February 17, 1906: Peavey Grain Elevator destroyed by fire

On this day in Duluth in 1906, thousands of Duluthians watched as the older, wooden silos of the modern, concrete Peavey Grain Elevator, located on the bay side of Rice’s Point, were destroyed by a fire that burned for nearly four hours. The fire was called in after witnesses saw flames burst through the top of the silos. The flames reached 200 feet in the air and were so hot that the fire melted snow—and dried out the ground—some 300 feet away. Firefighting efforts were hampered by conditions. The nearest hydrant was a half mile away, so they had to chop through about five feet of ice on the bay to access water. By that point, the streams from the department’s six hoses did little more than protect the adjoining concrete tanks, which held about $3 million worth of grain and were unscathed by the conflagration. About 1 million bushels of wheat, flax, and other grain in the wooden silos was burned; the loss of grain and the structure was estimated at $1.2 million. The Duluth News Tribune reported that 10,000 Duluthians watched the fire “from a safe distance.” Despite the ice hampering the effort, the newspaper also reported that firefighting efforts may have been futile in the summer as well: “Had the fire occurred in summer, when the bay was open, the fire department could not have reached the scene. The apparatus was hauled three blocks over an ice field between the shore and the elevator.” The implication was that the ice field was a short cut; traveling by road, the fire department would have been further delayed. Learn more about Duluth’s historic grain elevators here.

The 1900 Peavey Grain Elevator on Rice’s Point, the first large-scale concrete grain elevator in the world. The adjacent silos (seen at left) that first served the elevator were older and made of wood—and burned in 1906. (Image: Zenith City Press)