The great Oceanside fire that no one remembers


I’m a history buff. I love the kernels of knowledge that one can find from reading history textbooks.

But what I love even more than history is researching history, whether actively or nonchalantly.

The nonchalant method sometimes yields the most interesting results. While I was paging through Dr. Walter S. Boardman’s “The Story of Oceanside” the other day — a detailed and engaging account of the area’s history from colonial settlement to the 1950s (a big “thank you” to Betsy Transom and Seth Blau for finding me a copy) — I came across an interesting tidbit: this year marks the 90th anniversary of when Oceanside’s only school burned, destroying everything inside.

The cause of the fire was never determined, but the night of May 27, 1921 was remembered by residents for decades — just not too much now. According to a report in The Long Island News and The Owl, a Rockville Centre paper from the time, Mr. Clarence Southard, who lived on Oceanside Road, discovered the fire around 11 p.m. He ran to the Salamander Company fire house — which was across the street from the school — and sounded the alarm. (An adjoining article announced the marriage of Mary Elizabeth Brower, of Oceanside, to Percy Randall Morrison, of Freeport, “in a simple but impressive home wedding.” My congratulations to the happy couple.)

Apparently, the fire was a little bit more than just the Oceanside Fire Department — which, at the time, consisted of only three companies — could handle. The OFD lacked sufficient water pressure to deal with the fire in the eight-room building, so it called for help from neighboring departments. Rockville Centre, Freeport, East Rockaway, Baldwin, Roosevelt, Lynbrook, Hempstead and Long Beach all responded with apparatuses and men. According to The Daily Review of Nassau County, “hundreds of men and a score of fire trucks fought the blaze for five hours before it was gotten under control.” The article goes on to say that the glare from the fire was visible from Floral Park.

The fire burned so hot that the bell in the school’s bell tower melted. But it burned so fast that ivy on the outside wall was undamaged.

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