It started out as another average school day with baked pork tenderloins and a side of whipped potatoes and applesauce on the lunch menu, but things quickly changed. By the end of that Tuesday, 50 years ago today, Amesbury High School was destroyed by fire.
Tom Hodge, a sophomore at the time, was in Mr. Kozacka’s French class late that morning when students and staff realized something was wrong.
“The room was a small room,” Hodge said. “And smoke started coming out of a vent on the floor. Somebody noticed it and Mr. Kozacka said, ‘Why don’t you take the cover off there and see what it is?’ So some of us were trying to take the vent off, then smoke started coming out of the upper corner of the ceiling. Somebody said that we should get out of there and we did.”
As students headed for the exits, Hodge debated stopping to collect his belongings on his way out the door.
“I remember walking past my locker and thinking that I should grab my stuff,” Hodge said. “But I figured it was a minor thing. Well, that was it after that. When we got out there, it started getting worse.”
Hodge lost his jacket and all of his books while waiting in front of the building.
“They had trucks from other towns there, fighting that fire,” Hodge said. “I remember the firetruck coming down and getting stuck on the front yard. Some of the students were down there pushing the truck to try and get in there.”
At the time, Amesbury High stood where the middle school is now, with the junior high school connected in back. Tim Regis was in seventh grade at the time.
“There were a lot of rumors of a fire here and a fire there,” Regis said. “But to be honest with you, it seemed more like a fire drill. The fire alarm went off but there was no visible fire. They brought the buses to get us after we were outside by the stadium and then we went home. We saw firetrucks come down, then we saw smoke starting to come up and then the next thing you know, it was burning away.”