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Detail from Sanborn Insurance Map of Austin, Texas,
1900, Sheet 35. For the key to the map, click here.
To access the map through the Austin Public Library, click here.

At 4 a.m. on May 28, 1896, the Austin West School (originally called the Austin Graded School) suffered a serious fire, the victim of a young arsonist who had set a number of other fires around town.  Evidently the driver of the fire engine had a niece with whom the boy was desperately in love, and because the uncle objected to the romance, the boy was setting fires in the hope that harm would come to the uncle.

The fire damage was mitigated thanks to a neighbor across the street, who fired his gun to alert the fire department.

Insurance was collected, the basement level was excavated, desks were reconditioned, and other repairs were made.  On October 2, 1896, twenty years to the day after the school had first opened, the West Austin Ward School reopened its doors.

Sources: Katherine Hart,  "Rash of Fires in Austin Not a Thing of the Past," Austin American-Statesman, March 3, 1973, reprinted in Waterloo Scrapbook: 1972-73, Friends of the Austin Public Library, 1973, pg.22; William Dylan Powell, Austin Then and Now, 2006, pg.58; Ruth Lynn Williams, Proudly She Serves (1976), pp.14-15.