Fond du Lac Park

The nursery buildings within Fond du Lac Park photographed in 1927. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

At the same time, Duluth leaders recognized the importance of connecting the city to the new Jay Cooke State Park near Carlton and Highway 1. While the trunk highway was under construction, Snively and former Duluth mayor Judge Clarence Magney, together with Jay Cooke State Park Superintendent F. Rodney Paine, worked on creating a link between the new highway and the North Shore of Lake Superior—a link that would carry tourists across the length of Duluth. The State of Minnesota had connected the village of Thomson to the state park entrance in 1916, but the road did not continue all the way to Fond du Lac. After visiting the state park, tourists heading north from the Twin Cities had to backtrack to Highway 1 to continue their journey to Duluth. Snively, Magney, and Paine envisioned an alternate route—a scenic parkway that tourists could follow from Jay Cooke Park, along the St. Louis River, and across the Duluth hillside to the North Shore.

To create this connection, Snively began purchasing forested land near Fond du Lac. He planned to build the linking road through the area, which he called Fond du Lac Park. He shared his vision with the News Tribune in June 1925:

God gave us most wonderful natural scenic advantages and it is to these we must look to bring into our city the ever-increasing thousands who are to fill our hotels, buy from our merchants and leave with us some of the money that is now going to other cities that have been far-sighted enough to capitalize their natural resources.

City engineers built the parkway along Mission Creek in the summer of 1926. Similar to the Seven Bridges Road at the eastern end of the city, the road included five stone bridges across the creek. Snively also planned to build a branch road into the village of Fond du Lac to satisfy the local community club. After receiving an estimate of $20,000 to build the branch road, Snively decided to avoid the time-consuming red-tape of finding funds in the city budget. He convinced ten citizens to contribute fifty dollars each for clearing the right-of-way. Four other citizens contributed $700 for grading the roadway. He appealed to the county commissioners and received $5,000 for two bridges.

Snively even spent time personally helping to build the branch road. According to the Duluth Herald, “to urge the road builders on, Mayor Snively frequently went to Mission Creek, clad in working clothes, seized a pick or shovel and worked side by side the whole day long with the road laborers, doing his share of the work and urging them on to greater efforts.” Thanks to the untiring efforts of Mayor Snively, the Mission Creek Boulevard—including the branch road—was completed and dedicated on November 5, 1927. Several hundred motorists drove the new road to attend the opening ceremony, where residents of Fond du Lac served as hosts and provided refreshments. Judge Magney gave a short speech to celebrate the occasion.

The life of Mission Creek Boulevard was brief—just thirty years. The road frequently washed out when the creek spilled over its banks. In 1958 floodwater took more of the parkway than the city was willing to repair, so the road was closed and the bridges left to deteriorate.

Duluth’s Municipal Nursery

As work on the Mission Creek road got underway, Snively turned his attention to developing a municipal tree nursery. Since 1889 the park board, and later the park department, had been responsible for planting trees and flowers in the city’s boulevards and greenspaces. Mayor Snively thought it would be more economical for the city to grow plants instead of buying them from commercial nurseries, so in 1926 he approved the purchase of approximately thirty-six acres of the “old Windom farm” for a cost of $7,500. Located adjacent to Fond du Lac Park at the end of 131st Avenue West, the farm was worked in the early 1900s by Judge William Windom, a friend and colleague of Guilford Hartley, whose Allandale Farm later became Hartley Park. Windom had specialized in raising Guernsey dairy cows and Rhode Island Red chickens on his Fond du Lac acreage. The site offered deep, rich soil, a good water supply, and protection from the cold winds.

Park employees renovated the Windom home, and early in 1927 the new caretaker, David Nummi, took up residence on the old farm. Workers repaired the barn and divided it into rooms for offices and storage. They turned the chicken building into a greenhouse to grow annual flowers for park displays. The park department purchased 3,500 deciduous trees of various sizes and varieties, 3,000 evergreen trees, and 9,400 shrubs—a total of 15,900 plants—at a cost of about $8,000. The nursery also included numerous native seedling trees, as well as a variety of perennials and shrubs, for a total of nearly 18,000 plants.

Despite the difficult economic times of the Depression, the city nursery survived into the 1940s. Conditions changed, however, with World War II and the end of the federal relief projects. A shortage of funds and workers resulted in a lack of regular maintenance and the continued deterioration of many park facilities. After the war, the city administration’s focus shifted away from creating parks and moved toward providing the public with recreational opportunities. In 1952 the nursery reported a net gain of over $12,000, but just two years later the city ended the tree-planting program and in 1956 reported a net loss of about $2,000 for the nursery. In the spring of 1960, under Mayor Eugene Lambert, the city announced plans to close the municipal tree nursery.

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