Sigma Phi Fire

On January 7, 1893, nine years after constructing a new chapter house, the home of the Sigma Phi fraternity was destroyed by fire. Louis H. Palmer, the Sigma Phi historian presented this account of the disaster in his May 1934, History of the Alpha of Mass:

“On the night of the fire, the temperature was below zero and one of the Brothers, after rousing the other men sleeping in the House, in borrowed slippers and overcoat ran out to summon aid and upon his return went to the cellar and with fire eating up the room over his head, turned off the gas to prevent an explosion. The fire pails in the House were inadequate, the hydrants of the town were frozen, and the House was doomed. Other students gave their assistance in saving some furniture, and when the dawn appeared the men gathered around the piano which had been dragged out on the lawn and sang–

‘Sigma Phi, Sigma Phi,
Where thine altar burns
With the love light in his eye
Every Brother turns.’

“The Dining Room had been recently finished with oak wainscotting and ceiling through the generosity of Harry B. Leonard (Class of1890), and as the flames were eating up this beautiful room with its memorial windows someone said to Harry ‘It’s too bad, Harry’ — to which he replied, pointing to his heart, ‘It burns right here.’

“For weeks the four gaunt walls were lighted up at night by a weird pale blue light coming from the burning coal pile in the basement. These walls were so well constructed that dynamite had to be used to tear them down when new construction was started.”

By Jaime Margalotti (Williams Class of 2000)


Palmer, Louis H. “History of the Alpha of Mass.” May 1934. Sigma Phi papers. Williams College Archives.