We welcome rail fans!

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.

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 predecessor.

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, 1894.

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.