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The fire that destroyed a building, but could never destroy the school

By Staff | Jan 8, 2015

Fully engulfed in flames, Wildcat staff, alumni, students, and the entire Paden City community could only watch as their alma mater burned.

Forty years ago, tragedy struck not only the small, quaint town of Paden City but the hearts of its citizens. The entire town was rocked to its very core on Jan. 8, 1975, when the Paden City High School went up in smoke and came down in ashes. Even to this day, Paden City residents can recall the flames billowing out from the building that would normally house the students of Paden City High School.

Residents still remember watching the firemen battle the blaze while feeling a part of themselves go up in smoke along with the school. While there was relief that no one was hurt, surprise that some of it was able to be saved, and good humored determination to make things right again, there were still tears and heartbreak at what seemed to be the end of an era.

For many, it was hard to believe that students would no longer walk through the all too familiar hallways. Even so, the golden memory of the old school would carry on.

The fire destroyed a major portion of the school building. It all started at around 4:30 in the afternoon. The fire was discovered by the then high school principal, Ira Satterfield. He was attending a meeting with the members of the English faculty when there was noticeable smoke coming through the ventilator. The Paden City Volunteer Fire Company was contacted and they responded immediately. Along with the PCVFC, seven other fire companies responded as well. The blaze was under control around 8 p.m. They were able to save the newer building that housed the gym. The fire was caused by faulty lighting equipment that was located in the auditorium.

During the blaze, a true show of the town’s pride was in effect. A legend still told today are that a few residents braved the smoldering inferno in an effort to save the precious objects detailing the Paden City High School’s history, accomplishments, and achievements.

The fire gutted interior of Paden City High School on Jan. 8, 1975

These residents formed a firemen’s line in order to save the items. They broke open the trophy case and pulled out the trophies one by one, passing it down the line out of the way of danger. Along with the trophies, they also saved the class photos. Even though not everything was unharmed, a few things were singed in the course of the fire, they were salvaged and saved and were later displayed in the new high school. The trophies were later stored at the residence of George Kraus.

About a month later, demolition of what was left of the classroom portion started. The Western Virginia Demolition Company of Parkersburg was awarded the contract. The removal of the structure cost the school board $10,608 and it took less than the allotted 30 days.

For so many, Paden City High School was more than just a school-it was a symbol, a beloved landmark. It was a place of laughter, tears, victories, and defeats. Numerous former students recall the feelings of warmth and the feeling of belonging-feelings that are remembered with fondness.

Even with the school burned to ash, the spirit of the school remained strong and undamaged. In fact, some say it seemed stronger than ever. Two weeks after the fire the students were back to learning-but for a time their classes were distributed among available buildings in the town.

Soon after, rumors that the school would not be rebuilt after the fire brought such a public outcry than construction of the new school began almost immediately.

Smoke and flames roll from Paden City High School at approximately 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 1975. Paden City Volunteer Fire Company, as well as several other fire companies, responded to the incident which was brought under control at about 8 p.m. that evening.

On May 1, 1977, the dedication of the new high school was held. Jack Dulaney, superintendent of Wetzel County Schools, along with Principal Satterfield in attendance. The new building showcased its definite modern style, showing no resemblance to its predecessor. It was become the new landmark in Paden City and to this day continues to be a source of community pride in Paden City. A piece of the old school remains to this day. It was reset next to the flag pole in front of the school where a new time capsule was sealed inside.

It is very well known that when a phoenix starts anew, it does so rising from the ashes of its previous life. The phoenix would die in its own fire, only to rise from its ashes. However, who knew that wildcats do the same? Paden City does, with school spirit, determination, and wildcat pride.

It took less than 30 days to complete the demolition of Paden City High School.