February 28, 1884: Merchant’s Hotel destroyed by Fire

On this day in Duluth in 1884, the Merchant’s Hotel at 202–204 West Superior Street was severely damaged by a major fire, first reported at 11 p.m. in F. C. Kruschke’s two-story wooden building next to the hotel that contained the H. P. Wieland & Co. Furniture Company. The fire quickly spread to adjacent buildings, including Tom Whittaker’s saloon (aka “The Store”), the Superior House Hotel, and the Merchant’s Hotel. Newspapers reported that “the most desperate efforts were made by the firemen, who had several fine streams of water at their disposal, to beat back the flames from the merchants, but without avail.”  It also reported on the difficulties of fighting fires in a city made of wooden buildings. Besides notoriously poor water pressure caused by Duluth’s hilly topography, “the fact is…after a fire once gets a start in a wooden row like the burnt one, there is not much chance to stop it until it has gone its course.” German immigrant William Meinhardt had hired George Wirth to design the three-story hotel, which was supposed to have a brick veneer, but as happened frequently during those early year, the brickwork was delayed. The structure was immediately rebuilt under the direction of Wirth’s construction supervisor, Oliver Traphagen. When complete, the building included entrances on both Superior Street and Second Avenue West, an addition off the back, and a brick façade.

Duluth’s Merchant Hotel encased in ice following the fire of February 28, 1884. (Image: Duluth Public Library)