TOWER — On July 31, the Tower-Soudan Historical Society (TSHS) submitted a $380,779 grant request to the Minnesota Historical Society for rehabilitation of the historic fire hall built in 1895 and located on Tower’s Main Street.
There was a great fear that if something were not done with the building, Tower’s historic fire hall would become another example of blight and ultimately demolished, with cost shared by Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR) and the city of Tower.
The Tower-Soudan Historical Society met with IRRR legislators in June 2014 to assess their interest in assisting the TSHS with the purchase of the building. IRRR officials recognized that historic buildings are important to the fabric of a community and an important way for us to transmit our understanding of the past to future generations.
TSHS moved forward with a building acquisition feasibility study, which was completed in August 2015. A structural evaluation and real estate appraisal were included. This report served as a critical document for TSHS to make the decision to proceed with an offer to purchase the historic building. It served as the basis for the grant request to the IRRR to fund its purchase in December 2015. The Tower Fire Hall had been unoccupied and was on the real estate market for 1,218 days before being removed from the market in 2014 with no bona fide offers to purchase.
TSHS engaged the services of an architect to develop the construction documents, specifications, and the scope of work to implement the rehabilitation of the historic fire hall. Our goal is to preserve the building for the benefit of the public without altering the appearance of the site or context of the building. MacDonald and Mack Architects updated the construction documents and drawings this year in order to move forward a $390,000 project to rehabilitate exterior masonry and replace the parapet flashing with funds requested from the Minnesota Historical Society. If that request is funded, the project will begin in January 2021.
Tower is the oldest city north of Duluth, and the Tower Fire Hall is a significant building in this region. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places through the efforts of the Minnesota Historical Society on July 17, 1980. Its significance for placement included architecture, community planning and development, politics/government and social/humanitarian history. According to the National Register nomination form, it is the oldest community fire hall on the range.
The building was also used as the city hall and city jail until 1935. The building housed fire equipment until 1965, when a new fire hall was constructed.
The restored historic fire hall building will be used as a museum to display historical artifacts and to display traveling exhibits in partnership with the St. Louis County Historical Society. It will be a permanent home for the 1891 Ahrens steam fire engine James Tippet.
The restored historic fire hall will serve as an important community gathering space for various events, including lectures, workshops, presentations, and social gatherings. It will create a year-round office for the Tower- Soudan Historical Society.
TSHS has a fundraising campaign underway to raise private funds to support the fire hall rehabilitation. Grantors require matching funds in all grant requests and these private funds help with the match as well as provide funds for architectural updates to the construction’s plans. Donations of all sizes are appreciated. Your donation is tax deductible. You can make a donation through PayPal on the TSHS website (www. towersoudanhs.org) or mail a check to TSHS at PO Box 465, Tower MN 55790.
Tower-Soudan Historical Society
Founded in 1963, the Tower-Soudan Historical Society (TSHS) was established as a community-based nonprofit after steam locomotive 1218 and a passenger car were gifted to the City of Tower in July 1962 by the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range Railway Company (DM&IR). The organization focuses on preserving the rich history of the Tower-Soudan and Lake Vermilion region.
The Tower-Soudan depot museum and historical center is operated by TSHS with support from the St. Louis County Historical Society and through membership contributions and private donations. TSHS is housed has been housed in the Tower depot since 2006.
The depot museum holds a collection of significant artifacts, photos, and documents tied to pioneer exploration and mining, logging, early settlers, Native Americans, and Minnesota history relating to the Tower- Soudan and Lake Vermilion area. The Native American exhibit is a favorite among visitors. Items from late 1800s through early 1900s include beadwork, an original birchbark canoe, baskets, photos, and items from the Indian School near present-day Fortune Bay. An original homesteader’s cabin is also located on the historical center grounds, and the museum serves as an information and visitor center for Lake Vermilion Resort Association and Lake Vermilion Chamber of Commerce.
Annual membership dues are $10 for individuals and $20 for families. Mail payment to Tower-Soudan Historical Society, PO Box 465, Tower MN 55790. Be sure to include the member’s name(s), mailing address, email address, and phone number.
Volunteers are needed to staff the museum during tourist season, maintain the gift shop, assist the museum curator, and help with maintenance of the museum, train, and homesteader cabin. Additional ongoing volunteer projects include:
• Creating an online cemetery database
• Potter’s field restoration at Lakeview
• Soudan Mine Memorial Project (gathering
information to honor those who died in accidents at the Soudan Mine)
• Collecting oral histories
• Restoring the Tower Fire Hall
Normal museum hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. However, the museum is closed for the rest of 2020 due to COVID-19 and the Minnesota Stay Safe Order. Train cars are open daily and have been enjoyed by locals and many tourists passing through the area.
Submitted by Tower-Soudan Historical Society board members Linda Folstad, Richard Hanson, and Nancy Larson.