April 8, 1920: Judge J. D. Ensign, twice former Duluth mayor, resigns as district court judge

Judge J.D. Ensign. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

On this day in Duluth in 1920, after nearly 32 years on the bench, 87-year-old Judge Josiah D. Ensign announced his resignation. He first came to Duluth in 1870 and was almost immediately elected as the St. Louis County Attorney. In that capacity, Ensign was instrumental in the legal fight with Wisconsin concerning the Duluth Ship Canal, which lasted from 1871 to 1877. During this time he also kept up a private practice with O. P. Stearns (namesake of Stearns County) for two years until Stearns became a district court judge. In 1880 Ensign was elected President of the Village of Duluth, a title that became “Mayor” while he was in office, and served the required two-year term. Ensign was elected mayor again in 1884 and served one more year. In 1889 he was first appointed district court judge. He was officially elected to the position in 1890 and re-elected in 1896, 1902, and 1908. From 1910 until his resignation, Ensign was the senior judge of the district. He also served as Duluth’s first “juvenile judge” and reportedly loved children. Duluth’s Ensign Elementary in Piedmont Heights was named for him in recognition of his service of many years on the city’s school board, and it became a tradition for the Ensign Elementary school children to send him bouquets of flowers on his birthday. President William Howard Taft, after an encounter with Ensign, told friends, “It was worth crossing the continent to meet him.” His resignation had a big effect on Duluth politics: sitting Mayor C. R. Magney resigned his position to run for Ensign’s vacant office—and won. Once again a former mayor—this time Trevanion Hugo—stepped in to finish his term. Learn more about Ensign here, Magney here, and Hugo here.

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