Holding On To History: Tower’s historic 1895 fire hall will become home again to 1891 fire engine after restoration

This 1891 Ahrens fire engine will return to its old home when the 1895 fire hall is restored.
This 1891 Ahrens fire engine will return to its old home when the 1895 fire hall is restored.(kbjr)
Published: Jun. 26, 2023 at 10:42 PM CDT
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TOWER, MN. (Northern News Now) - When Tower and Soudan became the first towns north of Duluth in the 1880′s, Soudan got the mine and the hospital. Tower got the business district and the combination mayor’s office, jail and fire hall. The structure sat over a giant cistern where the firefighting water was held.

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“It’s a dark, large cavern that you go down steps to get to and in there were just thousands and thousands of gallons of water.” said Louise Gately.

Louise Gately of the Tower Soudan Historical Society tells us it was an early Tower mayor who took fire safety seriously.

“James Tippet who decided there were too many fires. Tower in the beginning was made completely out of wood.” said Gately.

The other main piece of fire protection in the town was an 1891 Ahrens horse drawn steam fire engine. Townsfolk provided the horses when needed and the rig was named the Tippet in honor of the mayor.

“And the first team of horses that showed up was the team that would get to pull the fire engine to the fire.” said Gately.

The combo worked well together in December, 1900 when a burning lumber mill nearly took out the whole south side of town. The Tippet performed flawlessly for more than 24 hours straight in 22 below weather. That engine stayed in service until 1928. Today, the fire hall and Tippet engine need restoration. The Tower Soudan Historical Society has workers fixing up the building both inside and out.

“They’ve been out there every day and they’ve finished the front last year and it appears they’re almost done with the right side of the building.” said Dianna Sunsdahl of the Historical Society.

Some lucky soul bought the old jail bars which put money into the restoration coffers. When done, the long vacant building will offer new opportunities to its town.

“Oh, they have all kinds of plans with possibly offices and pop up shops.” said Sunsdahl.

And, there’ll be display room for the Tippet engine which has bounced from storage shed to storage shed for decades.

“When it’s there it’ll be one of eight I think surviving steam powered fire engines.” said Gately. The fire hall will be the site of an antiques and collectibles sale on July 3 and 4. The money will go towards the hall’s restoration.

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