SCOTTY KENNEDY: Remembering when Red Bay Elementary burned in 1967
“I was in the fifth grade. It was the last period of the day; I was in band, and the band director was Mr. Campbell. The period had just started, and the majorettes came rushing in and said, ‘Ms. Parrish’s room is on fire!’
“If you’re facing the building, Ms. Parrish’s room was to the left in the corner. Evidently wiring caught fire, and it started in the ceiling in her room. They could see smoke in there, and there was smoke coming out from under the eaves.
“We started emptying the band room because it was so close to the building – and it had just been renovated. We had just moved into it that year. So we all pitched in and took all the instruments, chairs and music stands to the principal’s yard and just put everything there.
“Fortunately everybody got out, and fire trucks from all around started coming. The building was built in 1929, so it was pretty old. The floors were wooden, and they used to put a type of oil on them to keep the dust down, so the floors were wood and oil together, and of course the ceilings were all wood – really dry wood. It didn’t take long for the entire building to become engulfed in flames.
“I remember parents rushing in. At that time there were four of us in my family; my brothers were in school, and my sister hadn’t started. I remember my mother, Gwen Kennedy, rushing up, and she had tears in her eyes – she was trying to make sure she found all of us. Everybody was trying to find their children. People were having to park away from the school because the parking just got worse and worse.
“Fortunately, no one was hurt, and everyone got out safely.
“We were all shocked. A lot of people were crying. I don’t remember crying; it was just amazing to see. We were shocked and confused and not really sure what was going on, but I do remember a lot of the girls crying … I remember the men teachers, there are pictures of them helping with the hoses – and maybe some of the older boys. Everyone was pitching in, trying to do what they could, but there wasn’t much that could be done to save it. They wanted to save the junior high, which was connected, and the lunchroom. Fortunately it stopped there, so everybody was glad about that.
“We were out of school for a week, and then classes were set up in different buildings. Fifth and sixth grade went to the First Baptist Church, and the parsonage next doors was empty, so the first grade went there. I believe the fourth grade went to the church of Christ, and maybe the third grade went to the Masonic Lodge. I think they found places on campus for the second grade.
“At lunchtime buses would take us to the lunchroom and then take us back. They would send a bus for the band students.
“It was kind of a difficult time, but you know, we managed the best we could. It was a little crowded. We had regular-sized desks, and I go to church there now and look in those rooms and think, ‘How did we fit all those people in there?’ It was just wall-to-wall desks, and the teacher had a desk. But we managed. It wasn’t a hardship to us. We were young, and it was something different. We had fun times there.
“What’s interesting is, the school before this one that was in Bay Tree Park burned in the ’20s, and they also housed the classes in churches. Where else could they have gone?
“It was major for the whole town, to lose something like that. There were a lot of memories there. The auditorium was attached to the elementary, so of course it burned, and there were a lot of memories of graduations, and we used to have cantatas and operettas. The school was a large part of the social aspect of town. We had junior high plays, senior high plays, musical revues and recitals.
“It definitely left an impression on us.”