Rebuilt from the ashes
The fire of Oct. 12, 1918, burned most Cloquet buildings to the ground, including houses. All that remained were charred, empty shells of basements throughout town.
Many residents rebuilt their homes. The majority had small shacks that were quickly constructed as the cold Minnesota fall prepared to transition to winter.
One of the rebuilt homes in Cloquet is still owned by a fourth-generation family member.
In 2004, Tom Proulx inherited the family home his great-grandfather built on Eighth Street, including a few family "treasures."
Proulx threw a party Saturday, Sept. 29, to celebrate 100 years of the family living in the same home. His mother, Judy Proulx, and several relatives who attended the celebration were excited about the achievement.
"My great-grandfather bought the original home in 1910 for $1,300," Tom said. "It was rebuilt on the same foundation in 1918 after the fire."
Generations of the family have updated the house over the years. The two-story home was originally a five-bedroom, one-bathroom house.
Tom's great-grandparents, Joe and Emma Weselik, had six children, four boys and two girls. The boys' bedrooms were upstairs and the girls' rooms were downstairs.
Joe worked at Northwest Paper and drove one of the first company cars. He retired in 1949 after 50 years and Tom still has his retirement gift: a gold watch. Emma was a stay-at-home mother. Tom still has his great-grandfather's travel diaries.
After Joe died, Emma continued to live in the home with her youngest daughter, Maxine, until her death in 1969. Maxine continued to live there until 2004, when Tom moved in.
Tom chuckles as he remembers a story he was told about his great-uncles. The boys would go to the attic and drop a rope through a hole that wires ran through to the basement.
In the basement, one of the boys tied a bottle of alcohol to the rope and another brother pulled it up into the attic. The brothers would then sneak it into their bedrooms.
Some of the original features of the 1918 home include beautiful dark hardwood floors, wide trim boards that were popular at the time and several built-in storage units. A few of the built-ins attached to the archway between the dining and living room were removed and are now freestanding.
The kitchen cabinets are original to the house.
"They've probably been painted 18 times," Tom said.
He remodeled one of the upstairs bedrooms into a bathroom to help accommodate his revolving door of housemates.
The front porch was enclosed many years ago. Tom added carpet over the cold wood floors in the living room.
Tom also converted the original wood burning fireplace in the living room to gas. He said he only pays an average of $800 per year to heat the large old house.
Maxine added a laundry room and sunroom to the back of the house years ago.
Tom notes that the upstairs bedrooms do not have closets, while the downstairs bedrooms have large walk-in closets. One of the closets features cedar lining to prevent moth damage.
Most of the original brown stucco was sided over with vinyl years ago, except inside the now-enclosed front porch.
An interesting find happened about seven years ago when Tom had his driveway repaved. The workers discovered an old well in the middle of the driveway. The inside of the well was tiled and in great shape.
Tom said he hated to fill it in, but there was no other options. The well was filled with dirt and paved over.
A unique feature in the house is an ashtray built into a kitchen wall. It is currently repurposed as a change holder.
Two 22-inch-tall glass gas lamps stand watch, one on each end of the fireplace mantle.
"They have been there as long as I can remember," Tom said. He said he is surprised they have not broken over the years, especially considering the roommates' and their friends' roughhousing, as well as items thrown at the television during football games. He has housed about eight Minnesota Wilderness hockey players as a billet home for several years.
Tom has a vintage clock from his grandparents, as well as a cardboard box with the date 1918 on it. The clock still keeps time when Tom remembers to wind it. He guesses the box survived the fire because his grandfather kept important papers inside and took it when he fled the fire.
Tom not only preserves his own family history, he enjoys adding "new" vintage pieces from auctions to his collection.