March 8, 1861: The Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad incorporated

The Lake Superior & Mississippi’s first freight depot, which stood at the base of Third Avenue East at Lake Superior. (Image: Minnesota Historical Society)

On this day in 1861, Duluth’s first railroad, the Lake Superior & Mississippi (LS&M), was incorporated by investors in St. Paul. The LS&M began construction in 1863 in St. Paul. It was designed as a portage railway to connect the Twin Cities to the Northern Pacific (NP), which would stretch from the Head of the Lakes to Puget Sound in Washington state. Jay Cooke would invested heavily in both concerns. Duluth and Superior each wanted the railroad, knowing that it would bring success to the city in which it terminated. Because St. Louis County helped Duluth come up with more money than Superior could raise, LS&M’s chief investor—Jay Cooke—chose Duluth. This must have infuriated LS&M president William L. Banning, who in 1867 told Duluth officials that “it is not possible to find room on the North Shore either on the lake or bays, to build a railroad, lay out and build a town, or do any kind of commercial business.” While the railway began stretching north from St. Paul in 1862, building from Duluth southward did not begin until 1868. Starting in downtown Duluth, laborers laid track essentially alongside the St. Louis River to Fond du Lac and on to Thomson. It was in Thomson on August 1, 1870, that the final spike was driven, completing the road. Passenger service to Duluth began on August 22 of that year, with Banning eating crow as he hosted guests taking a specially-outfitted train to Duluth. By the end of the year, trains ran between Duluth and St. Paul every day. You can read much more about the history of railroads in Duluth here.

One Response to March 8, 1861: The Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad incorporated

  1. Thank you for this great article! I hope people will come to the excursion train of the same name this summer. We will be operating every weekend from June through the fall of 2015. It’s an historical journey through time riding on the original rails into Duluth.

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