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Throwback Thursday: One Campus Up in Smoke

People gather outside the Willett Street Building of the New York State Normal College after a fire on January 6, 1906. (Photos courtesy of University Archives)

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 6, 2017) — Spirits were high in Fall 1885 when the State Normal School moved into its new campus on Washington Park’s Willett Street.

The campus — really a triple-winged building that fit in well with the fashionable one-family brownstones going up on the street at that time — had dedicated lab space for physics and biology, an auditorium that could seat 600, and room for about 139 more students (to over 400) than the previous campus home.

Spirits were nearly as low just over two decades later when most of the building was gutted by fire. Ice-covered streets on the Jan. 8, 1906, morning prevented fire trucks from responding quickly. The beloved 32 x 14-foot Alumni Memorial stained glass window was lost, but not the plaster statue of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Whether it was wise or not, Charles Wurthman, a janitor, ran into the burning building and rescued old Minnie.

UAlbany students at Methodist church

Between the Willett Street and Downtown campuses, the college was housed in such spots as the Trinity United Methodist Church, pictured here with the graduating Class of 1907.

Spirits were not entirely crushed because, by 1906, the institution, graduated to Normal College, needed much bigger lodgings. “I was officially affected as was proper,” said college President William Milne. “But my personal grief was not the kind that was altogether uncontrollable.”

The college made due with temporary quarters, including the nearby Trinity United Methodist Church, until what is now the Downtown Campus opened in 1909.

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