Imagine, if you will, a canopy of White Pine trees so thick that the blue sky and sunshine were hard to see. This is what the first White settlers saw as they moved into the area around Hinckley.
Of course, they were not the first to know the area. The Native Americans had been here for a long time and knew the wealth of the area. They had been living near the St. Croix since around 1854, when the Ojibwe, who had been living in the northeastern part of the state agreed to give up a vast tract of land bordering Lake Superior. Reservations were created in both Minnesota and Wisconsin to accommodate those displaced Indians but the earlier Natives who had been living along the St. Croix since the early 1800's did not want to desert their ancestral homes for the confinements of reservation life at Lac Court Oreilles near Hayward, Wisconsin. By their refusal, they forfeited any chance of receiving land allotments and became the "Lost Tribe" of the St. Croix. Today, descendants of those early people still live in the Lake Lena Indian Reservation, and are part of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Because of the large stand of white pine trees in the Hinckley area, loggers began their migration into the area and the first sawmill was built in 1869. The railroads were also invading the area and in the same year, 1869, the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad pushed its railroad building operation into Hinckley, and two miles north, and finally, into Duluth in 1870.
With the coming of the railroad, the lumbering industry boomed and for twenty years, Hinckley was a growing, prosperous town with a population of 1,500.
On September 1, 1894, all of that changed.
Even today, that year still stands as one of the driest on record. With blowing winds, low humidities and less than two inches of rain from May until September, the area was a prime target for a fire.
Because of the dryness of the summer, fires were common in the woods, along railroad tracks and in logging camps where loggers would set fire to their slash to clean up the area before moving on. Some loggers, of course left their debris behind giving any fire more fuel on which to grow. Saturday, September 1st, 1894 began as another oppressively hot day with fires surrounding the towns and two major fires that were burning about five miles to the south. To add to the problem, the temperature inversion that day added to the heat, smoke and gases being held down by the huge layer of cool air above. The two fires managed to join together to make one large fire with flames that licked through the inversion finding the cool air above. That air came rushing down into the fires to create a vortex or tornado of flames which then began to move quickly and grew larger and larger turning into a fierce firestorm. The fire first destroyed the towns of Mission Creek and Brook Park before coming into the town of Hinckley. When it was over the Firestorm had completely destroyed six towns, and over 400 square miles lay black and smoldering. The firestorm was so devastating that it lasted only four hours but destroyed everything in its path.
Hinckley Fire Museum
Today, the Hinckley Fire Museum interprets the story of the Great Fire and also of the rebuilding of the town and the area's natural progression into agricultural lands. The museum is open from May 1st through mid-October, Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday noon-5:00. Closed Mondays.
Hinckley has lost much of its farming community but has become a tourist destination famous for its history, caramel rolls, good food, bike trails and the St. Croix State Park, and fun at the popular Grand Casino Hinckley.
The population is just over 1,000 and growing to meet the demands of job opportunities and people who just want to live in a small town with large town opportunities. Come for a visit and stay for the night. Hinckley welcomes you to experience all it has to offer.