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Historic Minnesota town's city hall comes down after morning fire

The Ellsworth City Hall is enveloped in smoke Tuesday morning, with firefighters from at least nine area fire departments on the scene. Alyssa Sobotka / Forum News Service

ELLSWORTH, Minn. — An historic building that housed the Ellsworth City Hall for more than a century was destroyed by fire Tuesday morning, Jan. 15.

Firefighters from nine departments battled the fire in the city of about 470 people, which produced billows of thick smoke from its windows and doors. The building was later demolished using heavy equipment.

Rich Gaul, an Ellsworth fireman and member of the Ellsworth City Council, says the fire is believed to be electrical in nature. The Ellsworth Fire Department was dispatched to the scene at 6:17 a.m. At 10 a.m., the state fire marshal had not been able to get inside the building, according to Ellsworth Mayor Tasha Domeyer.

Located next to the city’s water tower, the concern was to protect the tower from damage.

Already, equipment was used to tear down the garage addition on the east side of the building — action was taken after an emergency meeting of the Ellsworth City Council Tuesday morning.

The Ellsworth City Hall is located at the intersection of Broadway Street (Minnesota 91) and Fourth Avenue, and is just a block north of the Ellsworth Public School. The school was closed Tuesday, due to concerns of having enough water available.

The fire also closed Minnesota 91 through Ellsworth, about 28 miles west of Worthington.

Ellsworth, located in far southwest Nobles County in the deep southwest corner of the state, was founded in 1884. Its original city hall building was destroyed by fire, and this, the second building, was constructed in 1904, according to Ellsworth City Clerk Dawn Huisman.

Ellsworth firefighters were able to get inside the building to save important documents, files and the computer system from the clerk’s office before the fire spread.

According to city residents, the building housed some historical treasures, including a painted canvas that dates back to the 1930s, according to Kathy Chapa, who with her husband, Brian, owns the Ellsworth Locker across the street.

The canvas, or curtain, was stored in the upstairs of the building, which was once a gym with a basketball court and theater stage. Years ago, students from the school used the space.

“There’s a lot of history up there,” said Chapa, noting that many of the community’s early residents had their initials carved in the bricks of the building.