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May 9, 1927: Death of Leonidas Merritt

On this day in Duluth in 1927, Duluth pioneer and civic leader Leonidas Merritt died in his home of a heart attack. He was 82 years old. Leonidas was 12 when he came to Duluth with his family in 1856. The Merritts, along with the Wheelers and Elys and others, established Oneota Township (Leonidas later married Elizabeth Wheeler). The Merritt brothers and their father worked as lumbermen, sailors, timber cruisers, and mineral explorers and were the first to recognize the large deposits of ore in what would become the Mesabi Iron Range. They also began the range’s development and built the Duluth, Missabe, & Northern Railway, only to lose their investments to John D. Rockefeller following the Financial Panic of 1893. Merritt had an interest in politics. He was the first president of the West Duluth Village Council and represented Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties in the 1893–1894 Minnesota Legislative Session. He served Duluth first as an alderman and later the the first Commissioner of Public Utilities (1914–1917) and as Commissioner of Finance (1921–1925). He retired 13 days before his death. Merritt had this to say about life: “If I’ve learned one thing it’s this—don’t give up an idea that you’re satisfied is correct, when the ‘experts’ say it can’t be so. The ‘experts’ usually go largely by textbooks. And the textbooks tell about experience with conditions already known about. They don’t cover new things.” Read more about Mr. Merritt and his remarkable family here.

Leonidas Merritt. (Image: Duluth Public Library)