Several small towns were the beneficiaries of the logging boom in the 1890s, and Hinckley, Minnesota, was one such town. That is, until September 1, 1894.
On that day, three miles southwest of Hinckley, a fire started. Fires were a common occurrence in logging areas, but the weather conditions that day were anything but common.
The summer had been dry, and the ground was parched. The dead branches and dried out bush left by the loggers, bleached by the incredibly hot summer, proved to be excellent kindling. A gale force southwest wind fed the fire, taking it on a direct path to Hinckley.
By 2:00 p.m., the fire, now a firestorm, arrived at the town. People scarcely had time to catch the train, whose conductor valiantly waited as long as he could to take on passengers. When the back car started on fire, he had to give the engineer the command to leave. The fire was so hot, it warped the rail line.
With many people still stranded in town, they made their way to a pond, splashing water on each other at first, then wading into the pond and last keeping only their mouths and noses above water to breathe. In four hours, the firestorm was over. A total of 418 people were listed as dead, but that number does not include unidentified bodies.
Hinckley rebuilt, but it never regained the prominence it once had before nature dealt its lethal blow in the Great Hinckley fire. Today, you can learn about the devastating disaster at the Hinckley Fire Museum. It has an interesting display of artifacts saved from the fire and a diorama of a miniature Hinckley before it was destroyed. There’s also a narrated film and walk-through displays that replicate the town as it once was.
This town should not be confused with Hinckley, Ohio, which celebrates the annual return of the buzzards on Hinckley Buzzard Day (always the first Sunday after March 15).
Know Before You Go
The rebuilt train station was turned into a museum commemorating the fire. There is a small fee to enter: adults $5, seniors $4, students $2, and under seven, free. The museum offers guided tours to school groups and the public. If you wish to reserve a date, contact the museum well in advance. The museum is operated seasonally and will reopen May 3, 2019, on a limited basis. See its website for more information.
Hinckley is a small town on I-35 about 75 miles north of Saint Paul, Minnesota. On the east end of Hinckley, in the cemetery, there is a 50-foot-tall monument dedicated to the 418 people who died in the fire.