July 10 1909: Fire consumes Duluth’s Virginia & Rainy Lake Lumber Mill

On this day in Duluth in 1909, fire destroyed the yards of the Virginia & Rainy Lake Lumber Mill on Grassy Point, consuming 18 million board feet of lumber—the entire season’s work—waiting to be shipped to market. The lumber was estimated to be worth $475,000—nearly $13 million in today’s dollars—and most of it had already been sold. The Duluth Fire Department had trouble reaching the fire due to its remote location, and “by the time the West Duluth and West End companies arrived on the scene the flames were already beyond control.” The fire tugboat W. A. McGonagle of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway “rendered valuable assistance and saved thousands of feet of lumber near the water’s edge.” The tug America also helped, throwing a “stream of water on blazing piles with considerable effect.” A slight wind that blew sparks toward the river was credited as keeping the fire from spreading to other nearby mills and lumber yards.The cause of the fire was never determined, but the newspaper suggested accidental arson caused by a smoker: “It is considered probable that some prowler did the usual careless act with tobacco and matches.” The Virginia & Rainy Lake Mill began life in 1895 as the Lesure Lumber Company, which had moved to Duluth from Dubuque, Iowa, after a fire there burned down the Lesure mill and most of the lumber-mill district. Owner Clarence Lesure sold his Duluth mill in 1905. Despite the 1909 fire, the mill continued to operate until 1913; it was ultimately destroyed by another fire in 1917. Lesure Street on Grassy Point is one of few reminders of the days when lumber barons thrived in the Zenith City. Read more about the Lesure Mill here and a history of the lumber industry in Duluth here.

The Lesure Lumber Mill fire of July 10, 1909, which destroyed 18 million board feet of lumber. The mill was rebuilt and was again destroyed by fire on June 13, 1917. (Image: Zenith City Press)