June 18, 1893: Fire destroys the towns of Virginia and Merritt

On this day on the Mesabi Iron Range in 1893, fire swept through the towns of Virginia, Merritt, Mountain Iron, McKinley, and the Cincinnati Location. In Mountain Iron, the Methodist church and schoolhouse, financed by the Merritt family, burned to the ground. The rest of the town, according to historian Walter Van Brunt, was “threatened with destruction at the same time, but was saved by diligent labor on the part of most of the population, adjacent buildings being covered with blankets soaked in water drawn from a spring near the sawmill, which was then the only available source” of water. In 1922, Van Brunt described the scene in Virginia: “a terrible bush fire was raging southwest of the village. It was a very hot day. Everything was dry and parched as it possibly could be. A strong southwest wind had begun to blow, and this drove the flames directly towards the town, and forty minutes after the first shanty in the outskirts of the village had begun to burn there was nothing left of Virginia, the metropolis of the range.” Early reports in the Duluth News Tribune said that Virginia suffered $1.2 million in losses, including all but 34 buildings. Sixteen buildings were all that remained of Merritt; it was never rebuilt. Virginia did rise from the ashes, only to be reduced to them once again on June 7, 1900, but as historian Marv Lamppa writes, “The rebuilding of Virginia began almost before the smoke of the fire had cleared away.” Discover other ghost towns of the Iron Range here, and ghost towns of the North Shore here.

Subscribe to This Day in Duluth!

You cannot copy content of this page