Duluth’s Development, 1856–1939

This perspective map of Duluth in 1893 was made by Henry Wellge. (Image: Zenith City Press)

1890s

Duluth’s expansion continued into the 1890s. In 1891 Duluth acquired Hunter’s Park, Woodland, Kenwood, Duluth Heights, and Piedmont Heights, all primarily residential developments served by streetcar lines installed by developers and operated by the Duluth Street Railway Company—Duluth’s infamous Seventh Avenue West Incline was built to help Duluth Heights develop.

The Hunter’s Park neighborhood took off in the early 1890s when it was reached by streetcar line. Angus MacFarlane and his brother-in-law, Ronald Hunter, purchased the land that would become Hunter’s Park in the early 1880s. A portion of Hunter’s Park became known as Glen Avon, the name used for the neighborhood’s school, church, playground, and other facilities. When the neighborhood was platted in 1891, MacFarlane and Hunter named the streets for English and Scottish place names, patron saints, and prominent people. One stretch of Waverly Avenue was known as “Oatmeal Hill.”

They then began a recruitment campaign, offering Duluth’s well-heeled and well-respected Protestant families lots at a reduced cost—or free—in order to give the neighborhood instant prestige. Soon they drew many of the residents from Ashtabula Heights, which was then beginning to grow out of fashion with Duluth’s elite. Hunter’s Park also included several families of Italian heritage—in fact, a small enclave of houses along Carlisle Avenue was kindly called “Little Italy,” pejoratively “Dagoville.” Most of the Italian men worked in the neighborhood as gardeners for their wealthier neighbors; the Italian women worked as domestics.

In 1892 Duluth attempted to annex the Village of Lakeside, which had become another “streetcar suburb”—but the city would have to make the village a promise. More than a few of Lakeside’s Protestant leaders were involved in the growing Prohibition movement, and when it became a township the charter prohibited the sale or manufacturer of alcohol within its borders. When Lakeside Village became part of Duluth, the city had to make a promise to the village, and it did so with this piece of state legislation:

“The common council of the city of Duluth is hereby prohibited from ever granting any license to sell or dispose of any wines, spirituous or malt liquors within the limits of the territory hereby constituted as the city of Lakeside, after the same shall have been annexed to the said city of Duluth in accordance with the provisions of this act.”

Besides the wealthy who primarily built their homes along London Road, Lakeside’s growing population included many members of Duluth’s professional class: fairly well-to-do but far-from-rich merchants, medical professionals, and other “white collar” professionals. Most of these were Yankees of English and Scottish descent and almost uniformly Protestant. Others were of the “servant class”: those who cooked, cleaned, laundered, and cared for the properties and livestock of the affluent. Many of these domestics were of Irish Catholic or Scandinavian descent. Very few actually lived in modest homes in Lakeside, but thanks to the convenience of the streetcars, domestics living west of Mesaba Avenue could get from home to work and back with ease. The streetcars also helped them reach the homes of a fast-growing breed of wealthy Duluthians: lumber barons, grain commissioners, shipping magnates, mining executives, and various industrialists as well as physicians, lawyers, and other highly paid professionals. They had been building grand homes in Lakeside and Hunter’s Park and, beginning around 1900, in the growing developments east of Endion that would become known as the East End and Congdon Park.

On the other end of town, West Duluth was becoming the industrial center its founders had anticipated, although it wasn’t immune to national economics. The Panic of 1893 didn’t slow Duluth down as much as it did the rest of the nation, but it had enough influence to force the hand of several local communities that Duluth had been trying to coax into annexation. In 1894, as West Duluth neighborhoods including Cody, Fairmont, Irving, and what would later be called Denfeld were already taking shape, the Village of West Duluth became part of the City of Duluth.

The next year Duluth annexed Bayview Heights and the land that would become Riverside, Morgan Park, and Smithville—although those names did not appear until some time later. All this land was platted in the 1880s when C. E. Lovett and other developers anticipated incredible growth. The Ironton Land Company was to develop Ironton, which became Riverside, and St. Louis Bay Land Company (which included Lovett) would develop land south of Spirit Lake. The expected industrial boom never happened, and the land sat idle until 1913.

During the late 1880s a community later called Smithville quietly grew on the banks of Spirit Lake, a widening of the St. Louis River sacred to local Ojibwe. The neighborhood developed in part as a tourist retreat. But outside of the lake, its only attraction was the Spirit Lake Hotel, advertised in 1892 as the “finest summer resort at the head of the lakes.” It was built in 1888 by brothers Edward and Albert Swenson. That same year the neighborhood got its own post office, which served the community for eighteen years. By 1895 enough people lived in the community to justify the construction of its own elementary school. The Smithville School was the first recorded use of the name “Smithville.” But the hotel sat empty through most of the 90s and in 1903 became the Finnish Theological Seminary (later called the Finnish Work People’s College).

Duluth also annexed Bayview Heights in 1894. Located six hundred feet above West Duluth, Bayview is more often associated with the nearby town of Proctor—even the elementary school serving the neighborhood is affiliated with Proctor’s school district. Bayview Heights had been platted in the 1880s, and an incline railway was developed to help make the neighborhood more attractive to potential residents. Despite this effort, the neighborhood did not become a major population center, and the railway was gone by 1916.

The New Duluth Land Company had platted the land that would become New Duluth in 1889, boasting that it was the “largest body of level land on the Minnesota side of the St. Louis Bay.” It attracted many businesses to the area, including established Duluth outfits such as Atlas Iron and Brass Works and W. P. Heimbach Lumber. Their land sale was a tremendous success, but when Duluth’s Bell & Eyster Bank failed, the company lost much of its capital, which frightened investors, who refused to pay. All further sales were stopped. The financial panic of 1893 scared away any other potential investors. Duluth annexed New Duluth (and what would become Gary) in 1895, but neither would see significant growth until 1913.

Meanwhile Fond du Lac, which had been part of the first City of Duluth back in the 1870s, also rejoined the Zenith City in 1895.

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