February 20, 1871: Earliest recorded marriage in St. Louis County

On this day in Duluth in 1871, Walter Van Brunt and Mary A. Saxton were joined in matrimony in the first officially documented marriage to take place in St. Louis County. The earliest marriage in the town of Duluth, between William Epler and Abigail Woodman, was held on April 12, 1859, but apparently no license was required. In 1871 Duluth had become a city, and Van Brunt was its City Clerk. Mary Saxton came to the head of the lakes from Toledo in 1855, accompanying her parents, Eunice and Horace Saxton. (Horace Saxton was also known as Commodore Saxton and was keeper of the Minnesota Point Lighthouse from 1875 to 1883.) According to the Duluth Minnesotian, “the marriage took place at the Saxton residence on Minnesota Point” and was performed by Reverend J. A. Gilfillan of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with bridesmaid Miss Lou Smith and groomsman Asher F. Leopold looking on. The reception was held next door, in the “spacious Munger Mansion” (owners Roger and Olive Munger would soon move to a new house at 405-407 Mesaba Avenue) and the next day the happy couple boarded a train for their honeymoon in St. Paul. Minnesotian editor Dr. Thomas Foster led off his story of their marriage with the following poem by Charles Caleb Colton:

Though fools spurn Hymen’s gentle powers,

We, who improve his gentle hours,

By sweet experience knows

That marriage rightly understood,

Gives to the tender and the good

A paradise below.

Interestingly enough, in Van Brunt’s own biography, which appears in the three volume history of Duluth and St. Louis County that he edited, the marriage is recorded as taking place in 1870, not 1871. Let’s hope he got it right on February 20, 1921, when the Van Brunts became the first couple married in Duluth to reach their 50th wedding anniversary.

Walter Van Brunt. (Image: Duluth public Library)

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