Globe Elevator
Superior, WI

UPDATE: 1/3 of this elevator system burned down on Dec. 17th, 2018. Telegram WDIO DNT

One of the Last Wooden Elevators

The first carload of grain was loaded into Elevator #1 on October 3rd, 1887. Its neighboring elevator (#2) was still under construction, the on-site sawmill still cutting the raw lumber trained-in from the shores of the Pokegama River. This was a wooden grain elevator—common then, extremely rare now.

Globe from the side of Great Northern. Sawyer Unloader (Gallagher, Duluth Public Library)
Globe from the side of Great Northern. Sawyer Unloader (Gallagher, Duluth Public Library)

When all the old growth wood was sawn, there were four interconnected buildings on the long slip in Superior, Wisconsin projecting into Lake Superior’s natural harbor. Between 2000 and 3000 men worked two years on the strip of land to make what was then the largest terminal elevator in the world.

If you were on the top floor of one of the buildings looking down from
one of the many narrow timber walkways between belted pulleys, you would look down into empty vertical chambers where the grain would be dumped. There were 289 of these grain compartments, or ‘bins’, at Globe, originally just called the Sawyer System for the company’s president.

The Sawyer System was one of the first to tie-in all of its buildings at the time of construction; the norm at the time was to build an elevator until demand called for another, then expansion would come later with possible interconnections, often with skyways or tunnels. The name of the elevator was soon formalized as the Duluth Elevator Company—a moniker that still brands the side of Elevator #2.

Duluth Elevator Co. #2 - (C)SUBSTREET

Sitting on the board of Duluth Elevator Company was F.H. Peavey, a name that would later become synonymous with Midwest grain.

The reason why so few of these wooden grain elevators survive is their particular flammability. Grain dust is extremely flammable, even explosive at certain concentrations while suspended in air. That coupled with the technology of steam engines powered by spark-prone coal and hot-running friction pulleys destroyed entire districts of mills and elevators.

Globe escaped one massive grain-fuel inferno in 1907 that destroyed the many flour mills along Tower Avenue as well as the neighboring Great Northern Elevator ‘A’. Its good luck continued when the ancestor of Great Northern ‘A’ burned as well in 1941. Ironically, the elevator closed that year due to economic forces instead.

Film- Under a Wooden Elevator - (C)SUBSTREET

When ConAgra-Peavey returned to the area in the early 1980s, however, they looked back to Globe to find a foothold in booming market. The homecoming was short lived, however, as the mega-corporation moved across town near where Fraser Shipyards are today into the Continental Elevator in 1988.

Peavey Ghost Sign - (C)SUBSTREET

They left Globe behind.

Now the Globe Elevators are being slowly demolished by disassembly as a company takes apart the facility board by board to sell its antique wood. As sad as it is to see this rare building disappear, the only surviving elevator in the area built before 1900, I am glad it is being reused and respected.

2013 Update: Beginning in January 2013, Globe’s demolition was featured History Channel.

References »

  • Lapinski, Patrick. "Superior’s Globe Elevator: Monument to the Glory Days of Grain." Nor’Easter. 21. no. 6 (1996). (accessed May 11, 2012).
  • Lien, Dennis. "Globe Elevator." Pioneer Press. . (accessed May 11, 2012).