A Park Along Lake Superior’s Shore

The History of Leif Erickson Park

Unrealized Dreams

Although Cullum Park became known as Lake Shore Park, the project faded quietly away following the introduction of a new city charter in April 1913 that eliminated the park board and removed all elected officials from office. William I. Prince, first mayor under the new charter, also served as the Commissioner of Public Affairs, which gave him responsibility for the parks. While he did not pursue the grand vision of expanding Lake Shore Park, he did encourage people to use the greenspace. Access to the lake was difficult because of the railroad track, so most activity occurred along London Road where the city maintained a ball field that was flooded in winter for ice-skating.

William Prince, Duluth's first mayor under the commission system. (Image: Duluth Public Library)
William Prince, Duluth’s first mayor under the commission system. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

With the help of Park Superintendent Henry Cleveland, in October 1913 Mayor Prince hosted a citywide Halloween celebration at Lake Shore Park. Jack-o’-lanterns, apples, games, speeches, and costumed children filled the park late into the evening. A huge bonfire chased away goblins while the Grand Army of the Republic fife-and-drum corps provided music. The News Tribune reported, “The boom of the drum and the shrill notes of the fifes were kept up as incessantly as human musicians can play and were heard above the din of the clamoring youngsters.”

Because the celebration was such a success, the mayor planned an even bigger event for 1914. According to the News Tribune, the Third Regiment band led a parade in which “hundreds of children and a few grownups, many of them masked and in costumes, marched to an accompanying din produced by tin pans, copper boilers and squawkers.” Two bonfires and dozens of carbon lamps were lighted when the parade-goers arrived at the park. The highlight of the evening came when youngsters scrambled for nuts that leaked from a hole in the one-hundred-pound bag of peanuts carried by Police Sergeant Aldrich Youngberg as he ran through the park.

Every year thousands of Duluthians flocked to the Halloween celebration, which the mayor and park superintendent continued to sponsor through the 1920s. The only year without a Halloween party was 1918; because of the influenza epidemic, the event was cancelled to prevent the spread of sickness. The annual Halloween party was one of the few large community activities at Lake Shore Park in the first decade of its existence.

In 1921 Cleveland planned the biggest Halloween celebration the city had yet seen. He put out a call for volunteers to play in a “barnyard and kitchen band” that would lead the parade. He wanted “49 dish pan players, 49 frying pan artists, 49 pie tin specialists, 49 cow bell ringers, 49 sleigh bell jinglers, 49 horn blowers, 49 baby rattlers, 49 tin can soloists, and 49 Chinese whistlers.” The noisy procession started at the Duluth Armory and continued down Jefferson Street to Fourteenth Avenue East, then to London Road, and west to Lake Shore Park for the biggest bonfire ever. (The article did not explain the significance of the number “49.”)

While citizens happily used the park for picnics and ballgames, city leaders continued to propose a variety of big plans for the site. In 1912 the Duluth Curling Club, which boasted several indoor curling and hockey rinks, was built along the park’s eastern border. The following year the park nearly became the site of Duluth’s new armory. The existing Third Regiment Armory, located at First Street and Second Avenue East, had been built in 1896 to house two companies. By 1913, three companies of infantry, two divisions of the naval militia, and the Third Regiment band all used the building. Recognizing that it was time for a larger space, the city administration hoped to take advantage of the state’s offer of financial aid up to $15,000 for constructing armories.

This illustration accompanied the October 31, 1914, Duluth News Tribune article about Halloween festivities at lake Shore Park. (Image: Zenith City)
This illustration accompanied the October 31, 1914, Duluth News Tribune article about Halloween festivities at lake Shore Park. (Image: Zenith City)

A committee of officers from the Third Regiment known as the Military Lunch Club led the search for a location. In May the News Tribune began promoting the eastern end of Lake Shore Park as the site for the new armory. “The park includes 14 acres, which is more than sufficient for a splendid parade ground. The drills would afford amusement and instruction to tens of thousands,” the paper suggested. “It would arouse vastly greater interest in the militia, would promote attendance and at once place the Duluth contingent first in all the state.” The News Tribune argued that if the armory were to be built there, “instead of the present park, which is anything but sightly, which is wholly unimproved, there would be a stately building of the armory type, which has strength, dignity, and fine proportions, with every remaining foot of the entire 14 acres beautified and made useful.”

The decision of whether to build an armory in the park fell to the five commissioners who made up the city council. They knew consent would be needed from NP, which had sold the land on condition that it would be used only for park purposes. However, the commissioners didn’t realize that they would also need the approval of Duluth citizens. In September, businessmen Frederick Paine and Victor Stearns appeared before the commissioners to register their opposition to the proposal. Both knew what they were talking about: Paine had been a park commissioner from 1889 to 1891, and Lester Park had originally been named Stearns Park in honor of Victor Stearns’s father. Both men had donated money to purchase the land for Lake Shore Park, and Stearns told the council, “The residents who contributed to buy the park are opposed to giving away part of it…. This is the only park on the lake front, and we don’t want to see it given away. I appeal against the proposed deed on the ground of ordinary honesty.”

As a result of their protests, Mayor Prince announced that he would contact the other seventy-five to one hundred people who had given money. Unfortunately, although the mayor exhausted every resource to get the names of the contributors, no records were found. The need to contact donors became unnecessary by October. Attorneys advised the mayor that the council did not have the legal authority to give away property belonging to the city, and the proposal was abandoned. Instead, the commissioners decided to purchase land for the new armory; they settled on a site directly across London Road from the park, at the northeast corner of Thirteenth Avenue East. The Duluth National Guard Armory was built there in 1915, and Lake Shore Park remained intact.

The following year Park Superintendent Henry Cleveland once again proposed a large municipal center for Lake Shore Park, including an auditorium, public gymnasium, and bathhouse. According to Cleveland, “when not in use as a convention place, the building could be utilized as a public gymnasium with complete equipment and qualified instructors in charge…. The building would have a roof garden, affording a magnificent lake view.” The commissioners ignored his proposal.

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.

Leave a reply

Menu