January 13: Fire destroys Duluth’s St. Louis Hotel

On this day in Duluth in 1893, fire swept through the St. Louis Hotel, killing two guests. According to the Duluth News Tribune, the fire started at 10:40 with a gas explosion in the sub basement followed by a “rush of thick suffocating smoke which spread through the whole building almost in a single moment” before flames “ran up through the elevator shaft and through the apertures in the wooden partitions.” Instantly, every floor of the four-story building was on fire. It trapped a pair of South Shore Railroad employees the newspaper identified as simply “Baggageman Baudry” and “Brakeman Preston,” who had been asleep when the fire broke out; they never woke up. By 11:30, the building’s roof had caved in; five minutes later, the Superior Street wall collapsed. The fire was so hot it blackened and cracked the windows of the Phoenix Building across the street. Next door the Brighton Hotel—built to look identical to the St. Louis—suffered a great deal of smoke and water damage, but managed to reopen the following March. The newspaper said that the evacuation of the building provided “some ludicrous scenes” that “would have surprised the man who invented the word ‘pandemonium.’” The evacuated guests and servants alike were housed by the Spalding Hotel, and a collection was raised to help the servants, many of whom were left destitute by the fire. A new Hotel St. Louis, designed by Oliver Traphagen, was constructed on the site the following year.

The first St. Louis Hotel, sketched after a major addition in 1888. The furthermost wing to the right is the original 1882 building. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

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