Ice Polo and Bear Hunts
Before the Hunters lost their son to drowning in 1897 and drained their artificial pond, hockey (or ice polo, as it was then called) was played in this park. After that tragedy, Angus Macfarlane dammed a section of the creek on his property for skating and hockey playing, probably just down the creek from the church. The rink reportedly was equipped with a shack with a waiting room and a stove that was maintained by a hired man. After Macfarlane’s death in 1908, the Fryberger family took on the responsibility of the neighborhood’s ice.
After abandoning their original farmhouse in nearby Fryberger Woods, Herschel Fryberger built a large new home in 1912 on the corner of Hardy Street and Waverly Avenue. (To read more about the Frybergers, click here.) Across the street from the home one can still find a well-maintained neighborhood skating rink, ready for use. A neatly painted sign reminds users to “turn off the lights” when they leave at night. The more public Glen Avon rink at the old Hunter’s Field continues an athletic tradition on that property that now has lasted 125 years.
It should be mentioned that another traditional Duluth sport—now extinct—got its start in Hunters Park. Before ski jumps were built in Chester Park, the ski club’s first hill was built behind Washburn Elementary, and large tournaments were held there. The base of the jump can still be found in an overgrown lot on the northeast corner of Harvard Avenue and West Oxford. (You can read about it here.)
Neighborhood historians of the last century were careful to gloss over or omit more interesting events, aside from those involving wildlife. Bears and the occasional moose reportedly wandered through, surprising and frightening the people who lived there. On September 8, 1905, the Duluth News Tribune reported on a late-afternoon bear hunt at the corner of Roslyn Avenue and Oxford Street involving “forty or fifty people” armed with guns, axes, or other “implements of warfare.” Schoolteacher Emma Rudolph “blazed away at [the bruin] with a shotgun,” and the “shaggy old fellow escaped to the tall timber northwest of the park and was soon lost to view.”
Less than a month later, the streetcar was blocked on its way up the hill by six black bears, causing a “panic among women passengers,” who supposedly were terrified the bears would board the streetcar and “take possession.” In 1910, nine-year-old Tommy Wilson shot and killed a treed bear at the same street corner of the previous hunt, and promptly sold the carcass to the neighborhood grocer.
All Respectability Aside
As staid and respectable as Hunters Park was purported to be, it was not entirely exempt from scandal, criminality, or violence. The details of the Hardy-Mendenhall affair, which led to the closing and eventual destruction of Hardy Hall, a private school for young ladies, must have kept tongues wagging for years. (Read the full scuttlebutt here.)
Ethnic prejudice likely played a role in a shooting that took place near Carlisle Avenue in 1913. The street, which backs up against Forest Hill Cemetery, was home to a handful of Italian families who worked as gardeners and laundresses for the wealthier residents of the neighborhood, recruited from Duluth’s Little Italy neighborhood by Macfarlane himself in the 1890s. Hunters Park’s wealthier residents commonly called the block “Dagoville.” One of the Italians, Mrs. Porchio, was picking berries with her young boy Commo and his friend when the boys decided to harass presumedly wild ducks by throwing stones at them. Two of the ducks died—and they were not wild. The ducks’ owner, a man identified only as “Fosneff” by the Duluth News Tribune, proceeded to run out of his house with a revolver and shoot at the boys, grazing one’s face with a bullet. He then threatened Mrs. Porchio with the gun and ordered her to her home. The man was subsequently arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.
Hunters Park residents today, who experience a nearly crime-free existence within the confines of the neighborhood, might be surprised to learn that a hundred years ago things weren’t as idyllic as portrayed. There were reports of armed muggings along Vermilion Road adjacent to the cemetery grounds. In 1908, residents pleaded for the old abandoned firehouse to be torn down because it had become a “dangerous haunt for thugs.” Perhaps less seriously, residents with expensive gardens along Tischer Creek complained bitterly about the scores of vandalizing fishermen who wantonly trampled their shrubbery.
In 1920 a rash of daring burglaries plagued the district. Duluth police, overwhelmed by tackling criminality in other neighborhoods and awash in the aftermath of the lynching and the police chief’s liquor smuggling scandal, essentially told Hunters Park residents they were pretty much on their own. Acting Chief Anthony Fiskett said, “It is true these districts are without protection. About all we can do is sympathize with these people…. Residents in Hunters Park would do both themselves and the police department a service if they took greater precaution in guarding their homes.” As a result, Kenilworth Park denizens actually formed an armed citizens’ vigilance brigade to patrol the neighborhood nightly.
Hunters Park’s legacy of exclusivity resulted in generations of realtor red-lining that has only recently begun to unravel, and most of those giant green lawns have been filled in with houses less impressive than the originals. (For a glimpse of what those lawns used to look like, check out the McCabe Renewal Center property.) Victorian homes that remain often look a little worse for wear, but intrepid owners come along and perform untelevised versions of “This Old House.” Some have been divided into apartments. After a stint as an Edison School, Washburn Elementary is devoid of schoolchildren once again; but Glen Avon Hockey continues its strong legacy in what was Hunter’s Field. The bus stop at Oxford Street remains popular, and people still commonly call the bluestone building there after the last grocery store that occupied it, “The Snow White.” The old post office now hosts a frame shop. And a picnic and a good book at the top of Hunters Hill still make for a great afternoon.
Heidi Bakk-Hansen writes about Duluth’s neighborhoods—as well as some notorious aspects of Duluth’s past—every month on Zenith City Online. Catch up with her previous contributions here; and learn the history of Woodland, north of Hunter’s park, here.