Fire in Mary Hobbs draws attention across campus

A fire truck parked in front of Mary Hobbs on the quad and smoke billowing from the building’s roof turned a few heads on campus last Thursday morning.

According to Greensboro fire chief Greg Grayson in an interview with the News & Record, the two-alarm fire started due to a problem related to the renovation of the historic residence hall.

Construction worker Carlos Odom told the News & Record that he and his fellow workers realized a fire had broken out during a break around 10:15 am. The workers stopped to investigate a smoky smell that had lingered all morning and found a blaze burning in the attic.

“We went up to try to see what it was, and a big plume of smoke came out,” said Odom.

The workers then called 911. Emergency personnel arrived soon after.

Along with the firetrucks, a Fox 8 News van, an ambulance, and even a mobile command center made the Hendricks Parking Lot look like a fairground.

For the next couple of hours, the Fire Department and Public Safety personnel surrounded the building like a group of fire ants.

“Our crews made an offensive attack into the attic area looking for the fire,” said Grayson. “Once they got into the attic, they determined the fire was not in the attic: it was on the second floor.”

Immediately after the fire was under control, the investigation of the fire and cleanup began.

Many people on campus were relieved that the building did not suffer more damage than it did, given its long and interesting history.

Mary Hobbs Hall, built in 1907 at a cost of $18,323.26, replaced a handful of wooden cottages that female Guilford students had previously lived in. It was intended to be a cooperative living community for women that would encourage them to receive an education in modern homemaking. In 1933, the college renamed the building after Mary Mendenhall Hobbs, an advocate for its construction and mission.

However, rumors of mischievous spirits have long haunted the dorm.

“On one occasion, students I know were exploring the attic of Hobbs,” said Campus Ministry Coordinator and Director of the Friends Center Max Carter in an email interview. “They noted that as soon as they climbed into the attic, their cell phones shut down. They left in a hurry, quite spooked, and their phones came back on.”

Some people familiar with the stories have speculated that the ghosts may have had something to do with Thursday’s blaze.

“The ghosts are angry,” said senior A.C. Canup, who lived in Hobbs her sophomore year. “Mary Hobbs is an all female dorm so she’s probably like, what the f— are all these males doing here?”

One legend claims that a fire started in the attic by mischievous boys killed Hobbs’s daughter and that she continues to haunt the building to this day.

However, that story is mostly false, according to histories of the college available in Hege Library. Although two fires have occurred in the building, one in 1911 and a more serious arson in 1976, Mary Hobbs never had a child killed in either incident.

“The ghost stories about Hobbs have been around for a long time, and some associate them with an earlier fire in 1976 that burned the third floor,” said Carter. “However, no one was lost in that fire, although it did reduce the building to a two story structure.”

Additionally, Carter says that it is unlikely that these particular ghosts would have had anything to do with a fire.

“As I’ve heard the stories, the ghost in Hobbs is pretty benign,” Carter added. “It moves furniture, locks doors from the inside, opens drawers and otherwise just plays around with folks.”

Whether it was a construction accident or paranormal happening, Thursday’s fire in Mary Hobbs created quite a stir around campus. No casualties and relatively minor property damage mean students and staff will mostly remember the incident as an interesting and surprising change of pace.