Superior’s Firefighting Horses

Superior’s Firefighting Horses

Before engine-powered fire trucks were seen speeding from Superior’s fire halls toward plumes of smoke, galloping horses pulled fire hose and ladder wagons toward blazes. Horses naturally fear flames and often become nervous when they catch a whiff of smoke. But because horses were necessary in getting to and fighting fires, the horses working in fire halls were trained to gallop directly to a fire, pulling fire-extinguishing equipment in their wake. Log book records kept by Superior fire fighters provide a wealth of information about the maintenance and care of fire-fighting horses.

A cart and harness prepared for a fire run.

A cart and harness prepared for a fire run.

The East End Fire Hall was built in 1898. In August of the previous year, Superior’s Evening Telegram printed an article about how the fire hall plans were drawn up. The building itself was two stories high and the dimensions were 60 feet by 65 feet. The first floor had space for nine horse stalls. According to the article, “These stalls are not arranged in the rear of the building as in the present system, but are so arranged that the horses after being released by the automatic action of the drop box, have only to go twelve feet to get in harness and ready for the start.” The horses were trained to leave their stalls and run directly to their places in front of the firefighting equipment and underneath the harnesses when the alarm bell rang. The harnesses were hung from the ceiling in such a way that only one or two buckles were required in order to hook the horse to the wagon and head toward the fire.

Note how the team of horses is very close to the burning building.

Note how the team of horses is very close to the burning building.

On May 4, 1898, a firefighter at the Connor’s Point Fire Hall wrote in the log book about the shoeing process. He penciled: “1:45 p.m. – Love brought extra team and took the regular team to shop to be shoed.” At 4:30 that afternoon, the firefighter wrote that the “regular team was returned and the extra team was taken away.” To keep the horses ready for a fire run, metal shoes were attached to their hooves. This was so that the horses would not easily bruise their hooves as they sprinted. If a horse’s foot was injured during a fire run, the horse would have to be taken out of use – even for months at a time – to allow the hoof to grow beyond the injury.

The shoeing process occurred every other month, and the fire hall logs include other horse-related notations such as new planks for stalls, as well as bags of oats and bales of hay for the hungry horses. The weight of the fire suppression apparatus meant that some of the fire horses had to be large and strong; draft horses were trained for this equipment while lighter horses were used for the fire chief’s wagon and sleigh. Two of the large draft horses stabled at the Connor’s Point Fire Hall were named Sandy and Prince. A log book note from the year 1900 stated that Sandy weighed 1310 pounds while Prince weighed in at 1297 pounds.

Horses remained an integral part of Superior’s fire halls until new engines and equipment were powerful enough to replace the horses’ speed and strength.

Moose Antlers?

We are pleased to announce that we will be adding a new room to the Fairlawn guided tour this year. After several years of restoration, Martin Pattison’s office will be shown to visitors. In preparation for this addition we have stabilized the original painted ceiling and installed a new window that is period appropriate in construction. For many years we have been collecting artifacts for display in this room, including snowshoes and rock samples. We could use a few more. We are in need of very old items with a distinctly north woods feel. Specifically we could use a pair of moose antlers. We would prefer just the antlers and not the whole moose head. If you have antlers or other items you think might be a good addition, give us a call at 715-394-5712.

Martin Pattison's office in the early 1900s

Martin Pattison’s office in the early 1900s


Lake Superior Brownstone

In the United States, brownstone as a building material reached the height of its popularity between 1868 and 1898 as growing cities built grand buildings to show off their new prosperity. In addition, the disastrous Chicago fire of 1871 highlighted the importance of replacing wooden buildings with more substantial structures. This helped ensure the success of the “Romanesque Revival” style of Henry Richardson, a popular architectural movement that favored massive stone construction.

Brownstone quarry

A Brownstone Quarry in the 1880s

High-quality brownstone (a reddish-brown sandstone made up of rounded grains of quartz sand) is found around the south shore of Lake Superior. The first quarry in the region was established on Basswood Island (one of the Apostle Islands) in 1868 by the Bass Island Brownstone Company. Other brownstone quarries were located near Fond du Lac, Port Wing, Amnicon, Iron River, and Bayfield.

Fairlawn Mansion

Fairlawn Mansion

Here in Superior, Martin Pattison started building Fairlawn in 1889. He used blocks of Lake Superior brownstone for the foundation and porches of the mansion. The brownstone used at Fairlawn came from the quarry of the Arcadian Brownstone Company, located about 10 miles away along the Amnicon River. The stone was hauled to Fairlawn by rail.

During the twenty years of its existence (1886-1906) the Arcadian Brownstone Quarry shipped out more than a million cubic feet of stone to cities throughout the Midwest. The old  quarry is located in what is now Amnicon Falls State Park.  Two major factors brought an end to the brownstone quarrying industry in the Lake Superior region. The national economy crashed in 1893, discouraging construction and virtually eliminating demand for building stone. By the time the economy improved, architectural tastes had shifted. Dark brownstone was out of fashion; lighter stones and brickwork took its place. The brownstone era was over.

Garden Talks 2015

Our 2015 Garden Talks series is underway! There is still time to sign up for one or more of our remaining four talks: “Tree Care” with Louise Levy on Thursday February 26; “African Violets” with Geraldine Hughes on March 12; “Plants for Natural Health and Wellness” with Gigi Stafne and Judith Liebaert on April 2; and “Gardeners Like Beer Too!” with Nick Casper on April 9. Yummy tGreen Wisdom crocusreats this year are provided by the professionally trained pastry chefs of “The Sweet Guys”. Give us a call at 715-394-5712 to reserve your space!

Celebrate the Holidays at Fairlawn Mansion

We have lots of fun events planned at Fairlawn for the holidays! Please join us for any or all of these festive holiday events!

Small Business Saturday

On Saturday November 29, we’ll be participating in Small Business Saturday. Cookies and coffee will be available in the gift shop (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and we’ll have 15% off on gift shop merchandise. We’ll also have a drawing for a copy of “Restoring the Splendor”, a beautiful full-color book that illustrates the restoration of Fairlawn Mansion. And…for every $10 you spend, you’ll have a chance to win a great prize package from the Superior-Douglas County Area Chamber. Check out the chamber’s web site for more information.

Thursday December 4 is our annual Holiday Sampler. Doors open at 5 p.m. Come and enjoy a selection of wines and craft beer (courtesy of Keyport Liquors) and a buffet of savory and sweet treats. Jazz guitarist Mark Anderson will provide the music while you browse our silent auction items and local artists’ work in the Third Floor Gallery. Advance tickets are $25 each or 4 for $90. Call 715-394-5712 to reserve your tickets today! Tickets can also be purchased at the door for $30.

Christmas at Fairlawn Mansion. Photo courtesy of Misty Pine Photography.

Tuesday December 9 we will host our Holiday Luncheon Musicale at Fairlawn Mansion from noon to 2 p.m.  The afternoon begins with festive music by Sandey Williams (piano) and Ruth Juntunen (violin); both are members of the Lake Superior Ragtime Society. Lunch by Red Swan Catering will be served at 12:30 p.m. The menu includes Mandarin orange chicken pasta salad, croissant, fruit kabobs, and fudge marble cake. After lunch, you can enjoy a complimentary tour of the mansion. Advance reservations are required; tickets are $26.00. Call 715-394-5712 for reservations.

Fairlawn Mansion In winter.  Photo courtesy of Misty Pine Photography

Fairlawn Mansion In winter.
Photo courtesy of Misty Pine Photography

Tuesday December 9 is also the date for the first of our Twinkling Tuesday evening open houses.  On December 9, 16, 23, and 30 you can take in the sparkle of the decorated Fairlawn Mansion after dark at your own pace. Doors open at 7 p.m. Sample hot cider and seasonal treats as you explore all three floors of this beautiful home. Hosts scattered throughout the house will share stories about the Pattison family and the history of the house.  Cost is $5.00 for adults; free for children 12 and under. Sponsored by National Bank of Commerce.


McDougall’s Dream is Saturday September 27!

Alexander McDougall

Alexander McDougall

This year marks the 10th annual “McDougall’s Dream”. This all-day event celebrates local ship builder and entrepreneur Alexander McDougall.

In the late 1880s he came up with an innovative design for a steel-hulled vessel that would ride low in the water and shed the waves off its back like a whale, which gave the vessels their popular name of “whaleback.” McDougall’s American Steel Barge Company built the whalebacks in Superior, near the site of the current Frasier Shipyards. Only one whaleback ship remains – the Meteor – now land-berthed on Barker’s Island and open for tours.

McDougall’s Dream is this Saturday September 27 at the Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior. Afternoon presentations begin at 1 p.m. with topics ranging from shipwrecks to shipbuilding. The evening events start at 5 p.m. with a cash bar, dinner catered by Famous Dave’s BBQ, a silent auction, and keynote speaker Pamela Brunfelt, Iron Range historian from Ely, Minnesota. Proceeds from the event help to restore and preserve the Meteor and the legacy of Captain Alexander McDougall.

The cost is $15 for the daytime talks, $40 for the evening dinner and keynote speaker, or $45 for a combination ticket for daytime and evening events.

For more details, take a look at our “Events Calendar” page. To make a reservation, call us at 715-394-5712.

Mini-Golf Frolic postponed to September 15

The Mini-Golf Frolic scheduled for today (Monday August 18) has been postponed as a result of yesterday’s heavy rainfall. At least 1.5 inches of rain fell in the past 24 hours, leaving Capt’n J’s miniature golf covered by standing water.

The Mini-Golf Frolic has been rescheduled for
Monday September 15,  5 to 8 p.m.

Tour the Meteor on Lake Superior Day – July 20

Sunday July 20 is Lake Superior Day! The SS Meteor, now located at Barker’s Island,  is the last remaining above-water whaleback ship designed and built in Duluth/Superior by Captain Alexander McDougall.  Celebrate Lake Superior Day by touring the Meteor.

On Sunday July 20, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., tours of the Meteor will be half-price. For more information, contact us at
715-394-5712 or

Launch of a whaleback ship in Superior, Wisconsin

Launch of a whaleback ship in Superior, Wisconsin

Volunteers Help Get S.S. Meteor in Ship Shape

At the north edge of Barker’s Island at Superior, Wisconsin sits an unassuming, little (by today’s standards) ship with a big story to tell.

It’s hard to believe today, but the launch of the S. S. Meteor (then the Frank Rockefeller) drew tens of thousands of spectators, as did most launches in the Twin Ports near the turn of the last century.

Now one of only two ship museums on the ports’ bay (the William A. Irvin is anchored in Duluth, MN) the  S.S. Meteor Whaleback is now land berthed just a few short miles from the site of her launch in 1896. At this site, she again drew tens of thousands of visitors during the mid-1970s’, with people from across the nation, and even across the sea, coming to view the longest sailing and only remaining (above water) Whaleback in the world.

The S.S. Meteor is one of about 40 Whaleback ships designed by Captain Alexander McDougall and built by his American Steel Barge Company in Superior. The Meteor is an enduring example of the technically innovative steel-hulled ships that greatly influenced the future of ship building and shipping on the Great Lakes. The design marks an important step in the progression toward the 1,000-foot freighters sailing the largest freshwater chain of lakes today.

Superior Public Museums has been charged with the maintenance of this historic vessel and the interpretation of the ship’s history. On deck for the near future is a comprehensive plan to completely overhaul to the ship’s exhibits so we may better present her story to museum visitors.

In the meantime, we have been readying for the new displays to come – getting her in ship shape – you might say. With thanks for the extra help from our hardworking and steadfast volunteer clean-up crew, we can confidently say that the ship is in better shape than it has seen in decades.

The volunteer work weekend scheduled April 26 – 27 is an event in itself. Along with all the cleaning, scrubbing, scraping and painting, there is an evening program, plenty of food to fuel our hale and hearty volunteers, and tons of fun to be had. This year, we’ll also be making plans for a crew to return when the winds at the head of the lakes are blowing just a bit warmer, to give the hull a new coat of paint.

If you are interested in joining the clean up crew or the painting crew, email:, or call Sara or Stacie at (715) 394-5712. 

Not up to the down and dirty of heavy lifting and cleaning or wielding a paint brush?  No worries, you can still help out when you Buy a Bucket ‘0 Paint!  $50 purchases one gallon of paint for the ship. You will receive our thanks and your name will be displayed on your bucket(s) in our “Thank You Tower” of empty cans, exhibited at the Meteor for the 2014 season. Contact us for details on how to make your donation – or click here.

The S.S. Meteor will re-open for the 2014 tour season on Sunday, May 19 from noon to 4 p.m. with free admission that day. Come Aboard to hear the story of the Whalebacks and experience a significant piece of Superior’s history.