Volunteer Fire Department Engine House No. 1

Members of Hose Co. #1 photographed by Paul Gaylord outside Fire Hall #1 ca. 1875. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

22 E. Second St. | Architects: Unknown | Built: 1871 | Extant

Duluthians first organized a fire department, essentially a volunteer bucket brigade, in 1870. The next year Hose Company Number 1 formed to take charge of the city’s new Silsby steam-powered firefighting engine and housed it in small wood-framed building along First Avenue East near the base of Minnesota Point. In late October 1871 an unattended fire escaped the building’s stove, setting the structure aflame and destroying the facility as well as the company’s hose reels, hoses, and expensive new fire engine. The following week’s edition of the Duluth Minnesotian noted that the Duluth City Council had ordered another firefighting engine from Silsby—and advertised for bids to build a new engine house made of brick.

Duluth’s original Engine House No. 1 stood two stories tall along Second Street, where two large Roman-arch doorways opened to stalls inside, one for the replacement fire engine (shown in the photo below left), the other for a hook-and-ladder wagon. The second floor was used as a meeting room. Ornamental brickwork above the roofline spelled out “No. 1,” and the roof also supported a wooden watch tower that was later fitted with a bell to alert volunteers to fires and meetings. The building had no stables, as the volunteers had no horses: when fire broke out, the nearest team was commandeered to pull the engine and wagon to the scene; its owner was later financially reimbursed for the use of the horses.

Duluth began converting its volunteer department into an organization of paid professional firefighters in 1886, a process that took three years. In 1887 the city built a new Engine House No. 1 to replace the 1871 station, which was much too small for the needs of booming Duluth. The city’s volunteer firefighters voluntarily dissolved in June 1889, but the old fire hall kept serving Duluth. The building has since been used for a variety of businesses. It was briefly a Salvation Army store, a furniture repair shop, and, in the 1950s, headquarters for a sheet metal and roofing firm. The building sat vacant through most of the 1960s and early ’70s before becoming home of Hartwick Del Construction. It became an apartment house in 1990, then home to two architectural firms. Since 2004 it has served as the headquarters of Out There Advertising.


Fire Hall #1 photographed by Paul Gaylord ca. 1872. [Image: UMD Martin Library]