February 23, 1993: Fire destroys Old Main on the original UMD campus

On this day in Duluth in 1993, vandals set fire to Old Main on the original University of Minnesota Duluth campus, destroying the building. It was the second time the building had been gutted by fire (read about the first here). The building was constructed between 1898 and 1901 as the Duluth Normal School; it later became the Duluth Sate Teacher’s College and in 1947 the University of Minnesota Duluth. The building was officially closed in 1985. The 1993 fire call came in at 12:32 a.m. Thirty-one firefighters along with five pumper trucks, two ladder trucks, and two rescue units did what they could to fight the fire, and managed to save the three other historic buildings on the old campus. One witness, who said that ashes and burning debris flew several blocks, credited snow-covered roofs with preventing the fire spreading to nearby homes. Three teenagers were arrested and confessed to setting the fire. The fire ended plans by developer George Hoene for a $3 million conversion to the building that would have created 45 apartments. Except for the three arches of its main entryway, the school was demolished. In April of 1993 UMD donated the building remains and some of the surrounding property to the sity. Three of the building’s remaining walls were bolstered in place and the property was renamed Old Main Park.

The ruins of Old Main photographed in 2009 by Dennis O’Hara. (Image: Northern Images)

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