A Park Along Lake Superior’s Shore

The History of Leif Erickson Park

Cullum Park becomes Lake Shore Park

The more things change, the more they stay the same: The photograph above, taken in 1911, shows a group of boys (and one dog) skipping stones along the shore at Lake Shore Park. Note that one or two young men seem to be wearing baseball gloves, as if perhaps they expected the lake to throw the stones back to them. (Image: Tom Kasper).
The more things change, the more they stay the same: The photograph above, taken in 1911, shows a group of boys (and one dog) skipping stones along the shore at Lake Shore Park. Note that one or two young men seem to be wearing baseball gloves, as if perhaps they expected the lake to throw the stones back to them. (Image: Tom Kasper).

Almost as soon as Duluthians unofficially named their new park for Mayor Cullum, local entrepreneurs decided that the park should be expanded into a much larger facility and named Lake Shore Park. The excitement started on January 31, 1909, when a grand new plan for Duluth’s lakefront filled the front page of the News Tribune. Inspired by Chicago’s example, which since the late 1800s had been adding fill to its lakefront to create parkland, the newspaper proposed that the City of Duluth acquire the rest of the Lake Superior shoreline from Cullum Park’s western border at Eighth Avenue East all the way to the ship canal, build a breakwater about five hundred feet out from the shore, and fill in the lake between the wall and the existing shore.

As the newspaper explained, “The plan would be to have the government fix a harbor line where one does not now exist, to construct a concrete sea wall to mark the outer limits of the park and driveway and by a filling-in process to make solid ground where now there is water, then to go ahead with the beautification of the grounds with walks and driveways, with trees and shrubbery, fountains and flowerbeds and all things that go to make up an ideal public park.”

Proponents of the plan suggested that the breakwater could be constructed from boulders blasted from Point of Rocks, which engineers were working to eliminate because the massive rock outcrop obstructed traffic and divided the city in two. Sand dredged from the harbor could be used as fill. The result would be forty-five acres of new land that could be turned into a beautiful park.

This sketch of the proposed Lake Front Park was accompanied with a caption that read: "The unsightly St. Croix Avenue District could look like this in years to come if the people of Duluth say so. The park itself was never developed west of 8th Avenue East, but the western end of today's Lakewalk and Lake Place Park actually use much of the 1909plan's footprint. And the St. Croix Avenue District—notorious for drinking, gambling, violent crime, and prostitution—is today the Canal Park Business District, the center of Duluth's tourism. (Image: Zenith City)
This sketch of the proposed Lake Front Park was accompanied with a caption that read: “The unsightly St. Croix Avenue District could look like this in years to come if the people of Duluth say so. The park itself was never developed west of 8th Avenue East, but the western end of today’s Lakewalk and Lake Place Park actually use much of the 1909plan’s footprint. And the St. Croix Avenue District—notorious for drinking, gambling, violent crime, and prostitution—is today the Canal Park Business District, the center of Duluth’s tourism. (Image: Zenith City)

Not only would the project create an attractive park on the lakefront, it would also clean up the St. Croix District—the eastern portion of today’s Canal Park Business District—which at that time served in part as the city’s red light district, filled with boarding houses, saloons, and “houses of ill fame,” more commonly known as brothels.

A few days later the News Tribune reported that the proposal had “created much interest and is being endorsed on every hand by Duluth people.” G. W. Preston, advertising manager of the News Tribune, received credit as the original creator of the Lake Shore Park idea. A group of local businessmen led by Albert Comstock, vice president of Marshall-Wells Hardware, offered support.

All agreed that the plan would be costly, but they believed the investment worthwhile. They also argued that the land should be purchased right away, before it became even more expensive. On February 23, 1910, the News Tribune speculated, “If it is done now it will cost, on the estimate, $120,000. If done in the future, no one knows what the cost will be, but in ten years it would probably be ten times as great. It is true that the city has not now any money to invest in this way. But that does not mean that the movement must stop and wait.”

This map of the proposed Lake Shore Park appeared in the Duluth News Tribune in 1912. (Image: Zenith City)
This map of the proposed Lake Shore Park appeared in the Duluth News Tribune in 1912. (Image: Zenith City)

But wait it did. Despite the proclamations of widespread support, nothing happened. Over the next few years the proposal—with creative variations—reappeared periodically in the newspaper. Not all the ideas were good ones. When Dr. John McCuen took office as Duluth’s new mayor in March 1912, his first message to the citizens of Duluth included an unfortunate choice of words: “The city could make use of the lake shore as a public dumping ground for the disposal of excess material and in the course of time as the amount of material deposited increases, the city would acquire a park…at practically no cost.”

Others suggested building a “sewage purifying plant” in the filled area. Park Superintendent Henry Cleveland, always ready with big plans, envisioned a public swimming pool with water warmed by a steam-heating plant that would also supply a public laundry, where poor people could find hot and cold water and facilities for doing the family washing.

Encouraged by Mayor McCuen’s support, in the spring of 1912 the park board began negotiations with representatives of the NP, which controlled the rights to most of the lakefront property. In November the men reached a tentative agreement that would hand over the shoreline to the city provided the breakwater was built within three years. The newly created land was to be used for park purposes only, except for nine acres that would be deeded to the railroad. Park Commissioner F. A. Patrick strongly supported this arrangement, which, as a result, became known as the Patrick Plan.

The History of Leif Erickson Park

3 Responses to A Park Along Lake Superior’s Shore

  1. I’d still
    Like to learn what happened to the old Duluth Dukes class D baseball team wth sidearm pitcher Cliff Himestead and Lefty Grove c1937-1943. I watched a lot of games after I shagged a foul ball and was admitted to sit in the upper grandstand at the ballpark near the ore docks. Thanks for the memories.
    I remember watching a traveling General Motors Futures Shiw where we saw such things as a machine that made ice cream and baked a pie at the same time

  2. I’d still
    Like to learn what happened to the old Duluth Dukes class D baseball team wth sidearm pitcher Cliff Himestead and Lefty Grove c1937-1943. I watched a lot of games after I shagged a foul ball and was admitted to sit in the upper grandstand at the ballpark near the ore docks. Thanks for the memories.
    M

  3. Very interesting history. I am curious whether Dick Culllum, famous
    reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune was the son of Mayor Callum.
    Dick graduated from Duluth Central in 1912 and was still covering
    sports in Minneapolis-St.Paul until the seventies.

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