Fire destroys Eveleth’s first high school building in June 1908
Eveleth’s first brick high school was dedicated in 1905 on the site of the present old junior high school. Photos courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

Eveleth’s first brick high school was dedicated in 1905 on the site of the present old junior high school. Photos courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If I could hop in a DeLorean and see just one lost Iron Range building, it would be the first Eveleth High School, which was destroyed by fire in June 1908. Although architect William T. Bray initially considered replicating the burneddown building, he settled on a brand-new design for what later became Eveleth Junior High. However, there is a former school in Bayfield, WI, that’s a decent substitute for the first EHS—no flux capacitor required.

Excavation for the school began in fall 1904, and the building opened on Sept. 5, 1905. The $40,000 building contained 14 classrooms, including a sewing and cooking department, a library, the superintendent’s office, and a 500-seat assembly hall. The high school had modern features such as automatic heating regulation, programmed clocks and bells, sanitary drinking fountains, and inside and outside phone lines. In an archaic manifestation of social norms, the classrooms had, according to the 1915 high school annual, “double wardrobes with swinging doors [that made] it possible for boys and girls to be separated during the taking off and putting on of wraps and leggings.”

Onlookers crowd around the burning Eveleth High School on June 26, 1908.

Onlookers crowd around the burning Eveleth High School on June 26, 1908.

Eveleth High School was dedicated in November 1905. The assembly hall was filled to capacity, and guests enjoyed macaroons and punch. University of Minnesota President Dr. Cyrus Northrop gave the main address. At that time, the Eveleth school district employed 36 teachers and had an enrollment of 1,000 students. Following are accounts of the 1908 fire and its aftermath. —Tucker Nelson, HTF Staff Writer.


Best and most costly building in the city is burned from top to bottom before the eyes of a multitude

Ladders for scaling were lacking; generalship was bad and worst of all, no pressure

With sad hearts the people of Eveleth yesterday afternoon saw their beautiful high school, the largest and best building burn, from cupola to basement before their eyes with no hope of saving it. Fire was discovered issuing from the cupola at about a quarter of one by Andrew Anderson who turned in the alarm and by men at the Fayal mine who telephoned to the office. The fire department responded promptly enough but upon reaching the scene found themselves without ladders and there was a lack of leadership. Chief Neilson had just taken the train to Hibbing to see the Hibbing-Virginia ball game, and worst of all there was a lack of pressure that was all but maddening. Even had the department been prepared with ladders to reach the top of the portico which was obviously the best point of attack it is a question whether the progress of the flames could have been stayed at all with the puny streams emitted from the nozzles.

Alderman E. H. Hatch, A. C. Anderson and Tom Harri finally gained an advantageous position on top of the portico and were doing good work against the flames which by that time had worked down from the roof to the third story for some unaccountable reason the water was turned off and they were forced to descend.

Within a quarter of an hour it was evident that the building was doomed and attention was diverted to saving St. Patrick’s church, the rectory, and other residences on Jackson street. The fire gradually conquered the magnificent school building floor by floor until the walls stood in bare and pathetic outlines against the sky, a considerable amount of books, cases, etc. was carried out though Supt. Greening gave orders that no one should imperil his life by going in for salvage purpose but the value was inconsequential.

About three o’clock another call was accidentally turned in and the people were fearfully alarmed for fear of an outbreak elsewhere but their fears were found to be groundless.

At no time did the department have more than 35 or 45 pounds of pressure at the nozzles. The cause is assigned by a member of the water board to changes in the steam connections made at the pumping plant by Supt. Vandall. The latter denies that the change is in any way responsible for the lack of pressure and gives as the reason that the intake is not large enough to admit of the running of the two pumps at once. As originally designed steam was conveyed for each of the two boilers through 3-inch pipes to an 8-inch header and from the header was carried to the pumps by three-inch pipes. Supt. Vandall contended that the 8-inch header caused too much condensation and induced the city council to order the changes, which consisted in piping the steam direct from a goose neck connection with the two boilers through a 3-inch pipe to the pumps, eliminating the 8-inch header. That dryer steam was secured by this method is the claim of Supt. Vandall and he still asserts it though made aware of the criticism directed against him. The member of the water board holds otherwise and states that he with others remonstrated with Supt. Vandall against the change when it was being made.

Supt. Vandall supports his contention that the piping change did not impair the efficiency by the fact that the pump was giving its maximum capacity of 450 gallons a minute. If the intake had been larger and the supply greater stronger pressure could have been secured by using the other pump. The plant and the connecting main with the old system was tested up to and above the 240 pounds against static and friction heads, as provided in the specifications, when the plant was accepted but this test was not in connection with the distributing system and a test of the whole system has never been made.

Supt. Vandall also claims that the sixinch main at the school was inadequate to carry the number of hose lines which were attached.

When seen this morning Mr. Vandall said he wanted to have the whole matter investigated and there is also a popular demand for a public investigation of all the circumstances. Property owners in town want to know why the department started to fight the fire against the wind, why it was not prepared with ladders and if ladders were lacking why that fact was not reported to the city council. They also wish to learn whether it is possible to secure fire pressure at the elevation of the school.

Mayor Smith is a strong advocate of securing a fire engine and it seems to be the general opinion that one should be bought at once. It has also been suggested that there should be more intersecting mains running to the north from the supply pipe.

Furthermore, if the intake at the lake is inadequate to supply the two pumps at the same time, it ought to be enlarged. The two pumps are not supposed to ordinarily be running at the same time but the expectation was that they could be so used in case of emergency.

The school destroyed was built in 1904- 05 at an expense of $50,000 in round figures and with equipment of all kinds represents a loss of $90,000, partially covered by insurance. While the fire was still raging it was determined to rebuild at once. As Treasurer Dormer stated this morning there is no option in the matter. Whether it shall be exactly duplicated is a question that has been under consideration by the school board today. Architect [William T.] Bray has been here and visited the ruins.

The school was the pride of the city and the center of all educational affairs. An incredible amount of work had been lavished on the various rooms during the past four years by teachers and pupils. The rooms had been decorated with works of art and furnished with all modern facilities.

The board and Supt. Greening will find it difficult to provide place for the pupils while rebuilding is in progress.

The insurance was of the blanket kind and was carried in 17 different companies. A total of $70,000 was carried on all the schools of the city, exclusive of the new grade school [the Adams, later called the Lincoln Annex] now building, and of this amount $40,000 applies on the high school.

The office of the superintendent has been transferred to the Fayal building, also that of the librarian and books may be returned there. Those who are to receive instruction during the summer term should report at the Fayal building at nine o’clock Monday morning. —Eveleth News, June 27, 1908


Beautiful new $90,000 building is completely destroyed

Eveleth, June 26—The high school building was discovered to be on fire at the northwest corner of the roof this afternoon at one o’clock and in spite of the heroic efforts of the Eveleth, Adams and Fayal fire departments, in less than two hours it was a mass of smouldering [sic.] ruins. The total loss is estimated to be about $90,000, the loss on the building being $75,000 and the contents, including two pianos, the school library, high school textbooks, manual training material, laboratory apparatus, etc., being valued at $15,000 is a total loss. The building and contents were fully insured.

The school building was erected two years ago and was the pride of the people of Eveleth. It was a three-story structure with 20 rooms, including a large auditorium, the loss of which will be greatly felt.

The origin of the fire is unknown. Tinsmiths had been working on the building this forenoon, but everything seemed to be all right when they left the room at noon. The fire was well started by the time the fire departments arrived and an explosion of the chemicals in the laboratory on the third floor caused a big blaze to shoot forth from the windows. After fighting the fire for some time, the fire departments concluded to save the buildings in the vicinity and were successful in their efforts.

A summer school for children who desired to take extra work before the beginning of the regular year was held in the building and will probably be continued in one of the other school buildings.

A meeting of the school board will be held shortly to decide what course is to be pursued. Contractor N. F. Marion is constructing a grade school for six grades, and this will be available by Sept. 1 and may be temporarily used by high school pupils. It is probably that steps will be taken at once for the erection of an even finer building than the one just destroyed by fire. —Duluth News-Tribune, June 27, 1908


Increase pupils—work on the new high school progressing

Eveleth, Minn., Oct. 17 (Special to The Herald)—The work in the schools is now going on steadily and though handicapped to a certain extent by the number of buildings in use as schoolhouses, the standard of the work is the same as last year. Since the first of the semester, the total enrollment has increased to 1,139, while at the same time last year, only 1,054 pupils were enrolled, showing and increase of 85. All pupils have been well taken care of and all except Miss Kingsford’s classes in the first grade are going all day to school.

At the Fayal Kindergarten building where the manual training department is now installed, six lathes have been put in for those who wish to take wood turning. Six electric discs will be here in about a week for the domestic science department to be used in place of the stoves. One of the discs has been on trial in the department and as it has been approved by Miss Mandeville, the teacher in charge, the other discs have been ordered.

Work has commenced on the building of the new high school. A crew of about 35 men were placed at work on Wednesday. Mr. Hendrickson of Duluth as the general contract. The building is expected to be finished by next August so as to be ready for the fall term.

The commercial department, the latest to be added to the high school course, has attracted many in the high school who are taking advantage of securing a course that many high schools do not have. The Missabe Mountain town hall in which the department is located is some distance from the main building, putting the students to some inconvenience in going to and from the high school buildings. —Duluth Evening Herald, Oct. 18, 1908

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