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College Inn Fire Dampens Mount Holyoke Social Scene

Students enjoy a sunny day outside of the College Inn, circa 1960. Courtesy MHC Archives (23)
Fire destroys the College Inn on December 14, 1985. Courtesy MHC Archives (24)

On December 14th, 1985 the College Inn, a favorite Mount Holyoke student hangout for many years, was destroyed by a fire.

The fire was first reported by Karl Schenker, a chef at the College Inn (or "CI" as many students called it), when he heard the fire alarm. As the fire caught on, smoke filled the air and was visible all the way from Granby. Firefighters from Amherst, Hadley, Holyoke, Belchertown and Granby all arrived at the scene to attempt to extinguish the fire.

Initially, it was believed that a defective furnace in the College Inn was the cause of the fire. However, it was later proven that Schenker himself, son of South Hadley police commissioner William Schenker, purposefully ignited the fire. He was later convicted of arson.

The College Inn was one of many buildings that burned during the fire. Others included the famed Odyssey Bookshop, Campus Photo, the College Inn Giftshop, College Cut-Ups (a hair salon) and a newly opened dressmaking shop.

The loss of the College Inn had a dramatic effect on the social lives of Mount Holyoke students. It served as a relaxing gathering place for students to visit with friends and it also attracted a number of five-college visitors. After the fire, more students chose to go off-campus in search of social pursuits, as the majority of the town common was destroyed, save the post office, a shoe store and Woodbridges restaurant

Holyoke's Transcript-Telegram strongly illustrates the fire's effects on both Mount Holyoke students and town residents. Students Noreen Kuziak '88 and Nina Dowling '87 describe in detail their experiences during the fire and the deep impact that the loss of the College Inn had on themselves and their peers.

"I was always an early riser, and I remember setting out across campus thinking that it looked oddly hazy and it smelled outside, as well. It was a pungent kind of smell - the type that burns eyes and throats."(26)
Read interviews with students who experienced the fire

"As the fire raged, officials closed Route 116 leading to the Center. But hundreds of spectators watched from the lawn of the college, First Congregational Church and the parking lot behind the building as smoke gave way to flames that turned the colonial wooden structure into a charred skeleton before its collapse."(27)
Read the Transcript-Telegram article documenting the fire

Facts About the College Inn Fire

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This page was created by Lindsay Theile '04 in History 283, Fall Semester 2003 -