April 11, 1887: O. P. Stearns delivers old city bonds and coupons—Duluth free of debt

Judge O. P. Stearns. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

On this day in Duluth in 1887, Judge O. P. Stearns “delivered up the last of the old city bonds and coupons, and the old disgrace to the city was finally wiped out.” The previous month Duluth had regained its city charter, so getting rid of those old bonds was the last step Duluth required to move forward. When Duluth had lost its city charter due to bankruptcy in 1877, Judge Stearns was made gatekeeper of the former city’s bonds. Writing in 1922, Duluth pioneer and historian Walter Van Brut suggested that the main reason Duluth lost its charter was the expense of fighting the legal battle over the ship canal through various lawsuits brought by both the city of Superior and the state of Wisconsin: “Once again Duluth could hold her head high, though, as a matter of fact, there was in reality no time at which she might not have done so, for the liabilities she had incurred in her infancy had been mainly because of her determination to fight resolutely for her most vital interests against the state and federal forces arrayed against her, to circumvent and defeat her rightful plans for development, so that Superior might benefit. Duluth won, notwithstanding that the wealth of Wisconsin, and insidious undercurrents at Washington, sought her downfall, so that Superior might rise. It was a hard fight, but Duluth won and what is more, paid her debts. So that, in 1887, the Head of the Lakes, in a business sense, meant Duluth.” You can read all about the 1871–1877 legal fight over the Duluth Ship Canal here.

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