The West End and West Duluth: What’s the difference?

[Note: This article was originally published by the Duluth News Tribune on January 6, 2021 as part of its “Northlandia” series]

Recently my wife lamented that, with COVID-19 precautions, she misses the cideries in West Duluth.

I couldn’t help myself: “Do you mean the West End?”

She replied, “What’s the difference?”

Well, plenty, depending on who you ask. First and foremost, they are not the same place. And that difference can be quite important to Duluthians who grew up west of Point of Rocks.

Here’s the short, geographic answer: The West End (aka Lincoln Park) is a neighborhood that essentially sits between 10th and 32nd avenues west from the St. Louis River to the top of the hillside. West Duluth lies roughly between 33rd Avenue West and Kingsbury Creek from the river shore to Skyline Parkway and includes today’s neighborhoods of Bayview Heights, Cody, Denfeld, Fairmount, Irving and Oneota.

The elevated railroad tracks leading to ore dock No. 6 are considered the unofficial border between the two. Simple enough.

But that doesn’t explain why Duluth’s West End is east of West Duluth, or why West Duluth is eight miles northeast of Fond du Lac, the city’s western-most community. Those answers lie in our history.

In the 1850s several towns were platted in what is now Duluth. One, called Duluth, essentially covered the same footprint of today’s downtown and Minnesota Point to 38th Street South.

Another, Rice’s Point, covered the land from the hilltop to the river between Point of Rocks and 28th Avenue West, including, of course, all of Rice’s Point.

When Duluth became a city in 1870, it annexed the town of Rice’s Point. After that, Duluthians began calling the land west from Point of Rocks, but excluding Rice’s Point itself, the “West End,” as it was literally the city’s western end.

In 1886 the West Duluth Land Company purchased property from 33rd Avenue West to Kingsbury Creek — including the town of Oneota — and established the Village of West Duluth.

The land company aggressively enticed metal manufacturers to set up shop in West Duluth, hoping it would become a “new Pittsburgh.” Unfortunately, the Financial Panic of 1893 destabilized the national economy. While Duluth weathered the crisis well, West Duluth’s nascent steel industry struggled, and nearly all of the newly minted metal manufacturers failed.

Facing mounting financial problems, the Village of West Duluth turned to Duluth, hoping to survive by annexation. In January 1894, West Duluth joined the city — and thereafter Duluth’s West End was no longer the west end of Duluth. (Since then, the space between 28th and 33rd avenues west has been considered part of the West End.)

The next year Duluth annexed more communities along the river beyond Kingsbury Creek all the way to Fond du Lac, ending West Duluth’s one-year reign as Duluth’s westernmost community.

But that didn’t stop anyone from calling West Duluth “West Duluth,” or the West End the “West End” (or mixing up West Duluth with the West End — and vice versa).

Besides sowing confusion, the West Duluth/West End issue has also caused its share of annoyance. Some longtime residents of the West End can become resentful — or at least chagrined — when someone refers to their neighborhood as West Duluth.

Conversely, many West Duluthians are equally irked when their community is called the West End. Local writer Paul Lundgren, a West Duluth native and resident, finds the issue more bothersome than insulting. When people confuse the two neighborhoods, it creates for him an inner conflict in “deciding whether to correct them or just let it fly.”

For native West Ender (and DNT columnist) Jim Heffernan, geographic differences dissolved for most members of his generation when they entered high school. “Kids from the West End were blended with West Duluth kids at Denfeld High,” Heffernan remembers, “and we quickly identified as one student body with no real distinction between the two neighborhoods.”

Further blurring the issue, in the 1980s West Duluth business leaders rechristened its commercial district “Spirit Valley,” unintentionally sowing more confusion as today many people mistakenly believe West Duluth and Spirit Valley are synonymous.

Similarly, in the 1990s a group of local business owners led an effort to rebrand the West End “Lincoln Park.” Good for business, perhaps, but the change was not immediately welcomed by many for whom Lincoln Park will always be the public green space along Miller Creek between West Third Street and Skyline Parkway.

Does it matter? Maybe not much anymore — or at least, maybe not for much longer. As Heffernan points out, the ranks of those who still care about such distinctions are “rapidly thinning.”

Personally, I prefer the traditional “West End” and “West Duluth” — but what do I know? I’m from the East Side of St. Paul, where nearby South St. Paul lies directly east of West St. Paul, while West St. Paul sits immediately south of St. Paul.

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