Fire swept through Elk River in April 1898. Although great news, more important than the fire was the rebuilding of the business district.
Newspapers reported half of the district destroyed. The event that “everybody in Elk River has been momentarily expecting for the past twenty years” devastated the community. The town and most of its buildings consisted of wood. When the fire started in the back of S. C. Brown dry goods store, it swept through the town causing $50,000 in damages.
Originally, railroad tracks split through the middle of the business center of Elk River. Immediately after the fire many merchants expressed regret over the division of the Elk River business district. In the days after the fire, plans were developed to move downtown center of Elk River to the south side of the railroad tracks. The businessmen also determined the entire downtown would be built of brick.
The results of the plans to move Elk River were dramatic. Building the Houlton Block and the adjoining opera house, the Merchants Hotel, and other brick and stone buildings temporarily generated a shortage of brick and other building materials. In spite of the challenges, by December the local newspapers reported the rejuvenation of downtown Elk River. “Today we can point with pride to as compact and substantial a business center as can be found,” the Sherburne County Star News reported.
Although the fire destroyed much of Elk River, the community rebuilt. This reconstruction effort illustrates the resilience of Elk River and its citizens.