August 21, 1856: Town of Fremont Established

On this day in 1856 in what would become Duluth, the town of Fremont was established on the northern portion of the bay between Minnesota Point and Rice’s Point—essentially the location of today’s Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center and Bayfront Festival Park. At the time the area was a marsh that included floating islands experts speculated were “caused by driftwood and accumulating vegetable matter.” Settlers C. P. Heustis and Charles A. Post platted Fremont on one of the larger islands, a chunk of land 1,200 feet long and 400 feet wide. When the canal was cut, more than boats passed through. New currents created by the canal broke up the smaller chunks of land and swept many of the floating islands against the Point’s bay-side shore or through the canal and out to the big lake. Fremont Island itself broke free and passed through the canal in May 1873 after a big rain storm swelled the rivers and creeks feeding into the bay. Duluth City Clerk Walter Van Brunt, bookstore owner Charles F. Johnson, and two others chased down the island in a rowboat. When they caught up with the renegade chunk of land, one of them tied an American flag and a banner bearing the statement “First Clearance from Duluth, May 10, 1873” to the top of its tallest tree. They needn’t have bothered: that night lake currents drove the island against the Point, where it broke up. And that was the end of Fremont. Material dredged from the canal and harbor to aid navigation was used to fill in the area Fremont once stood—or rather, floated—in order to develop it. In this same way Rice’s Point and Minnesota Point were also made more substantial—neither sand bar was as wide then as it is today. Learn more about the early towns that formed the original city of Duluth here.

Charles Johnson’s sketch of Fremont Island on Lake Superior after it was carried through the canal after a rainstorm. (Image: Zenith City Press)

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