About 110 years ago, on Sept. 5, 1908, Chisholm was decimated by a forest fire that swept into the town destroying nearly all buildings and displacing 6,000 people. Driven by shifting winds, the fire moved with vicious speed.
The Hibbing newspaper, The Mesaba Ore, on Sept. 8, 1908, ran a large headline reading, “Chisholm wiped out in one brief hour.”
The original town of Hibbing, just a few miles west of Chisholm, waited in horror and fear that the same fate could blow into Hibbing’s streets. Thankfully, it never did.
Hibbing is one of few northern Minnesota towns that did not have to rebuild from a devastating fire in the early years of the 20th Century.
While reading the following articles, taken from the Sept. 11, 1908, Mesaba Ore, which have been edited for length, recall that the citizens in those years, in most cases, lived in simple wood houses or even just tar paper-covered shacks. They had few worldly goods and very little money.
The end of the summer was upon them with winter just around the corner. To suddenly be without shelter, plain as that shelter might be, was a tremendous worry.
Businesses that had achieved some prosperity were suddenly no more.
Amazingly, in Chisholm, there were no deaths directly attributed to the fire, although there are reports in the newspapers of people gravely ill afterwards from the smoke and stress.
The resilience of people to persevere through all sorts of challenges and tragedies reminds us that when faced with sorrow we can take strength from those who have gone before us. Remember American poet Carl Sandberg’s words in “The People,Yes”:
The people have come far and can look back and say,
“We will go farther yet.”
~Mary Palcich Keyes
Hibbing has dwelt in the midst of alarms since Saturday noon.
Its worst scare came Tuesday noon from Brooklyn, south of town. Here the fire had raged the day before south of the Great Northern spur, a half mile south of Brooklyn, with the wind blowing strong and directly upon Hibbing.
During Monday night, the fire crept up to the track and passed it about 11 o’clock Tuesday. A brief inspection of the conditions showed the need for immediate action. Mr. Thompson shut down the Drake & Stratton strippings at the Morris and hurried his men to the scene.
Monday afternoon a drill boiler and two pumps had been set up by street commissioner Winberg at Brooklyn. A second boiler and pumps were set up Tuesday morning and pipelines were run to the fire.
By one o’clock a thousand men were fighting the fire desperately on the north side of the tracks. The smoke was terrific and it was almost impossible for men to live in it. Businessmen, mining men and laborers from the mines worked side by side carrying water in pails while the pipelines did valiant service.
The tremendous effort put forth had its effect, but it did not stop the fire which continued to gain slowly. W.J. West, superintendent of the Oliver Co. was appealed to. He shut down the Sellers and the Burt and sent 10 big Oliver engines with 300 lengths of hose under the direction of Superintendent C.R. Simpson to the scene. Soon several streams of water from the tanks of the locomotives were playing on the fire and it was gradually stamped out.
The fire naturally created the greatest excitement in Hibbing. Some left town on the noon train and many people prepared to go at 4:45.
Wednesday Hibbing was again alarmed by fires raging west of the Mahoning and along the new county road northwest of town, the wind having veered to that direction. The township and village officials promptly sent a large force of men to the county road and a pipeline was laid in that direction and the fire was quickly controlled.
At the Mahoning, the fire quickly came up to the location. The mine was shut down and some 300 men and several engines fought the fire with final success. The Mahoning fire was one of the worst of the many that have raged around Hibbing.
Splendid spirit shown by people of Chisholm
Chisholm is the wonder and admiration of the people of the Ranges.
The people of the stricken town rallied with splendid spirit. No useless time is lost in lamenting. Nobody is crying; everybody is whistling.
Hundreds of Chisholm’s people lost everything but the clothes on their backs. With an insurance rate almost prohibitive, many business men suffered a total loss of all that the work of years had gained for them.
But the people of Chisholm are not taking time to ponder their losses. They are too busy. With splendid courage they hastened back to the ashes of their homes Sunday morning and began to discuss ways and means of rebuilding.
They organized Sunday evening for relief work and appointed committees, which immediately began the work of putting the town in shape for health and rebuilding.
Monday they held a meeting and determined to rebuild the business section of town of brick. Meantime they prepared to erect temporary structures in which to do business.
Such splendid courage and determination means a new Chisholm, better and bigger and more prosperous than the old.
The following items are taken from the Hibbing Daily Tribune or The Mesabi Ore which are on microfilm at the Hibbing Public Library and/or the Iron Range Research Center at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.
October 16, 1912
There is still no information as to the whereabouts of H.A. Hanson, agent for the American Express company in Hibbing, who has been missing from the city for a week and is reported to be short in his accounts between $500 and $1,100.
August 5, 1953
Nick G. Haidos and Chris Haidos, former operators of the Delvic Café, have purchased and will operate the L&B Café in Hibbing. The two brothers are pioneer Mesaba Range restaurant operators. They will continue present restaurant policies of the L&B.
August 10, 1960
Hibbing Young Republican’s Club will meet at 7:30 today in the Radio Room of the Androy Hotel. Anyone who wishes to attend is invited.
August 13, 1964
A reminder was issued today by officials of Minnesota Power & Light Company and Northwestern Bell Telephone Company to all concerned that the posting of political or other posters or signs on utility poles is not only a safety hazard, bu prohibited by public laws.