The Lawyer and the Forlorn Two-Acre Wood

The Fryberger family left its mark on Duluth

Originally published July 2013
Herschel Fryberger, Sr. (Image: Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick)

Since this column began in May 2013, the street name subjects it has addressed have been of old streets or roads named for people who are no longer well-known in the community, most often forgotten by time. This month we’ll explore a name that most Duluthians are at least generally familiar with, since the family is among those who’ve cultivated their local roots instead of pulling up for points west: Fryberger. That family name graces the Fryberger Arena (well known to every Duluth hockey family), a prominent law firm, and the far less publicized Fryberger Woods.

Herschel Burroughs Fryberger came to Duluth from Goodhue County, Minnesota, where his family were pioneers, arriving here to practice law in 1893. He was very successful, entering into the heat of Duluth’s heyday, working at first in partnership with Lane McGregor. His associations with Duluth’s bigwigs on the legal front put him in the usual clubs and Masonic fraternities, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and long-standing leadership on the state’s bar association. The Encyclopedia of American Biography states that he “was influential in the city’s general life, and was a devoted supporter of meritorious civic enterprises, seeking at all times the advancement of the city’s interests and the welfare of its people.”

In 1902, Fryberger was a shareholder of the Missabe Electric Railway Company with G .G. Hartley and others. At one point he owned a portion of what is now Canal Park, purchasing the old Duluth Bethel site on Sutphin St. for $18,000 cash. He was also heavily involved in mining interests on the Iron Range and various railroads. In 1919, he and W. D. Bailey represented Duluth during the dispute over harbor interests and the interstate border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Essentially, if you were a businessman in Duluth in the early part of the century, and were being plagued by what you thought were unfair political or business practices from elsewhere in the country, Fryberger was the lawyer you called on.

Plans for the Fryberger estate's landscaping by Morell & Nichols. (Image: Zenith City Press | Click to enlarge)
Plans for the Fryberger estate’s landscaping by Morell & Nichols. (Image: Zenith City Press | Click to enlarge)

In 1906, Fryberger and his partners moved their offices into the seventh floor of the Lonsdale Building at 300 West Superior Street, where they remain to this very day, now known as Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick.

In 1899, Herschel returned to Goodhue County to take the hand of Nellie Featherstone in marriage; a small wedding was held in the home of her parents. (The Featherstone family name graces several locations in Goodhue County near Red Wing, including Featherstone Township.) For their honeymoon, the couple traveled by rail to Sault Ste. Marie and then by boat to Michigan’s Mackinac Island, spending three weeks on the Great Lakes until returning to Duluth to make their home.

Soon after, they bought a 21-acre farm at 2001 Columbus Avenue in Hunters Park and built a grand brick house. According to a 2001 Duluth News Tribune article by Chuck Frederick, it “featured two-story colonnades, six bedrooms, a sleeping porch, maid’s quarters, formal dining room, library, pantry and a large country kitchen. The family hired a full-time maid, full-time gardener and part-time summer laborers to help milk cows, care for horses and tend to the chickens and English and vegetable gardens.”

A stone bridge over Tischer Creek within Fryberger Woods that was once part of the driveway to the Fryberger house. (Image: Heid Bakk-Hansen)

Herschel and Nellie had six children: Helen, Virginia, William B., Herschel B. Jr., Robert M. and Philip K. Helen and Virginia, two years apart, were mainstays in the Duluth social scene in their youth, holding parties that were well-attended by Duluth’s smart set when they weren’t attending their East Coast boarding school or Northwestern University. (They also married prominent local men—Warren S. Moore and Joseph G. Sellwood respectively.) Herschel Junior joined his father’s law practice in 1932 after attending Dartmouth College and Virginia Law School.

Fryberger Arena was named for Robert M., called “Bob,” who starred in high school hockey at Central High and went on to spearhead the Pee Wee hockey movement as an adult. He also coached the 1951 Glen Avon Midgets to state and national championships and was instrumental in increasing the national prominence of the Duluth Curling Club. His mining company, Rhude and Fryberger, was one of the state’s largest independent firms, running open pit mines on the Iron Range. He was killed at age 49 in a blizzard-induced car accident in 1957. One of his sons, Dayton (called “Dates”), played on the U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1964.

Herschel Senior died in Miami, Florida, in the spring of 1937. Nellie went on to live nearly another twenty years, dying at age 87 in the family home on Columbus Avenue in 1955. By that time, she had 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Once the driveway to the Fryberger home, this roadway—and the gates visible in the background—now marks the entrance to Fruberger Woods. (Image: Heidi Bakk-Hansen)

A year later, the family tore down the old house. Bob had planned to build a smaller home on the site, but his tragic death interrupted that plan. So, for decades, the woods grew up, and the community used the property as a park.

In 2000, the family decided to develop the upper bluff of the acreage, plotting out 14 lots around two cul-de-sacs, Featherstone Drive and Featherstone Lane after Nellie’s side of the family. Apparently the development was named “Woodcrest,” but neighbors to this day call the area Fryberger Woods, though this appellation properly applies to the remaining two acres of public access paths below the development around the original driveway, the old bluestone bridge and winding Tischer Creek.

Fryberger Woods was inundated almost completely during the June 2012 Flood, drowning some of the baby pines planted previously near the creek. Most troubling, the old bridge suffered severe damage, which remains un-repaired, and some stones are in danger of collapsing into the creek.

The Fryberger family left its mark on Duluth

8 Responses to The Lawyer and the Forlorn Two-Acre Wood

  1. I had the pleasure of chatting with Virginia Fryberger (Mrs. Joseph G. Sellwood) while living at the Mount Royal Manor. She and her husband constructed the penthouse atop the structure which has since been subdivided. The building was built by William A. Smith in the early 1950’s, later being acquired by the late Max Rheinberger and more recently by the Sherman Company.

  2. PS–For those of us who have missed previous articles, I really appreciate “reprints.” Please continue to do this service.

  3. My grandparents lived on Waverly, a couple houses northwest from the skating rink (where I learned to skate) and we lived on Fairmont. I spent a lot of time playing in those woods but never knew the real story behind the property. (Us kids thought the house burned down in the great fire my grandparents often spoke about and that’s why there were only ruins left.)

    Their house also featured two story columns out front, a sleeping porch and many other features listed above.

    Thanks for all these great stories Heidi!

  4. Tiegan:

    We here at Zenith City would love to have those images to share with our reader. Pleae contact me at your convenience.

  5. emily-

    I have some photos of the original home. Please let me know if you are still interested.

  6. Hi Emily,

    I missed your query until now. The DNT article by Chuck Frederick might have had photos, but I’m not certain. (I only had access to the text, but there were captions, so must have been photos.) The article was published July 22, 2001. It looks like the photos were shared from the Frybergers themselves, so if you were interested in more, you might contact a family member.

  7. This is amazing!! I am VERY curious if there are any old pictures of the original home??!! I own a Fryberger home!! Believe it or not but they owned my property out west and built the (grand) home and then sold it shortly after!! It’s on 59th ave west and trust me you can’t miss it!!;) we also have the 2story grand columns that you talk about in the other home!:) I have been looking for info on the architect that built my home since its so unique to Duluth but haven’t found anything like it!! Until hearing a out this home and its columns!
    If anyone knows of any of the original photos please reply on here!! VERY excited!!:)

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