A Week in Duluth

THE NEXT MORNING (Monday, August 16th) shows a changed aspect of things. The wind has gone down, the weather is inviting, and we go out to view the town, which, so quiet the day before, is ringing now with the noise of axes and hammers and saws, and clanking wheels, and flapping boards flung down, and scenes of busy life on every side. Wood-choppers are cutting trees, piling sticks and brush, and burning log-heaps—clearing the land, not for wheat and potatoes, but for the planting of a city. The streets have not yet been graded, but the rude wagon-tracks go curving over hillocks and through hollows, amid rocks and stumps and stones, and the plank sidewalks span many a deep gully and trickling stream.

The plan of the town well befits its really superb situation. Superior Street occupies the front of the lower terrace of the hills. Behind this, and parallel with it, are the numbered streets—First, Second, Third, and so on—rising step by step on the gentle acclivity. Crossing the streets are the avenues, which go cutting their tremendous gaps through the dense forest growth up the wild mountain-side.

Going down to the lake shore, I am surprised to find under the cliff an old wharf and warehouse in the angle formed by Minnesota Point, I afterwards meet the owner and learn of him how they came here. Included in what is now Duluth is the old town of Portland, which had a name and a location at this point, but never any real existence. Here was an Indian agency, and that was about all. Good maps of the States show several such towns scattered along the north shore—Clifton, Buchanan, Burlington—like flies on the back of that monstrous forefinger of the lake, which is seen pointing in a southwesterly direction across the continent. Of these paper towns Portland was always deemed the most important. Situated at the western extremity of the grandest lake and river chain in the world—that vast freshwater Mediterranean which reaches from the Gulf of St. Lawrence almost to the centre of North America,—it  required no great degree of sagacity to perceive that here was to be the key to the quarter of the hemisphere, —here or hereabouts. Wherever was established the practical head of navigation between the northern range of States and the vastly more extensive undeveloped region beyond, there must be another and perhaps even a greater Chicago.

“This,” said Mr. L [No doubt Sidney Luce, ed.], “looked to me to be the spot. There’s no good natural harbor here; neither is there anywhere about the end of the lake. But here is the best chance to make a harbor. Superior Bay is deep enough for small vessels, and dredging will make it deep enough for large ones. On the lake side of the Point we have depth of water enough to float a navy; and it only needs a breakwater thrown out from the north shore, parallel with the Point, to make as much of a haven as is wanted. There are rocks on the hills that will dump themselves into the lake, only help ’em a little. I knew the expense of the thing wasn’t going to stand in the way of a good harbor here many years. My mistake was in thinking the millennium was coming so soon. There began to be talk of a railroad here fifteen years ago, and I thought we were going to have it right away. So I went to work and built a wharf and warehouse. I expected great quantities of lumber would be shipped and supplies landed at once. But the railroad didn’t come, and the lumber didn’t go. It cost me two hundred dollars a year to keep my wharf in repair, exposed, as you see it, to the lake storms, and 1 never got a cent for it.”

Then it appeared that the railroad was not coming to the north shore at all, but to the other end of Superior Bay, in the State of Wisconsin. This was the project of Breckenridge and his Southern associates, who got a land-grant through Congress, and founded Superior City, and were going to have a stronghold of the slave power in the enemy’s country—a Northern metropolis to which they could bring their servants in summer, and enjoy the cool breezes of the great lake. Superior grew up at once to be a town of considerable size and importance, and stupendous hopes. But the war of the Rebellion came and put an end to schemes of that sort. The new city grew dejected, and fell into a rapid decline; if true, what its friends still loudly claimed for it, that it was “looking up,” it must have been (like that other city a fellow-traveller tells of) because, lying flat on its back, it could not look any other way,

Portland, quite overshadowed for a while by the mushroom-umbrella of its rival, now peeped forth and took courage. Minnesota was determined, after all, to have the railroad which had so nearly fallen into the hands of her fair neighbor, Wisconsin. By running it from St. Paul to the north shore, crossing the St. Louis River at its falls, above Fond du Lac, she could keep it entirely within her own borders. But while the young State had abundant enterprise, she lacked the financial resources of her older sisters. Fortunately, when the project seemed on the point of failure, the attention of eminent capitalists of Pennsylvania was called to it, and its success insured. The bonds of the newly organized Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad Company—amounting to four and a half million dollars, secured by a lien upon its magnificent land-grant of over sixteen hundred thousand acres—were put upon the market by Jay Cooke, and sold ‘within a week’s time, so great was the confidence of financial men in the scheme and its supporters. An immense force of laborers was in the mean while thrown upon the fine of the road, and the work was pushed forward rapidly towards completion.

Then the three or four faithful ones, who had held on so long here under all discouragements, began to see their reward. A new town had been laid out, including Portland and that part of the township of Duluth lying on Minnesota Point and the head of the bay, and called Duluth (pronounced Doo-looth), after the adventurous Frenchman, Daniel Greysolon Du Luth (or De Luth, or De Lut, or even Delhut, for his name appears spelled in various ways), a native of Lyons—soldier, Indian-trader, and explorer—whose canoes scraped the gravel on these shores nearly two hundred years ago. The land-owners made liberal grants to the railroad, and it has enriched them in return. One who came here fifteen years ago as an “Indian farmer” (sent out by the government to teach the Indians the cultivation of the soil) sells to-day, of land he “pre-empted” then, a single house-lot on Superior Street for forty-five hundred dollars.

The coast scenery is very fine. The waves break upon a beach of red shingle and sand, which stretches for miles along Minnesota Point (like an edge to that sickle), and crops out again in beautiful colored coves and basins under the jutting rocks and romantic wood-crowned cliffs of the north shore. The water is deep and transparent, and it is delightful in calm weather, afloat in a skiff, or lying on the shelf of a projecting ledge, to look down through the softly heaving, indolent, cool, crystal waves, and see the curiously tinted stones and pebbly mosaic at the bottom. The beaches abound in agates, which are constantly gathered, and which are as constantly washed up afresh by every storm. This shore is noted for them; and it is amusing to see newly arrived tourists run at once to the water, and, oblivious of all the grander attractions of the place, go peering and poking in the shingle for these not very precious stones.

Returning from a ramble on the rocks, I am attracted by a crowd on a street corner, discussing a murder committed on the spot a couple of days ago. Some Philadelphia roughs employed on the railroad got into a row at the door of a saloon from which they had been ejected, and made an attack upon a young man passing by, pursued him, crying, “Kill him! kill him!” and did kill with a stab from a knife his brother who came to his rescue. The victim was a brave young man, belonging to a highly respected family living here; his death created an intense excitement, and I hear stern-faced men talk with dangerous, settled calmness of tone of taking out the offenders and promptly hanging them—justice being as yet scarcely organized in the place.

Nine of the rioters had been arrested and were having an examination in the office of a justice of the peace close by. I look in, and see a hard-visaged set of fellows with irons on their legs, listening with reckless apathy to the testimony of the murdered man’s brother. The history of one of the prisoners would serve to point the moral of a tale. Sitting there on the rude bench, in coarse, soiled clothes, one of the villanous-looking row, he is recognized by some of our party as the son of a wealthy and respectable Philadelphian, —a youth who might now be enjoying the advantages which is money and social position can give, had he not preferred the way of the transgressor. The fable of Poor Tray does not apply to the case of one who can hardly have gone into company worse than himself. His father had given him up as irreclaimable; and here he was, at last, a day-laborer on a railroad, and the companion of assassins.

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