Blue Collar Blues at Missabe Junction

Urban Renewal Decimates Slabtown

The neighborhood located just north of the Missabe Junction rail yard is an important part of Duluth’s industrial heritage, but what remains today pales in comparison to what was here through the early 1960s. Known officially as the Helm Addition, this small blue-collar community was located between 24th and 31st Avenues West with Superior Street being the northern boundary and Courtland Avenue (south of the tracks along the waterfront) being the southern edge. Duluthian’s called this place “Slabtown” and it was quite literally surrounded by large factories and railroad tracks. [To learn more about the history behind the Slabtown name click here.] This month we look back to see how Urban Renewal Administration programs forever changed the face of business along the tracks and especially the central core of modest homes that were once located here. Click on the photographs to enlarge them. Last month’s story, the first part to this series on the Missabe Junction, can be found here.

The west end of Missabe Junction yard is where the DM&IR Railway and Soo Line interchanged cars. This map shows how the tracks curved west of 31st Avenue West to link these two railroads. The Soo Line’s main line into Duluth was just north of and parallel to Michigan Street. Their freight depot was located at the corner of 29th Avenue West and Superior Street. The Clyde Iron Works complex was just south of Michigan Street. It was switched by the DM&IR. (Image: Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)
The west end of Missabe Junction yard is where the DM&IR Railway and Soo Line interchanged cars. This map shows how the tracks curved west of 31st Avenue West to link these two railroads. The Soo Line’s main line into Duluth was just north of and parallel to Michigan Street. Their freight depot was located at the corner of 29th Avenue West and Superior Street. The Clyde Iron Works complex was just south of Michigan Street. It was switched by the DM&IR. (Image: Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)
The east end of Missabe Junction yard is where the DM&IR’s tracks joined together with those of the Northern Pacific and Duluth Transfer Railway (shown in yellow). Scott-Graff Lumber was the main industry located here just south of Michigan Street. It was switched by the NP. (Image: Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)
The east end of Missabe Junction yard is where the DM&IR’s tracks joined together with those of the Northern Pacific and Duluth Transfer Railway (shown in yellow). Scott-Graff Lumber was the main industry located here just south of Michigan Street. It was switched by the NP. (Image: Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)
Scott-Graff Lumber is the predominant complex of buildings shown in this westerly view from the new pavement of unfinished I-35 during November 1971. Missabe Junction yard is off picture to the left. The track in the foreground is the new interchange track connecting the former NP line (Burlington Northern by this time) with the Soo Line main track just to the right of the Scott-Graff buildings. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)
Scott-Graff Lumber is the predominant complex of buildings shown in this westerly view from the new pavement of unfinished I-35 during November 1971. Missabe Junction yard is out of the picture to the left. The track in the foreground is the new interchange track connecting the former NP line (Burlington Northern by this time) with the Soo Line main track just to the right of the Scott-Graff buildings. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)
MissabeJct22 © Jeff Lemke Twin Ports Rail History
Scott-Graff Lumber was located at the corner of 24th Avenue West and Michigan Street. This view shows it during November 1972. Northern Pacific (later Burlington Northern) served this property to bring in raw lumber that was turned into a variety of finished wood products. But Graff sold far more than just simple dimensional lumber. Their mill in Duluth actually manufactured thousands of different wood trim parts for interior and exterior use. They made entryway doors, windows, cabinets and book shelves, interior stairways and railings, and even complete kitchen sets. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)
MissabeJct23 © Jeff Lemke Twin Ports Rail History
The Clyde Iron Works’ main machine shop was located at 29th Avenue West and Michigan Street. The building is still there today, renovated and operating as a restaurant. This view shows it on November 5, 1972. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)
MissabeJct24 © Jeff Lemke Twin Ports Rail History
This is looking west along Michigan Avenue at 29th Avenue West with Clyde Iron Works at left. The photographer is standing on the Soo Line’s main track into Duluth. The Soo’s freight house is out of the picture to the right. If you squint you might be able to make out a pair of GP9 diesels that the Soo Line leased from the Baltimore & Ohio. The Soo crew left their caboose parked on the main line and their locomotives are squealing around the tight curve of the interchange track to push freight cars into Missabe Junction yard. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection.)

Urban Renewal Decimates Slabtown

11 Responses to Blue Collar Blues at Missabe Junction

  1. Hi Leslie –
    Thanks so much for your comments. Glad you liked my story in pictures. Stay tuned for more on Missabe Junction in October. Thank care. Cheers!

  2. I was born in 1943 and raised on West Michigan St. Our address was 2726 or 2727 W. Michigan St. I remember walking to Simon’s store to pick up things for my mother. Like a lot of families that lived there, they had an account. My Dad worked at U.S. Steel in the open heart furnace. We moved east to 2nd st. in 1953. I remember driving down there in 1964 after getting out of the Navy and it was all gone. The Post Office sits where we used to live. It was a close knit community and everyone knew each other unlike neighborhoods of today. Thanks for the trip down nostalgia lane, Jeff.

  3. Hi Jim – How cool of you to share that tidbit. Interesting to hear that Ringling wasn’t the only circus that came to town. Thanks and cheers!

  4. My father (b. 1894) grew up in Slabtown and spoke of it often, with me not listening nearly as attentively as I should have before he died in 1971. I can share an unimportant and forgotten historical anecdote from my own experience. After the buildings were razed and before the post office and freeway encroached, about 1964, the Clyde Beatty Circus set up its canvas big top there, just south of where the post office was later built. Clyde himself faced the lions there.

  5. Hi David – Thanks for taking the time to get involved and share your story as well. It’s a treat for me to be able to share these photographs, especially when I hear from people such as yourself who have another perspective to add to the story. I’m still learning about these places from our collective past. Every little bit we can share about these parts of old Duluth helps to make the texture of each story all that much richer for everyone to enjoy. Take care. Cheers!

  6. thanks for the trip down memory lane. i was a police boy at bryant and guided kids down to slabtown. i also watched from the 2nd floor of the clyde iron office and these houses were demolished. interesting to watch at the time, today im really glad for the memories. thanks so much for what you;ve done here.
    davidh

  7. Michael and Kathleen – Thanks for the nice feedback and question. I haven’t researched the issue of the displaced families or how they were compensated by the program. I couldn’t even begin to guess about that but imagine that information about the details of this episode in Duluth’s storied history is right there in the Duluth Public Library records (in case anyone runs across it and wants to share). Take care. Cheers!

  8. Hi Bob – I’m delighted to hear that this part of the story brought back great memories for you. I have quite a few more pictures of homes and businesses in this area; perhaps 40-50 more in total. Have a few more of the DeSoto building too. Who knows? Maybe I have a shot of your grand parents home too. Parts 3 and 4 will show more by the tracks and how the NP and DT were rearranged a couple of times to make way for other additions to the area. It’s little wonder why most folks don’t recognized this area at all because it changed several times in just a few short years. Thanks for reading. Always happy to hear from you. Regards to the family. Cheers!

  9. Can’t progress be sad sometimes. I wonder where all the displaced folks moved to. Was there adequate affordable housing avaikable to them?

  10. great issue jeff. my grand parents lived on Huron st. by the desoto building. I used to walk back to the garage and wait for the Soo line passenger train to pass and also watch that little 0-6-0 switch the building..and also walk down to missabe junction and watch the action there when I was very young… great issue and so many memories….that have come back…thanks soo very much. bob

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