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There have been a number of fires on the grounds of William & Mary throughout its history. This list provides a brief chronological list of those fires.

October 1705: College Building (Wren) and its library burned. One book, The History of the Council of Trent, survived the fire and is part of the collection of the Special Collections Research Center. See p. 12 of the The Alumni Gazette, March 1947 Rare Book Returned to Library, Treasure Found After Absence of Almost 250 Years by John Melville Jennings.

November 1781: President's House burned while occupied by wounded French during the Revolutionary War.

February 8, 1859: College Building (Wren) burned in the early hours of the morning. A fragment from the bell survived the fire and is part of the University Archives Artifact Collection. (An image of the fragment is available in the box list of the finding aid.)

September 1862: College Building (Wren) burned by Union soldiers from the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

1879: The roof of the President's House burns.

1922: The center halls and third floor of the President's House were gutted by fire.

1925: The kitchen of the Dining Hall was damaged in a fire which destroyed the Penniman Building in the back of the dining hall. Governor Trinkle authorized the construction of a new dining hall after the fire.

March 15, 1930: A fire on March 15 burned the roof, dormer story, and third floor of Chancellors Hall (now known as Tyler Hall), causing $70,142 worth of damage. Temporary roofing was set up on the west end of the hall until June so that classes could be held while construction continued on a permanent roof of the east side.

1948: A fire on the left side of the stadium at Cary Field burned for two hours and cracked the concrete under the stand. However, the damage to the stadium was not too serious.

December 29, 1953: A fire on December 29, 1953 destroyed the auditorium of Phi Beta Kappa Hall (now known as Ewell Hall). John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave $250,000 to the College of William & Mary in 1954 for the reconstruction of Phi Beta Kappa Hall.

1966: There was a fire in the attic and center cupola of Bryan Hall.

1972: Another fire in Chancellors Hall (now known as Tyler Hall), this time in the basement, caused $30,000 in damage.

1972: A fire in the project room of the Botetourt Theater in Swem Library.

January 20, 1983: Jefferson Hall was struck by fire. The outer walls remained standing. Reconstruction of the building was turned over to the Buildings and Grounds Department in October 1984.It officially reopened after restoration on January 27, 1985.

May 3, 2005: An exhaust fan sparked a fire in Preston Hall on May 3, 2005. Some students began the next school year living at Colonial Williamsburg's Governor's Inn.1

March 3, 2008: A fire in a kitchen wall of the Chi Omega house in Sorority Court on March, 3, 2008, caused minimal damage.2

Material in the Special Collections Research Center

  • The Flat Hat
  • The Colonial Echo
  • University Archives Photograph Collection.
  • University Archives Subject File Collection; see especially the files for: "Buildings & Grounds--Fires", "Buildings & Grounds--Fires--1705", and all files for individual buildings.


Want to find out more?

To search for further material, visit the Special Collections Research Center's Search Tool List for other resources to help you find materials of interest.

Questions? Have ideas or updates for articles you'd like to see? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at or 757-221-3090.

A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.