First known as Central Station, the town was named for railroad executive Isaac Hinckley
and served as a steam engine water stop and a busy passenger rail station from the
1850’s well into the 1960’s. The Hinckley Fire Museum is housed in the historic
depot, built immediately following the 1894 fire to the exact specifications of its
Hinckley has long been a transportation hub. First, on the banks of the Grindstone
River and today as the halfway point for motorists from the Twin Cities to Duluth
on Interstate Highway 35. In the years between, the railroad was the town’s link
to the world.
Two rail lines crossed at Hinckley: The Great Northern’s link between Minneapolis,
Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin; and the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad,
which connected its namesake bodies of water. The LS&M became the Saint Paul and
Duluth Railroad in 1873 and operated the line and the depot at the time of the fire
in 1894. After the line was restored and the depot rebuilt, the SP&D continued until
1900 when it became part of the Northern Pacific Railway. In 1970, the NP and Great
Northern were absorbed in the merger that created the Burlington Northern Railroad,
forerunner of today’s Dallas, Texas-based BNSF Railway.
The former Northern Pacific line between Hinckley and Duluth was repurposed in the
1980’s to become the multi-use recreational Willard Munger State Trail that carries
bicycle and pedestrian traffic in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter, with
a trail head just three blocks north of the museum.
The BNSF continues to conduct switching operations in a small rail yard visible from
the museum property, in connection with its line three blocks to the south. The
line between Minneapolis and Superior still carries several trains each day, carrying
lumber, coal and other freight pulled by BNSF and Canadian National engines. Although
the line has not carried regular passenger service since Amtrak withdrew from the
area in the 1980’s, discussions are ongoing to bring high-speed commuter rail service
using the existing track. If the plan is approved, Hinckley will again take on its
familiar role as a halfway stop for a new generation of railroad passengers.
Rail fans will appreciate the historic depot, which is on the National Register of
Historic Places and has been left largely unchanged in appearance since its construction
in the winter of 1894-1895. Let us know of your interest and we’ll be sure to point
out features like the depot agent’s office, his family living quarters and more.
It was railroad men like Thomas Dunn, James Root, John McGowan, Edward Barry, William
Best, Thomas Sullivan and John Blair who were among the heroes of September 1st,
We remember them not only by naming most of Hinckley’s streets after them but by
telling their stories at the museum. Ask us about our railroad heritage. We have
hosted rail fan groups from all over the country and would welcome the chance to
become your next whistle stop.