The Hinckley Fire Museum. I know, it doesn't look all that exciting on the outside. But as a historical record both of pioneer days and of the horrendous Hinckley fire that occurred on Sept. 1, 1894, it's well worth a visit. That summer had been unusually dry, and the traditional logging practice of burning cleared areas to clean them up before moving on was continuing as usual. In what could be considered the fire version of the perfect storm, two fires met and, combined with an unusual air pattern, turned into what could literally be described as a tornado of fire. It lasted only four hours--but in that four hours, it destroyed six towns and 400 square miles.
A mural outside the Museum depicts the raging fire as it approached. The intensity of the firestorm can hardly be overstated; a DNR official later said the power such a storm contained was comparable to several Hiroshima-sized bombs. More than 400 people died; some died of suffocation, as the fire sucked up all available oxygen. Others survived by crouching in mud or hiding in a gravel pit. The town was devastated:
This was the main street of Hinckley, right after the fire.
As the town slowly rebuilt (and it never returned to its former logging glory, but grew into a tourist destination instead), a need for remembering and commemorating the historic fire lead to the development of the Fire Museum. Today the little building above houses two distinct collections. One is a tribute of the area's pioneer history, with antique displays from various eras, such as this loom:
A collection of vintage aprons, such as this hand-embroidered beauty from the 1920s, is oddly charming:
The second collection is devoted to the fire and its aftermath, including reconstruction. Unfortunately, my photos from that collection did not turn out well, but trust me, it's a fascinating exhibit, including items such as a cluster of coins melted together from the heat of the fire. There are numerous relics and photos, covering the tragedy and also the heroism of some of the townspeople, who went well above basic neighborliness in their efforts to rescue others. The day I was there, the Museum was staffed by one woman, who was well versed in the town's history, and very passionate about it.
In other words, what looks like it could have been a dull, dusty spot turned into a thoughtful and fascinating look into one particularly memorable corner of Minnesota history.