On Sunday, February 22, 1942, 81 years ago, our meetinghouse was almost destroyed by fire. At 9:30 a.m., shortly before Sunday School was to start, Susan Millikan arrived and discovered “a tiny red flame licking its tongue hungrily under the eaves of the building.” At first, she thought the leaves in the gutter were on fire, and she consulted with Blair Richardson, who had also arrived. Blair alerted the neighborhood, and people came quickly.
While some tried to put out the fire with buckets and garden hoses, other members started taking everything out of the building. Pews, hymnals, the pulpit and other furniture were carried out onto the lawn. The front doors were removed, and the grandfather clocks were carried out. The cast iron stove was removed from the kitchen in the basement. Women were even using fingernail files to unscrew the brass plaques from various places around the worship room.
The fire department soon arrived, only to realize that Springfield was located outside the city limits, which back then stopped at Model Farm Road. Even though Springfield was on city water and a fire hydrant was close by, the fire department was not authorized to fight the fire!
The fire chief insisted that his hands were tied unless the city manager authorized him to answer the alarm outside the city. Byron Haworth called the city manager, and even offered to pay $1,000.00 if he would allow the city to help. Mr. Knox replied, “No, an exception could not be made unless the mayor ordered it.”
Whereupon, so the story goes, Sara R. Haworth called the fire chief and told him that she had received permission from the mayor for the trucks to go on to Springfield.
The worship room and classrooms were gutted, yet not a window in the building was broken and the walls were saved. The front of the meetinghouse and the huge white columns outside suffered little more than superficial damage from scorching, and the flames did not spread to the colonnade connecting the church to the museum.
After the fire was extinguished, sausage biscuits and coffee miraculously appeared, and Friends joined hands in a circle around the stacks of benches and books. Harold Hadley, the black-smudged, wet preacher, led the group in prayer. Springfield had been saved!
It was determined that faulty wiring caused the fire. Damage to the building was estimated at $20,000.00 (about $375,000 in today’s money.)
Hundreds of people from High Point drove by to see what had happened. Mary Blair Mower, treasurer of the meeting, took advantage of this situation. She positioned her daughter, Judy Goodman, and Edith Mattocks on the porch of the meetinghouse with baskets to collect a free-will offering from the curiosity seekers.
When young Bill Haworth was told about the fire, as he watched the smoke rise above the meetinghouse, he was heard to exclaim, “Holy Smoke!”
When the meeting trustees found out that Springfield had a $15,000 policy to help cover the damage, John Richardson suggested that the meeting all sing “Blessed Insurance”.
When the fire chief found out that Sara R. Haworth had not, in fact, called the mayor to ask for permission, the fire chief smiled and assured her that he would visit her in prison.
And for years afterward, Sara R. Haworth said that a lie was “an abomination unto the Lord, and a very present help in time of trouble.”
Condensed from a Memorial Sunday talk
given in 1998 by Martha Mattocks