The Fire Relief Houses of Pine County

After a devastating forest fire had obliterated the villages of Finlayson, Hinckley, Miller, Mission Creek, Pokegama, and Sandstone in Pine County on the afternoon of September 1, 1894, the state put forward an unprecedented humanitarian effort to attend to the needs of survivors. Hundreds of people were left homeless and without necessities such as food and clothing. Governor Knute Nelson appointed a state commission that would receive and distribute contributions of money and supplies, as well as provide victims with temporary shelter, food, clothing, furniture, seed, and tools. The commission also oversaw the construction of houses for survivors who owned homes before the fire but lacked sufficient insurance to rebuild. These homes became known as fire relief houses.

Within three months of the fire, 149 simple 16-foot-by-24-foot fire relief houses were erected in the burned area. The houses were either one or two levels depending on the size of the family, and cost approximately $150-$180 to build.

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During the fire, 48-year-old Edward Halvorsen, his wife Mattie, and their four children—ages 12, 8, 4, and 1—found shelter in the Kettle River. After being rescued from the river, the family was taken to Duluth. They lived in a temporary shelter there for nearly two months while waiting for their fire relief house in Sandstone to be built. They received furniture, bedding, hardware, clothing, cookware, and some cash while living in Duluth. When they moved into their house on the corner of Court Avenue and Sixth Street, they were provided with food and clothing for several months (a complete list of the items the Halvorsen’s received can be found at the end of this article). The family of six lived in the house for many years after the fire.

Most of the fire relief houses in Pine County have been razed or dramatically altered, but the Halvorsen’s home has retained its integrity for more than a century. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The house remains a private residence and is not open for tours. A single-story replica of a fire relief house can be found next to the Hinckley Fire Museum and is open to visitors during normal museum hours.

Items furnished to the Halvorsen’s at Duluth:
September 29, 1894Hardware ($18.50), cash ($20.00), groceries ($14.58), furniture ($21.08), crockery ($4.23), bedding ($13.35), 1 cloak ($3.00), transportation to Sandstone three times ($6.00).

Items furnished to the Halvorsen’s at Hinckley:
October 15, 1894: One ladies clothing outfit ($5.00), 1 pair of shoes ($0.25), 1 handsaw ($0.50), 1 hammer ($0.40), 1 square ($0.50), 1 shovel ($0.40), 1 mattock ($1.00), 1 axe ($0.75).

October 20, 18941 clock ($0.75), lamp ($0.30), oil can with oil ($0.30), 1 pail ($0.20), 1 broom ($0.20).

November 2, 1894: One #2 (two level) fire relief house ($181.00)

November 12, 1894: One pair shoepacs ($1.50), 3 pairs child’s shoes ($2.00), 1 suit underwear ($0.50), 1 pair mitts? ($0.25), 1 suit clothes ($3.50).

Items furnished to the Halvorsen’s at Sandstone:
November 13, 1894Oil ($0.10), 11 lbs. beef ($0.55), 1 can milk ($0.25), 1 table salt ($0.10).

November 18, 1894:  8 lbs. pork ($0.65), 5 lbs. fish ($0.35), 2 lbs. coffee ($0.50).

November 21, 1894: 6 lbs. beef ($0.30), 6 lbs. [unreadable] ($0.40).

November 22, 1894: 50 lbs. flour ($0.75), 10 lbs. beef ($0.50).

November 24, 18941 broom ($0.20), oil ($0.10), 8 lbs. pork ($0.65), 2 lbs. coffee ($0.50), 6 lbs. fish ($0.40), 6 lbs. beef ($0.30).

November 27, 1894Provisions for six for 30 days ($16.54), hardware ($2.10), 28 yards sheeting ($2.25), 5 yards crash ($0.25), 2 pairs pillows ($2.90), 1 pair blankets ($1.50), 2 men’s underwear ($1.00), 1 pair mitts? ($0.25), 1 pair socks ($0.25), 1 bundle clothing ($1.00).

January 10, 1895Groceries ($4.00).

January 25, 1895Groceries ($5.35)

February 1, 18955.5 lbs. pork ($0.45), 2 lbs. coffee ($0.50), 1 lb. soda ($0.10).

February 6, 18953 lbs. codfish ($0.25), 2 lbs. coffee ($0.50), 1 gallon syrup ($0.30).

February 16, 1895100 lbs. flour ($1.50),  1 [unreadable] ($1.50), 10 lbs. sugar ($0.50), 3 lbs. coffee ($0.75), 10 lbs. pork ($0.90), 5 lbs. rice ($0.40).

February 19, 18952 pair shoes ($2.25).

February 28, 18951 pail syrup ($0.30), groceries ($5.35).

March 30, 1895500 lbs. flour ($7.50).

April 9, 18951 cloak ($3.00).

May 20, 18954 lbs. seed potatoes ($1.60).


References:
Hinckley Fire Relief House, National Register of Historic Places Nomination File, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.