Fur Post ruins made of brownstone?

July's Postcard Perspective

Originally published July, 2015.

ChambersRuins_(TradingPost)_ZCP

The postcard above was made from a photographic negative of the ruins of Michael and Emily Chambers 1871 brownstone mansion that stood in what is now Chambers Grove Park, but the caption reads, “Old Fond du Lac Indian Trading Post on the St. Louis River, Duluth, Minn.” John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company did build a fur-trading post at Fond du Lac in about 1816, but it was made of locally harvested wood and stood east of the Chambers’ property. Just before they were turned down, the actual fur post ruins looked like this:

AmFurPost_ruins(HudsonBay)_ZCP

In this postcard, all that remains of the fur post is the crumbling building to the left; the other buildings were more recently built structures when the photograph was taken. But note that this postcard is also mislabeled the ruins of the Hudson Bay Trading Post, built at Fond du Lac in 1897—and no such building was ever constructed. Most of the Chambers House ruins were removed in 1912; the fur post ruins were removed by 1916. In the 1930s, the C.C.C. built a reconstruction of the Astor Fur Post in Chambers Grove Park:

AmFurPost_Recon_ZCP

The reconstruction hardly resembled the actual fur post. The National Park Service said that it “does not pretend to be a replica of the Fond du Lac Post, but all of its features are substantiated by existing records for the Posts in this territory.” The replica came down in the 1960s. The actual Astor Fur Post looked like this:

John Jacob Astor's American Fur Post at Fond du Lac, as seen from the St. Louis River, painted in 1826 by James Otto Lewis. (Image: Zenith City Press)
John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Post at Fond du Lac, as seen from the St. Louis River, painted in 1826 by James Otto Lewis. (Image: Zenith City Press)

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*Early postcards were very much a marketing tool used to promote a community and attracted businesses and residents even more than they promoted local tourism. Promoters often enhanced images via clumsy pre-Photoshop techniques to make their subjects more attractive (e.g., adding a sunset to an image facing north or south), and before 1915 most cards were made in Germany, and sometimes coloring instructions were lost or misinterpreted, often with more colorful results.

July's Postcard Perspective

5 Responses to Fur Post ruins made of brownstone?

  1. I finished elementary schooling at Lowell School in around 1942 0r 1943, and had a “graduation” picnic at the Fon du Lac park on which sat the CCC-built replica fort, or stockade.
    I think that park and stockade sat on the up-river side of the Hwy 23 bridge that crossed the St. Louis River, and could be easily seen from auto traffic on Hwy 23.
    As I recall, a flooding St. Louis River carried the entire replica stockade away some time in the 1940s.
    Nothing was left of it!

  2. Fondulac is such an interesting place…I still feel like I go back in time when I’m out there. Growing up I spent much of my time at the Olde Depot Inn, (which my godparents owned and lived in). I have a photo of a large piece of brownstone I found while in Chambers Grove.(in a the wooded perimeter.) I saw a corner sticking out of the ground, so I uncovered the whole thing. Thanks for all your wonderful and exciting pieces of history, Tony!

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