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Last of the Twin Ports’ wooden grain elevators goes up in flames

Superior’s Globe Elevator complex, date unknown. (Image: Duluth Public Library via substreet.org)

The last standing wooden grain elevator in the Duluth-Superior Harbor—Globe Elevator #1— began burning yesterday afternoon and is expected to burn for another day at least. As there is no immediate danger of the fire spreading, the Superior Fire Department is essentially letting it burn itself out.

The fire is merely a hastening of the inevitable, as the historic grain storage facility was being dismantled so the old-growth lumber used in its construction could be sold and reused. The fire reportedly started when cutting equipment set off sparks that ignited the blaze.

The building was one of four connecting structures built in 1887 by the Duluth Elevator Company. The company’s president, George G. Barnum, was known as the “Grand Old Man” of the Duluth Board of Trade, the namesake of Barnum, Minnesota, and a distant cousin of P. T. Barnum of circus fame.

Frank Peavey, a name synonymous with grain elevators, sat on the company’s board of directors. In 1896 Peavey purchased the elevators, after which they became known as the Globe Elevators.

In 1900 Peavey built the world’s first large concrete grain silo in Duluth on Rice’s Point, after which all grain elevators on the planet were built of concrete. Most wooden grain elevators (and some flour mills) were lost to fire, as grain dust can be explosive, and wood is highly flammable.

The 1887 facility was built by contractors J. T. Moulton & Son, Chicago, who built most of the wooden grain elevators in Twin Ports during the 1880s. At the time Moulton & Sons was the leading builder of grain terminals on the planet.

Substreet.org estimates it took between 2,000 and 3,000 men working two years to build the entire facility, which included a powerhouse and three grain terminals. A total of 5,400 piles were driven into the ground to support a foundation made of brownstone quarried by the Duluth Brownstone Works at Crowley’s Quarry in Fond du Lac.

In 1887 the Duluth News Tribune reported that it took an estimated 10 million board feet of white pine and another million in oak to build the three grain terminals. Numbers 2 and 3 were each 88 x 468 feet and 77 feet high and could store two million bushels each. Number one was smaller and taller at 84 x 227 feet and141 feet high with a capacity of 1,000,000 bushels. It was used to receive and load grain. No. 2 was used to store grain, and No. 3 received and stored grain.

The Globe Elevator complex received its first load of grain—Duluth No. 1 hard wheat—on October 1, 1887 and was used to store and move grain until 1988—just over 100 years of service.

Modern photos of the Globe Elevators can be found at Substreet.org. More on Duluth’s grain trade here, and grain elevators here.

1 Comment

  1. Richard on December 19, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Thanks for this historical background. The Rice’s Point skyline, thanks to the many grain elevators it once hosted, certainly rivaled that of downtown Duluth.

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