Firefighters continue to douse hot spots at the historic Furber Cottage building Thursday morning. It was used as a dorm first at Atlanta University and then at Morris Brown College before it was sold as part of bankruptcy proceedings in 2014. 
Photo: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Fires continue as Morris Brown College attempts a revival

Morris Brown College, one of the oldest historically black colleges in Georgia, sold most of its property as part of a plan to exit bankruptcy in 2014. Since then, at least five fires have damaged several historic buildings and dormitories once part of the college, which is trying to regain its accreditation and is operating on a much smaller scale.

The latest occurred Wednesday at Furber Cottage, a historic dorm built in 1899.

Here’s a timeline of fires The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has covered since 2015.

August 2015 A fire guts historic Gaines Hall, once a dormitory at Morris Brown but long since shuttered. Atlanta fire officials say the building, which went up in 1869 on the old Atlanta University campus, should be torn down.

The building is now owned by Clark Atlanta University.

AJC IN-DEPTH: Morris Brown: How an Atlanta HBCU fell into bankruptcy

February 2016 Officials determine vandals staying in the otherwise abandoned John A. Middleton Towers started a fire on the second floor of the 10-story complex, which was constructed in the 1960s. The building was safely evacuated.

A fire in the abandoned former Morris Brown College dormitory blocked a portion of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. 
Photo: JOHN SPINK/ JSPINK@AJC.COM

April 2016 John A. Middleton Towers catches fire again. This time officials determined the fire started in a trash can on the second floor and spread to a hallway. One man was found inside but was not injured.

After the second fire, Friendship Baptist Church agrees to tear down the former dorm, as church leaders said there was no other way to keep the buildings secure. The church jointly purchased most of the college’s property along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm. 

April 2017 Demolition begins at John A. Middleton Towers. It was Friendship Baptist Church’s first step toward redeveloping the area into a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood. 

A timeline for the development project was not finalized. 

John A. Middleton Towers, a former Morris Brown College dorm, has been demolished. 
Photo: MARIO BOONE / Special to the AJC

June 2019 A small trash fire damages Morris Brown president’s office. The fire spread to interim president Kevin E. James’ desk before the building’s sprinkler system extinguished it. It was the only incident to impact an occupied building since the 2014 sale.

Morris Brown College interim president Kevin James posted this photo on his Facebook page, saying a fire on Saturday, June 1 caused extensive water damage to his office. 
Photo: Facebook

The college retained ownership of the school’s administration building, Griffin Hightower Classroom building and Fountain Hall. In July, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Fountain Hall was selected as one of 22 sites and organizations that will share a $1.6 million grant to help with restoration efforts. 

September 2019 Furber Cottage is damaged in a massive blaze. While no one was injured, firefighters could not enter the three-story building due to stability concerns

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. It was not immediately clear who owns the building, which appeared to be under renovation before it burned. 

Atlanta firefighters continue to put out hot spots on the scene of a large fire near Morris Brown College on Thursday morning. Flames could be seen for miles as the fire raged Wednesday night. 
Photo: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

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