Bedford school fire consumes cultural and historical landmark

Published: Jan. 23, 2020 at 7:50 PM EST
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The 1929 edition of Bedford High School’s yearbook features a photograph of what was then a brand new building.

For more than 90 years, the brick structure with Greek columns sat atop a hill at the corner of Longwood Avenue and Peaks Street, occupying a prominent place in the lives of Bedford's people as an elementary, middle and high school.

"This morning I compared the loss of this school to the loss of Notre Dame in Paris," said Steve Rush, the town of Bedford's mayor. "That's what it meant to people in Bedford."

Fittingly, Rush says, a portrait of Notre Dame was one of the few items recovered from the school unharmed.

Much like what happened to the French cathedral, the fire that destroyed Bedford's school wiped away some of its most iconic elements, like its cupola.

Seeing the building in its altered state was difficult for Rushie Wooldridge, who spent 46 years directing traffic in front of the school as a crossing guard.

"I wanted to cry," Wooldridge told WDBJ7. "I didn't like it. I wanted it to be pretty like it always was."

Like it was when students studied on the lawn, learned from a favorite teacher in the classroom or attended a community event in the auditorium.

"Musicians say it had some of the best acoustics of any building in the area," Rush said.

On the last page of Bedford High School's final yearbook in 1964, there's a silhouette of the old school with the words "Nothing now is left but a majestic memory;" a reflection of the way people in Bedford feel about the school in its current state.

"I hope we can get it cleaned up and go back to what we were originally going to do," said Rush.

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