Ken Ponton Remembers the 1946 Departmental School Fire

Contributing Author: Ken Ponton

My parents, Earl and Florence Ponton, and my brother, Ron and I lived on the E-Z Way Bumps Road in Limestone from the early 1940s until we grew up and moved out. Dad and Mom continued to live there for the remainder of their lives.

In early February of 1946, Dad noticed a large column of black smoke rising from somewhere in Kankakee. We got into the family car and started into town to see what was burning. At that time, the Court Street Bridge had not been built and the only bridge into town from Limestone was the Station Street Bridge. We took Station Street as far as we could before being stopped just east of Schuyler Avenue by fire trucks blocking the street.

The Departmental School was on fire and burning completely out of control. We parked and walked as close as we were permitted. I will never forget the heat, crackling sounds of breaking glass, and the huge crowds drawn, just as we were, to the fire.

The Departmental School burning in 1946; the school was a forty-four year old structure that was originally built as the Kankakee Senior High School (photos from the archives of the Kankakee County Museum).

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3 thoughts on “Ken Ponton Remembers the 1946 Departmental School Fire

  1. I have never heard of the Departmental School. Was there another name? Where was the exact location? And was it completely destroyed?

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    1. It was the Kankakee High School, located at the northeast corner of Indiana Avenue and Station Street. It was built in 1902 as the city’s first high school building. In 1929, a new high school opened at 240 Warren Avenue, and this building became “Departmental School,” (in effect, a junior high school). It was not rebuilt after the fire.

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      1. Thanks. I knew about the high being there and then it being a junior high but I had never heard that particular term for it.

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