Even if they have heard of it, not many Duluthians today would know where to find the place known as Missabe Junction. Much of it was located between the ore docks and Slabtown, which no longer exists. The junction—essentially a rail yard located where four railroad lines came together at 27th Avenue West—was positioned to help get trains where they needed to be in Duluth and Superior.
Predecessors of the Northern Pacific (NP) built the first railroad line into Duluth during 1870. By 1892 at least six railroads served Duluth, including the NP, the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic, the Duluth & Iron Range, Wisconsin Central, and the Duluth & Winnipeg. That same year a harbor-front line called the Duluth Transfer Railway was built to serve the coal docks while the Merritt brothers were forming the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad to bring their iron ore from the Missabe Range to Duluth. The DM&N received its right-of-way in 1893 as it was constructing a massive ore dock at the foot of 33rd Avenue West.
Connecting the original NP line and the DM&N line at a point near 27th Avenue West created a rail yard that the DM&N called Missabe Junction. NP’s connection to that yard was known as West DM&IR Junction. That site was marked by a sentinel interlocking tower that controlled train movements through the area. Missabe Junction was an important interchange location right from the start, serving two major West End businesses: Duluth Brewing & Malting Company, built between 1895 and 1896 at the corner 29th Avenue West and Helm Street, and the Northwest Manufacturing Company complex, which purchased Clyde Iron Works in 1901 and moved that business into a West End facility north of the brewery. Later Pure Oil and Scott Graff Lumber built facilities near the east end of the yard. By 1907 the final major piece of the Missabe Junction puzzle arrived in the form of the Wisconsin Central Railway (part of Soo Line). The Soo Line and Missabe tracks connected via a large loop of track just west of the Missabe Junction yards and to the 29th Avenue freight house of the Soo Line, across 31st, 32nd, Michigan, Helm, and Huron Streets.
When completed, the Missabe Junction upper yard extended from a passenger station at 27th Avenue West to about 31st Avenue West. It consisted of five tracks with a capacity of roughly 100 forty-foot cars. The yard’s east end connected with just the NP, but the west end had three connections. First was the DM&N’s mainline from Proctor. Second was the line that ran underneath the NP Short Line to connect with the lower yards near the coal docks and the Duluth Transfer Railway. The third track was the long, balloon-like semi-circle of track that crossed Michigan Street at about 31st Avenue West and went to the Soo Line freight house at 29th Avenue West and Superior Street. Missabe Junction’s lower yards held additional storage tracks with a capacity of about 300 cars. During the winter coal movement, these tracks—together with the Missabe’s adjacent log dock and limestone dock tracks (east of the ore docks)—provided room for about 175 additional cars. It was also used to store empty cars used by the St. Louis Bay Coal Dock Company to ship outbound coal used for industrial and home-heating purposes.
Today’s Missabe Junction is a much-simplified array of tracks located adjacent to I-35 that connects the former DM&IR (now Canadian National) with the old Duluth Transfer Railway main line (now BNSF). In this first of three stories on Missabe Junction, we look back at the area around 27th Avenue West to see what it was like before construction of Interstate Highway 35 and prior to the West Michigan Street Redevelopment Project of the 1960s. These two programs combined to change the rail yards and eliminate the vast majority of the surrounding Slabtown neighborhood too, including most of the industry once located there.
Click on “2” to view more photographs of Missabe Junction