June 13, 1917: LeSure sawmill on Grassy Point destroyed by fire

On this day in Duluth in 1917, the old Lesure sawmill on Grassy Point was destroyed by fire. Officials of the Virginia & Rainy Lake Lumber, which owned the mill, claimed there were six attempts to set the mill ablaze in the previous months, all thwarted by the lumber company. This time the Duluth Fire Department responded to another call that came in before the mill fire was reported about three railroad cars that were burning at Forty-Second Avenue West—and it was thought those fires were set intentionally to draw the fire department away from the Lesure mill blaze. The Lesure mill was built in 1893 for $150,000 (about $4 million today) and was purchased by Virginia and Rainy Lake in 1900. In 1909 the mill was rebuilt following another fire, and its capacity increased to 250,000 board feet a day, making it one of the largest in the region. The region’s lumber market nosedived in 1913 and the mill sat idle due to the lack of logs. The equipment was then removed from the mill and shipped west to be used in a mill in the Pacific Northwest. Many lumber mills were lost to fire once the mill was closed and its equipment removed, and most of these fires were set by arsonists on behalf of the owners so they could collect insurance money. The Lesure mill, however, was not insured and the newspapers reported the loss to be about $80,000, about $1.8 million today. Read more about Duluth’s historic lumber industry here and about Clarence J. LeSure, namesake of Duluth’s Lesure Street, and his Duluth mill here.

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