The Parks of Minnesota Point

People of all ages enjoy the Shoot-the-Chutes waterslide (misspelled on the photo) at Desmond Park on Minnesota Point, ca. 1915. Photo by Hugh McKenzie. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

The Bridge Effect

After fifteen years the city kept its promise to Park Pointers by constructing the 1905 Aerial Transfer Bridge, predecessor to today’s Aerial Lift Bridge. The bridge brought major changes to the point. Crossing the canal became easy and efficient, and almost everyone could afford to take a streetcar to the canal, cross on the bridge, and transfer to the Park Point trolley. In anticipation of the bridge, the Duluth Boat Club moved its headquarters to Park Point; once the bridge was built, its wealthy members could drive to the club. On opening day, April 8, 1905, more than 32,000 people boarded the bridge in one twelve-hour period. Edward J. Filiatrault—Duluth’s earliest car dealer—was the first person to drive an automobile south of the canal; he wanted the beach to be turned into a raceway like Florida’s Daytona Beach.

Shortly after the bridge opened, the Duluth Herald announced that local investors intended to build a grand hotel on the sandbar within the Oatka Beach Addition. The proposed facility, a U-shaped building four stories high, featured several verandas and a rooftop observatory surrounded by gardens. Inside tourists would find forty guest rooms, refreshment rooms, private dining rooms; outside they would find a bathing pavilion and “ample facilities for boating.”

The hotel was never built, but just a year later the White City Amusement Park opened, built on the footprint of the Oatka Beach Addition. Increased traffic to the point motivated the Interstate Traction Company to improve its streetcar line. This in turn prompted a building boom in 1908, which included the summer home of Fitger’s Brewery president Percy Shelley Anneke and his wife Lydia at 4500 Minnesota Avenue, the only permanent home built south of Hartman Park.

By 1909 the amusement park was gone, and a suspected arson fire destroyed the old dance pavilion. The Duluth Boat Club merged with the Duluth Yacht Club and moved the Yacht Club’s facility from Fourteenth Street to the pavilion site, where it became known as the boat club’s Oatka Branch. Once Oatka Beach became the Boat Club’s domain, non-members picnicked at spots further down the point within the Barrens, which became popular for summertime gatherings of the YMCA, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts. Today the pavilion site is home to the Duluth Rowing Club’s boathouse, and the Oatka Beach Addition is covered by houses. Much of what was once the bathing beach was expanded with dredge spoils in 1935, and in 1999 the city dedicated it as the Mira M. Southworth Lake Superior Wetlands Preserve.

In 1911 the former Yacht Club site at Fourteenth Street South became a privately owned recreation facility. The new owners of the Duluth White Sox professional baseball team—Jack Desmond, Joe Maitland, and future Duluth mayor Dr. John. A. McCuen—hired the Interstate Dredge and Dock Company to build a 3,500-seat $30,000 ballpark. According to White Sox expert Anthony Bush, “Construction involved creating land by pumping 600,000 yards of sand into the bay [but] by the time the field was ready, the season had already started.” That year the Sox played at Athletic Park, as they had since 1903.

The facility became known as Desmond Park and was described as just the thing for “making of young manhood, good morals and healthy muscle in boys.” A swimming pool was added in 1912, and the park was used for amateur baseball and football as the “official grounds for the City League of Duluth, the Commercial League, the Elks Club, the Moose Club and the Owls Club.” In 1915 Park Superintendent Henry Cleveland unsuccessfully lobbied the city to lease the facility as a public swimming beach. The name Desmond Park disappeared from newspapers after 1919. Today the site is home to the United States Army Reserve Center.

Thanks to the bridge, crossing the canal had become so easy that more and more people decided to visit Minnesota Point and become permanent residents of Park Point. By the mid-1920s, as more cottages and campsites gave way to homes, the transfer bridge could not keep up with the demand of those who wanted to cross the canal. In 1930—at the insistence of the Park Point Community Club—the city had the bridge converted into today’s Aerial Lift Bridge; Park Point property owners covered a large part of the expense.

The Minnesota Point Recreation Area

Oatka Beach may have been the most popular gathering place on Minnesota Point, but pleasure seekers also made use of the beaches all along the Lake Superior shoreline with little regard to whether the land was privately or publicly owned. In 1919 Henry Cleveland, still pursuing a city-maintained bathing beach on the point, announced plans to construct dressing rooms at Hartman Park, which he described as “the big bathing beach on the lake side of Park Point.” Cleveland explained that “bushes heretofore have been used as shields for impromptu dressing rooms.” He intended to use lumber salvaged from the former U.S. Thrift Stamp Sub Treasury, a temporary building constructed during World War I that sold stamps to finance the war. “From thrift stamps to bathing beaches!” the News Tribune proclaimed. Again the city council rejected his plan.

Dreamers periodically came up with schemes for developing additional facilities on the point, but none were implemented until the mid-1930s after Park Superintendent F. Rodney Paine submitted a proposal to the federal government for $1.5 million worth of improvements to parks throughout the city. Paine’s plan included $338,000 to create a recreation center on Minnesota Point along the Barrens south of the Anneke house. City leaders hoped to turn the point into one of the leading recreational and summer resort sites in the state. Representatives of local government and civic clubs, including the Park Point Improvement Association, worked for over a year to gain approval for the project. In early 1936 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) finally agreed to allocate $200,000 for the recreation area. The city pledged $35,000, and the Minnesota Executive Council contributed $90,000 to purchase the necessary land.

As part of the development, in 1936 the city acquired the rights to the lakeshore between the Duluth Ship Canal and Hartman Park, opening to the public the entire length of the beach from the canal to the Barrens. With the exception of the parcel of land owned by the Superior Water, Light & Power Company, Duluth also acquired the Barrens from Forty-sixth Street South to Peabody’s Landing.

Construction of the recreation facility started in spring of 1936, when WPA workers hauled in approximately 150,000 yards of fill to create additional land and bring the entire area above water level. Development of the recreation area helped to broaden the community’s view of the point, which had served for decades as Duluth’s summer playground. Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives George W. Johnson—later Duluth’s mayor—reminded the community that while the term Park Point was commonly used for the entire sandbar, “in view of the fact that the WPA project…is sponsored largely as a state job, it is proper that the location be known as Minnesota Point.”

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