June 5, 1889: Duluth’s volunteer fire department voluntarily disbands

On this day in Duluth in 1889, Duluth’s volunteer fire department officially disbanded. It had been organized in early March 1870, right after Duluth officially became a city for the first time. The first fire-fighting equipment the department owned were three dozen buckets donated by local hardware salesman A. A. Clifford. In November 1870 the department acquired a Silsby third-class steam-fire engine with 1,500 feet of hose and kept it in a wooden structure “at the base of Minnesota Point near the lake shore.” (Other accounts place the “shack” at “First Avenue East near the lake front.”) Soon thereafter the department created Duluth Hose Company No. 1 to operate the apparatus. Ironically, on October 28, 1871, the “Engine House” along with the fire engine, were destroyed—by fire. Five days later the city began accepting bids for a brick fire house that was built at 22 West First Street—a building which still stands in Duluth today. Another great irony suffered by Duluth’s first fire department was that its unofficial clubhouse—the Clarkhouse Hotel, host of annual “fireman’s ball” fundraisers—was itself destroyed by fire in the fall of 1881. In 1886 the Village of Duluth began the process of converting its volunteer department into an organization of paid professional firefighters; the following year Duluth regained its status as a city, yet it took two more years before the city had an official, professional fire department. At the last meeting of Duluth Hose Company #1, members voted to donate their beds and bedding to the city and also send $50 to the victims of the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania, a gesture Duluth Fire Department historian Jarry Keppers called “an appropriate end to a commendable organization.”

Member of “Duluth Hose Company #1”—the city’s volunteer fire department—posing on the steps of the Clark House Hotel in 1872. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

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