floor - Fire Escapes Could Not be Opened. 
THOUGHT TO BE INCENDIARY."

The burned building was designed to house 100 boys. It was built of brick with much interior woodwork, which made it a veritable firetrap. It had, 
however, recently been equipped with fire escapes, and the institution had a fire-fighting organization, but not adequate water supply.

The newspaper reports stated that "not one body could be identified in the fire. Flames spread while all slept except two inmates, detailed as guards, 
who rushed upstairs to fire escapes that have never been opened and screaming for help, "were soon mercifully smothered to unconsciousness."

I.A. Hutchison, Panama City's representative in management at the reform school, left immediately for Marianna. He attempted to clear up some of the conflicting stories. Later, he reported "the horrible holocaust" was sensationalized by false accounts "of locked doors and keys that could not be 
reached."

Although evidence was circumstantial, Walton County Sheriff Murdock Bell arrested George Caldwell of Laurel Hill for setting the fire. Earlier that year 
Caldwell's son Bill ha been convicted in criminal court of aggravated assault for cutting another boy with a knife. In May 1914 Bill had been sent to the 
Marianna reform school while his attorney appealed his case to the Florida Supreme Court, which affirmed the decision of the lower court.


The News Herald
Out of the Past Dozier remains a residential facility that incarcerates juvenile felons from all over Florida

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of two articles on Arthur G. Dozier School, Florida's oldest training facility for youth, located in Marianna.)

MARLENE WOMACK
Contributing Writer


After the great fire of Nov. 17, 1914, that claimed the lives of 10 boys in Dormitory No. 1 at the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna, George Caldwell of Laurel Hill was arrested for setting the blaze.

According to the Defuniak Springs Breeze of Dec. 3, 1914, the elder Caldwell remained "very much wrought up over his son's commitment to the reform school." After all efforts failed to get him released, Caldwell threatened to "blow the damn thing up with dynamite but that he could get his boy out."

Some reports stated that Caldwell had been at the reform school the day of the fire to visit his son, Bill, who had been sent to Marianna on a charge of cutting another boy with a knife. That day Bill escaped. One person reported seeing the elder Caldwell run around the corner of the building just before the discovery of the fire.

Now the "boy must not only answer the charge of escaping but is charged with his father being responsible for the fire," reported the Breeze.

But later that month, the grand jury of Jackson County exonerated Caldwell and recommended that his son be pardoned. They determined that Caldwell had been made a scapegoat.

An investigation revealed that "officials higher up" had neglected their responsibilities. Those in immediate charge were found to be "frequenters of houses of ill fame" while on duty. Several others reported absent from work, grossly neglecting the care of the boys.

In 1915, a second investigation committee, appointed by the state to ascertain the cause of the fire, blamed management. Then, according to the Panama City Pilot, instead of confining themselves to the issue, the committee and candidates for public office turned the fire into a political issue.

They recommended the removal of the facility to some point in Central or South Florida. "Why should West Florida be the seat of any of the state's institutions," queried other newspapers, echoing the comments of downstate politicians.

But in an allocation lost to passerby on the grounds, a small wire-fenced cemetery, marked with white crosses, remains from the big fire in 1914.


November 1, 1914,  Miami Herald

http://thewhitehouseboysonline.com/ARTICLE-1914FIRE-FSB.html

Fix the responsibility

Two instances of how the lamentable fire at the school of Marianna affect the families and friends of those who lost their lives in that horrible accident are told in the Tampa Tribune

Clifford Jeffords, 15 years old, was incorrigible at Clearwater, and no other charge than playing truant from school was lodged against him when he was sent to the reform school.

Mrs. Fred Wetherbee, care probation officer: Dormitories of industrial school burned last night. 10 lives lost. Among the dead was your son Joe Wetherbee, bodies charred beyond identification. Will be buried here. Greatest sympathy to the family.

W.H. Bell, acting superintendent: Immediately upon receiving the information Mr. Lanier located Mr. Wetherbee who is employed at the shops of the Seaboard Air Line railroads. The sad news was told to the father and Mr. Lanier went personally to the home of the family on Day Street to offer words of sympathy to the family. The boy's mother was frantic with grief when she learned that terrible news.

For playing Truant from the school a boy is placed within the care of the state, under the law. The state houses him in a building where there is insufficient fire 
protection. It neglects to see that a competent night watchmen is employed to guard the premises at night. It permits the use of an oil lamp at night. It sends the boys to the third story of the building, and, to make matters certain for the inevitable horror, locks them in so that they have to climb through a skylight to 
obtain safety.

Some of them had not the time to save their lives, and eight boys perished.

It is certain that the parents of those boys will suffer all the sorrows at the horrible fate of their children than they would have had their son's lost their lives in some college in the north.

It is said that the state can do no wrong. The people of Florida would be glad to know, that the state is not responsible for the death of those eight boys who lost their lives in the Marianna fire. Furthermore, they want to be assured that the investigation into the accident is thorough and that the responsibility for the accident will be fixed.

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AND THEN: FROM IDAHO STATESMAN
MARIANNA, FLA.

REFORM SCHOOL BURNS: INMATES LOSE LIVES: ESCAPE DOORS LOCKED

"Ten Persons Perish in Destruction of Florida State Institution at Marianna"

"NEARLY A HUNDRED BOYS ESCAPED BY CLIMBING THROUGH A SKYLIGHT AND DOWN THE SIDES OF THE THREE STORY BUILDING ON FIRE ESCAPES."











Title  Florida Industrial School for Boys  Image Number  PT01444 Year 1922
Series Title: General: Political collection   http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/20095
General Note:  Mr. George Robinson has charge of this department.

"Department number Two is primarily the agricultural section of the institution, the colored boys operating the entire farm. At the same time, though, many are learning other useful occupations such as brick laying, dairying, animal husbandry, tailoring, etc.."

"This is a general view of the campus and main buildings at Department number Two which houses over two hundred boys. This is the type of building which housed the white boys but after the lamentable fire which destroyed them in 1915 it was decided to have a much neater design."

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, was a high-risk residential commitment facility operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice for male youth 13 to 21 years of age who were committed by the Court. The school originally opened in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School. It was later known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys (1914-1957), the Florida School for Boys (1957-1967), and finally the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. The school closed in 2011. Source  The Light, v. 3, no. 1. Published by the printing class, Florida Industrial School for Boys.

Note: This picture is a closeup of the building identical to burned dormitory. Supposedly The Superintendent and older boys escaped through the tower.   

Robert Straley:  I have yet to find ONE picture of a cottage with a fire escape. This building, that boys escaped the fire by going through a structure on
the top of the roof, I looked it up and found the building. It was dated 1922  PT01448  That was 8 yrs AFTER the fire. This is the building they escaped from, on
the right with the tower. Something is wrong here...fire was in 1914. If they decided to change the buildings to smaller cottages then the date on this picture is yet another mystery. They would have hardly have built one in 1922 identical to the building that burned in 1914.