Duluth’s Development, 1856–1939

This perspective map of Duluth in 1883 was made by Henry Wellge. (Image: Zenith City Press)

1880s

The 1880s turned things around for the area, in no small thanks to the ship canal and railroads, which allowed Duluth to turn itself into a major grain trading center. Grain elevators and flour mills sprang up on Rice’s Point. The lumber industry also picked up, and soon mills stretched from Minnesota Point to Oneota.

Not everyone was pleased. The folks in Middleton were none-too-happy that the canal had essentially cut them off from the rest of Duluth, turning their community into an island, and that Duluth had done nothing in ten years to bridge the canal. In 1881, Middleton residents changed the township’s name to something its citizens preferred and had been calling it for years: Park Point. Despite this, most of the townships got along fine, and divisions continued to blur. Those Fish Eaters who had developed both Portland and Duluth—many of whom had connections with Ashtabula, Ohio—finally saw their investments pay off and began building themselves elaborate Queen Anne Victorian homes in a neighborhood they called Ashtabula Heights (covering today’s lower Central Hillside).

In the early 1880s, immigrant laborers began building homes west of Mesaba Avenue, an area that would evolve into Duluth’s West End. At this time not much had developed west of Rice’s Point outside of Oneota. The only way to get to Oneota was by Michigan Street: Superior Street west of Point of Rocks wouldn’t be graded until 1886. In 1885, pretty much everything west of Twenty-Eighth Avenue West was, according to land developer C. E. Lovett, “covered with bushes, underbrush, stumps, and logs.… Grand Avenue was a country road cut through the alder bushes.”

Lovett was part of a group of men who speculated in land development west of the West End. As Duluth was booming, many were speculating that it would become a great distribution center, which would attract a variety of industries, all of which would need a place to build factories and warehouses. With a “syndicate” of investors he purchased land west of Oneota hoping to bring that new industry west and make a fortune from real estate.

In 1888 they incorporated their land—along with Oneota Township—as the Village of West Duluth. West Duluth’s founders widely believed it promised to become the “new Pittsburgh” after gaining a blast furnace and rolling mill from the Duluth Iron and Steel Company. While that vision didn’t materialize, West Duluth did become the industrial center of town, particularly near the river by the old Oneota settlement.

The empty spaces of what is now Duluth began to fill in as well, as a larger population required more housing. As the newer arrivals filled in neighborhoods in Duluth, Portland, and Endion, further East developers were attracting those who now found the city too crowded. In 1871 Hugh McCollough had purchased much of Belville and land stretching east to the Lester River. He platted the area and called it New London, giving many of the streets and squares British names, including his own (McCollough would never see his township, as he did all the work from his London office). McCollough sold his property to George Sargent. When Sargent died in 1875, the property went to his son, William. William and a few friends organized the Lakeside Land Company and divided New London into Lakeside and Lester Park. In 1889 the entire area became the Village of Lakeside.

While all this growth was occurring in new village sites and in the west, the Village of Duluth continued to pay off the defunct city’s debts, clearing the books in early 1887 to once again become a city.

As the decade came to an end, Duluth stretched eastward from roughly Fortieth Avenue West to Twenty-First Avenue East and again included many of the townships that once hoped to become grand cities all their own: Endion, Portland, North Duluth, and Rice’s Point. Fremont, of course, had floated away in 1873. Duluth did not include Park Point. The village refused to rejoin the newly sanctioned city until a bridge was built connecting Minnesota Point to the rest of the city. Duluth promised a bridge, and Park Point became part of Duluth in 1889. Park Pointers had to exercise patience: it would take Duluth another fifteen years to build that promised bridge, which would become the symbol of the entire city.

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