Babbs Switch School, District 42


In the fall of 1902, the school house was built on the southwest corner of the land owned by Edward E. Christain. It was a one room building 18 x 24 feet and all 8 grades were taught there. J. T. West hauled native stone for the foundation. In 1910 the building was enlarged to accommadate Sunday School meetings and community gatherings.

One early school in Kiowa County became the site of a tragedy that stands out above all others. A school Christmas Party, on Christmas Eve, 1924 ended in a fire that devastated the county. The total death count was 36, with many, many injuries.

The school was freshly painted, with turpentine used as a thinner, before the Christmas program. Repairs to the building after a bad wind storm in May 1922,
had led to heavy wire netting over the windows to prevent vandalism and window breakage, secured to the sills with heavy bolts.

Christmas Eve was cold and light snow had fallen. About 200 men, women and children crowded into the 26' x 36' building, standing room only. The program was over and Santa was giving out the presents from under the tree. In reaching for a present, a limb was brushed, causing it to sway into another, and the candle lit the cotton and tinsel decorations. Though willing hands rushed to help with the fire, the tree ignited rapidly and in 2 minutes the room was an inferno. The heavy screens
prevented escape through the windows, leaving only the main door. The exit doors opened inward and the force of people trying to get out jammed the door so it was only partially open--many were trampled before the fire got to them.

Car radiators had been drained so they wouldn't freeze during the program. Those that were able to drive started for Hobart to take injured and get help. When the first car load of injured arrived in Hobart a general call went out and cars started south to help with the rescue. All the doctors in town turned out and in 45 minutes after the call all injured had been transported and by midnight all had been treated. Many badly burned were sent by special train to Oklahoma City
for treatment.

More than half the dead were children and several Babbs Switch families were wiped out. Thirty-two people lost their lives in the fire, 4 more died as a result, 20 persons are buried in the large community grave where the large monument stands in Rose Cemetery.

A new building, Babbs Memorial, was started on May 10, 1925. The school was discontinued in 1943, the district being annexed to Hobart.

Today, the is a small Memorial Road Side Park at the site of the old school, about 7 miles south of Hobart, along Highway 183. The best thing to come about from this tragedy was the law that public buildings must have doors opening outward. Immediately after a campaign was launched by Gov. Trapp, the state superntendent, and the state fire marshall to correct all faulty construction of rural school houses in Oklahoma. As a result, all doors had to swing out, use of steel netting was banned on windows of all public buildings, proper use of gasoline lamps was required, use of candles on trees in public buildings was prohibited, faulty heating was corrected and buildings had to have more than one exit and more windows. Most of the nation's public buildings came under strict safety regulations as a result of the Babbs Fire. A fitting tribute to those who died.

Copyright, 1998-2003
Return to Early Schools
Updated October 25, 2003
Background Courtesy Pat Calton

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