Raws Memorial Fire (March 2, 1942)

Posted on March 2, 2020 by Catey Stover in Keswick News

At about 5 a.m. [on the morning of March 2, 1942] he [Addison Raws] was shaken by his wife Emma who spoke in a startled voice, “Addison, I think the ‘Big House’ (the familiar name for the Raws Memorial Building) is on fire.”

As he jumped out of bed and threw on some clothes, she went to the next room and called her teenage son Bill. He too dressed in record time and ran at top speed toward the burning building. Tongues of fire were leaping from the roof at the south end. As he approached, he could see in the pre-dawn light some of the staff and a couple of guests huddled together in their night clothes with blankets draped over their shoulders to protect them from the chilly morning air. For most of them this burning structure had been their home while serving the Lord at Keswick.

With little hope of saving the building, Bill ran to the single fire hydrant located about fifty feet from the corner of the building. He connected a hose stored in a cabinet at its base and began to pull the hose out toward the fire escape which would take him to the top floor. Men from the Colony began arriving by this time and helped stretch the hose. One was appointed to open the hydrant when the top floor was reached. Soon the cry came from the top of the steps, “O.K., turn on the water.” The shocking result was that only a weak dribble of water came and with no pressure.

With a spirit of helplessness, Bill returned to stand with the other staff members watching the building being consumed. Some of the men were attempting to carry out office records and valuables from the first floor, but it was not long until even the office wing was engulfed in flames.

The first of the fire engines from surrounding municipalities arrived about 20 minutes after the fire was discovered. They stationed themselves on the lawn on the lower lake side of the building and began to pump lake water, spraying as close to the heart of the fire as they could reach. Other companies began arriving and through hooking their lines together were able to draw from the upper lake. In all, there were 7 fire companies who combined to try to save the building but to no avail. The only portion which was spared was the summer dining room which had been added to the main structure.

Local firemen, neighbors of Keswick, expressed their heartfelt regrets as they turned to Addison Raws with tears streaming down their faces, saying, “Addison, we tried our best. If only we could have been here sooner.” Some of those same men later came to Raws with hands full of money collected among them to help in any way possible with the losses suffered. Most of the staff escaped with only their night clothes or cover-ups hurriedly thrown on as they fled the flames. Nearly all of their earthly possessions were consumed. The amazing thing about the group was that as the reality of what they were seeing dawned upon them, the sense of the presence of their faithful God became even stronger. They rejoiced that there had been no loss of life and no injuries to staff or firemen. Before long they were singing songs of praise for the faithfulness of the Lord. The reaction of the men of the Colony was deeply touching. Men who a short time before had been self-centered and hard now stood alongside staff families crying profusely and unashamedly. One of the Colony graduates who lived 12 miles away heard about the fire on the radio. He jumped into his car and drove as fast as he could to Keswick. Stopping his car as close to the cluster of staff people as he could, he got out and found Addison Raws. Coming up to him with tears streaming down his face, he said, “Addison, that’s my home. That’s where I was born again. Here, take this and start a fund to rebuild the building.” He emptied his pockets of both bills and change and put them in Raws’ hands. Before the fire was out the Lord began to confirm His leading that a new and bigger building be constructed, even out of the ashes of the old.

Staff members were led away from the fire to the Raws home where a meager breakfast was prepared. Any available clothing was utilized. For the men, the contents of the clothing room housed in Lakeside Cottage were examined for the right sizes. It was not as easy for the women and children. However, word spread rapidly in the community and to friends at a greater distance. It was not many hours before clothing in all sizes began to come in. The living room took on the appearance of a “bargain basement” as the staff sorted through the pile to find suitable items.

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