In 1900, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company acquired the St. Paul & Duluth
Railroad and used these depot facilities until the mid-1960's when the building
fell into misuse. In 1971, a group of local people decided to obtain funding
to restore the old depot as authentically as possible and to create a museum
that would tell the story of September 1, 1894. The building was nominated
for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and on July 4, 1976,
the musuem opened. Since then, visitors from all over the country and the
world have come to read and learn about the Great Hinckley Fire.
Men's Waiting Room
The former Men's Waiting Room of the old depot is the reception area of the museum
as well a gift shop, information center, exhibit space and access to the museum
proper and auditorium. It was customary in railroad depot designs of the 19th
century to separate women and children from the smoking and language habits
of the men.
Women's Waiting Room
Many stories about the fire have come to us through oral history. This room
is dedicated to the American Indian people, and specifically, the Ojibwe of
the area. Through their tradition of oral history, a lesson in morality, humanity
and understanding was taught the young children through their legends and
tales. The children's exhibit housed in this room introduces children to the
language of the Ojibwe while telling traditional stories. Mille Lacs Band
member Steven Premo was the artist for the winter setting during which time,
stories were often told to a spellbound group of children inside a warm and
cozy wigwam while sitting around a fire.
Once used to transfer freight and baggage, the Freight Room today is the museum
auditorium featuring hourly video presentations, traveling and temporary exhibits,
plays, lectures and musical performances. The Freight Room also houses the
replica of Dr. E.L. Stephan's office. "Doc" Stephan was a prominent citizen
and doctor in the town of Hinckley who played an important role in the rebuilding
of the town.
This room was once a restaurant that served meals to hundreds of daily railroad
passengers and local residents. It was common to have places at the counter
set in advance of train time. Each setting included the soup and sandwich
of the day with a variety of pies available. As passengers filed into the
restaurant, they simply chose the setting that offered their favorite pie.
The Beanery currently contains exhibits that tell the story of a lumber town
caught in a firestorm and rebuilt to serve a then farming community. A dramatic
mural, painted by artist Cliff Letty, is located on one entire wall of this
room, giving the visitor an idea of just how catastrophic the Firestorm was.
Depot Agent's Apartment
On the second floor of the depot is an apartment consisting of five rooms
furnished in the manner of the late 1890's. The railroad company provided
living space for the depot agent and his family, that he might be convenient
to the trains no matter what hour of arrival. The apartment includes furnishings
typical of the late Victorian Period with several pieces that arrived in Hinckley
as "relief furniture": shortly after the fire. In particular, visitors will
find the kitchen with cookstove and accessories of a wood fuel lifestyle.
In the family room is rug loom of the style used by Swedish settlers. Many
of the rugs in the apartment were made on this loom and occasionally, rugs
from this loom will be sold in the museum gift shop. The bedrooms and parlor
reflect the economy of handmade furniture often brought to America from the
homeland as well as early pieces manufactured in the United States.