June 21, 1893: The Bunnell Block Burns

On this day in Duluth in 1893, the Bunnell Block at 101–109 Lake Avenue South was completely consumed by fire, killing at least five people, including children. Described as one of the largest structures in Duluth, the Bunnell was a three-story timber-frame building the Duluth News Tribune called a “veritable fire trap”—but then, up until 1892, the building was home to Millie Brunnel’s Duluth Evening Herald, the News Tribune’s biggest competitor.  In 1893 it was home to at least a dozen businesses on the lower floors and rented rooms on the upper floors. The fire apparently started at the rear of the building within the ironically named Cheese’s Meat Market, and the entire basement was engulfed in flames before the fire was discovered. The fire department, including several fire tugs, responded within eight minutes of the blaze being reported, but the effort failed. The building’s walls folded in on themselves and collapsed. After several days of searching, only four bodies were found, though more were reported missing. The fire claimed one more victim during the search, as a lineman named Wethe was electrocuted by the downed power lines he was trying to safely relocate. The Metropole Hotel was built on the former site of the Bunnell Block in 1903.

The Brunnel Block, aka the Duluth Herald Steam Plant, ca. 1888. (Image: UMD Martin Library)