175th Preview: Adrian Onderdonk's Perseverance
175th Preview: Adrian Onderdonk's Perseverance

In last week's story, we discussed the childhood event that inspired Mr. Adrian Onderdonk (the School's fifth headmaster) to establish an honor system.

The honor system wasn't the only cornerstone of his tenure. During Adrian Onderdonk's time as Headmaster, Laidlaw Infirmary was built in 1928 and Whittingham Hall was completed in 1932 to house additional students. Two tennis courts were gifted to the campus, and the Carter Memorial Gate was also constructed.

In 1914, World War I began, and the United States joined the war effort in 1917. The faculty and staff of the School did not wish to be identified as "military school," but found it important to run daily military drills.

The first vested choir was founded in 1919. The "Mask and Wig Club" formed in 1925 and was later renamed "The Saint James Dramatic Club" in 1930.

On March 2, 1926, the School had raised sufficient funds to replace leaky fuel heating tanks in the basement of Claggett Hall. The contractor who installed the new pressure system told Onderdonk that he would return to drain the tanks of fuel the next day. He did not return as promised.

Because of the cold March air, a pipe froze and began to leak. At 12:30 a.m., the Headmaster woke to the sound of breaking glass. Rushing to his window, he saw flames bursting from the tank room. Although the students were safely evacuated, most of their belongings were lost during the tragic fire. A few pieces of furniture and other objects were salvaged from the building.

That night, students were placed in hotels and private homes in Hagerstown. Onderdonk and his wife stood before the ruins. The courageous headmaster pledged to build again on the ruins of his birth home and school.

The academic year was only briefly interrupted by the fire. Temporary structures were constructed and the gym was converted to house students. Claggett Hall was rebuilt and opened in 1927 with the front stone "Senior Steps" as the only remaining structure from the original hall.

Next week, we move into the Great Depression. Learn about its impact on the School.

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