At 2:30 the next morning, Assistant Janitor J.F. Williams, who slept in the building, smelled smoke. He quickly discovered a fire in the basement stairway near the girl’s rest room. He immediately sounded the alarm.
Within minutes a hose company appeared on the scene and began sending streams of water into the building. They hoped to contain the fire to the basement. When that didn’t work, they tried containing the flames to the south wing.
Half the population of Moscow came out to see the conflagration. It lit up the sky like a second sun. While they stood watching the cupola with its topping flagpole twisted slowly and sank into the ruins. The towers fell next, one after another. In a few hours only the skeleton of the building remained.
Students and teachers scrambled to save records and artifacts. They could not save the seven pianos, a professor’s lifetime entomological collection, and museum artifacts. The library was a total loss.
That exact cause of the blaze that brought down the building, valued at $200,000, was never determined. Construction of the administration building had begun in 1892. It had served as the most important building on campus for just 14 years.