DFD Engine House #1

Duluth Fire Department Engine House #1. (Image: Zenith City Press)

101 East Third Street | Oliver Traphagen, Architect | Built: 1887 | Extant

As Duluth boomed in the 1880s, the population and building stock weren’t the only things to increase dramatically: Structure fires became more and more common, and low water pressure and frozen water lines often hampered firefighting efforts. Consequently fire has shaped Duluth’s architectural history nearly as much as has construction. From 1877 to 1887 Duluth’s population soared from 2,200 to over 26,000, placing ever-increasing pressure on its volunteer firefighters. As Duluth moved toward a paid, professional fire department beginning in 1886, it also recognized that it needed more fire houses, and that its 1871 Engine House No. 1 was woefully undersized. By 1888, two new fire halls were under construction.

One was a Traphagen-designed Romanesque Revival engine house and headquarters faced with pressed brick and trimmed with Fond du Lac brownstone intended to replace Engine House No. 1. Three large, two-story arched doorways faced the building along Third Street. The elaborately carved central entrance offered walk-in access while those on either side held massive double doors that opened to stables and apparatus. A brownstone-and-wrought-iron balcony jutted out from the second-story level, and the building was topped with a massive brownstone watchtower and belfry, where the bell from the 1871 engine house was placed when construction was complete in 1889. Its initial residents included Engine Company No. 1, Hose Company No. 1, Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, and Chemical Company No. 1. The new facility also housed the fire chief’s personal buggy.

When a new Fire Department Headquarters opened at Sixth Avenue West and First Street in 1894, all of the companies boarded within the 1889 building moved into the new facility along with the chief. Engine House No. 1 then became home to the No. 5 Hose and Hook & Ladder Companies. Three years later the city lost possession of its No. 3 Fire Station at Fourth Avenue East and Sixth Street, so the department moved the No. 3 Engine, Hose, and Hook & Ladder Companies to the 1889 building, which was then renamed Fire Station No. 3.

The fire department stopped using the facility in 1918, eight years after removing its massive bell tower. The Duluth Board of Public Works used the building until 1953 when the board of eEducation took ownership of the former fire hall to use as a maintenance building. In 1975 Fire Hall No. 1,
aka Fire Station No. 3, was placed on the National Register of Historic Place. In 2013 it was converted into the Firehouse Apartments.