October 20, 1907: Fire Department tests new streetcar firefighting rig on Minnesota Point

On this day in Duluth in 1907, members of Park Point Civil Club, which also acted as a makeshift volunteer fire department, tested the world’s first and only known firefighting streetcar. Led by Chief John Black, firefighters boarded a streetcar—newly equipped for firefighting—at 9 a.m. and rode along Minnesota Point from the car barns near the ship canal roughly two miles to the White City Amusement Park, which was closed for the season. It took just eight minutes for them to travel, lay out 800 feet of hose, and start a steady stream of water flowing through it. The paper commented that the addition of the volunteer fire department gave the residents of Park Point “a feeling of much greater safety.” From 1870 to 1905, Park Point was cut off from the rest of Duluth. The first Fire Hall #5, built in 1889 at 11th Street South, was occupied by a single firefighter—and prior to that firefighting equipment had to be brought over on a ferry. Once the Aerial transfer bridge was built, the firehouse in “Uptown” (today’s Canal Park Business District) was able to send reinforcements to help with fires on Park Point, but they first had to be contacted, which created delays. Park Point had no fire alarm system at the time. Nine days later a fire in the home of James Murphy, 3711 Minnesota Avenue, would be the volunteers’ first official call. By the time the trolley arrived, the house was a lost cause.

America’s only firefighting streetcar served the citizens of Park Point from 1908 to 1930. This image, made by Duluth photographer Hugh McKenzie, appears in Aaron Isaac’s Twin Ports by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Duluth and Superior. (Image: Minnestoa Streetcar Museum)