People who grew up in the northern section of DeKalb County and are old enough to remember the attack on Pearl Harbor, recall that Chamblee High School burned down the following day. News of the fire spread quickly among families in Chamblee, Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Doraville.
Students from throughout north DeKalb County attended Chamblee High School, as it was the only high school in the area.
J. W. (Dub) Brown, who would later become mayor of Chamblee, was a student at the school that year. Other students include George Pierce, Jr. Vivian Pierce, Manget Davis, Marion Chesnut, Charles Minors, and Malcolm Drake. Graduation for the class of 1942 was at Oglethorpe University. (“Past Memories, Present Progress, Future Dreams, A History of the Community and the City of Chamblee,” 1983, by Vivian Price Saffold)
According to an Atlanta Constitution article, “Chamblee School Building Destroyed in $75,000 Fire,” Dec. 9, 1941, the fire took place on Dec. 8 and started in the school laboratory. The two-story brick school was located on what was then known as Dunwoody Road.
M. E. Smith was principal of Chamblee High School during that time. On the day of the fire, he was overcome by smoke when he returned to the building to try and retrieve textbooks and other valuables. He was honored by the students and graduates in 1955 to recognize 30 years as a teacher and principal at Chamblee High School.
Firefighters from nearby Lawson General Hospital, a military hospital adjacent to Naval Air Station Atlanta and on land that is now DeKalb Peachtree Airport, came to help put out the fire. There were also firefighters from U. S. Veterans Hospital No. 48, located further south on Peachtree Road, and the Druid Hills fire station.
The band director, Dr. D. C. Edwards, managed to get a grand piano and thousands of dollars of band instruments removed before fire destroyed them. The band had performances scheduled around Christmas 1941 in McDonough, Norcross and for patients of nearby Lawson General Hospital.
The shop building and home economics building were spared in the fire because they were separate from the main building. The main building had 21 classrooms. After the school burned down, classes were held in other places around the community, such as Chamblee Baptist Church.
There were 500 students enrolled at Chamblee when the fire of 1941 occurred. Over 1,000 people are reported to have come out to see the fire. Some remember riding in the car to see the sight of their school burning. Fortunately, the fire started about 6 p.m. and no one was in the building at the time.