May 14, 1907: Fire Destroys Madison School on Garfield Avenue

On this day in Duluth in 1907, fire destroyed Madison Elementary school at 802 Garfield Avenue. The three-story wooden building was constructed in 1882 to “take the overflow of the old Adams School” that served the West End at 1721 West Superior Street. Two of the schools 300 students, described as “small girls,” noticed the flames and immediately told the janitor J. C. Anderson, who called in the fire. The Duluth Fire Department responded in force, but the water main along Garfield Avenue was only six inches wide and failed to produce enough pressure—the water stopped dead in the hose. Fortunately, the weather helped out, as the Duluth News Tribune explained: “The storm was a God-send. Had it not been for the wet snow and the rain the entire lower section of Garfield Avenue would probably have been totally destroyed. Scores of poor people would have been homeless.” Madison Elementary was replaced by a brick building on the same site later that year. Both school buildings served more than just students; they acted as community center for the neighborhood and the meeting place of the Garfield Avenue Neighborhood Improvement Club, which supported community pride by encouraging homeowners to spruce up their property with landscaping and organized winter skating parties on a rink the club helped build. The 1907 Madison Elementary school is now the Seaway Building. Read about the lost Garfield Avenue District neighborhood here.

Madison Elementary School. (Image: Zenith City Press)

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