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Robert Whiteside

Robert Whiteside. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

A native of Ontario, Canada, Robert B. Whiteside (1855–1931) labored in the lumber camps of the South Branch of the Muskoka River when he was still a boy. In 1882 he went to work for a lumber concern on Wisconsin’s Black River as log and river foreman. He later became a timber cruiser, buying forest property on what would become Minnesota’s Vermilion Iron Range. Many of his timber claims later became valuable as mining sites, and Whiteside became wealthy developing them and the communities that housed those who worked the mines. As a founder of the town of Ely, he helped open both the Pioneer and Chandler mines and built Ely’s first hotel, the Pioneer. In Duluth he was a partner in the Zenith Dredge Company, but his interests were not limited to Minnesota. At one point he was one of Minnesota’s largest investors in oil properties of the Southwest U. S. In 1899 Whiteside optioned to purchase Calaveras Grove, a redwood forest in California, to exploit its timber. This spurred groups like the Sierra Club into action to stop the sale. Whiteside did purchase the land, but he agreed that he would not cut down a single tree for sale as lumber. In 1931, the year Whiteside died, the Grove became the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. One historian said of Whiteside, “The great resources of his career have been represented not so much by money as by physical power and endurance, judgment, determination, and a faculty of fighting to victory without regard to obstacles interposed.”

Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.