November 6, 1892: Duluth OKs plan for tunnel under Duluth Ship Canal

On this day in Duluth in 1892, Duluth’s Board of Public Works was authorized to advertise for bids for the construction of a tunnel under the Duluth Ship Canal. Discussion of a tunnel had gone on for some time after the city rejected Alfred P. Boller’s plan for a bridge that would have cost $400,000 ($8.5 million today). The city hired Chicago consulting engineer William Sooy Smith to come up with a plan, which he delivered on January 27, 1891. The Sooy Smith tunnel would take St. Croix Avenue, which ran along the eastern shore of Minnesota Point, underground and below the canal, emerging south of the waterway. (St. Croix Avenue was later renamed First Avenue East and is known today as Canal Park Drive.) Sooy Smith actually drew up two plans: one with three separate tunnels (one each for pedestrian, train, and wagon traffic) and another with four tunnels (the additional passage was also to be used for trains). Towers on either side of the canal would contain a pedestrian stairway to the tunnel. Once the tunnel was operational, shipping traffic would never have to be inconvenienced in the slightest for people and goods to cross the canal. The residents of Minnesota Point would never again require the use of a ferry or risk their lives on a dangerous temporary bridge. But again finances doomed the project: estimates ran as high as $1.4 million, over $30 million in today’s dollars. The plan was eventually cancelled. Read about how Duluthians crossed the canal before the construction of the aerial bridge in 1905 here.

William Sooey Smith’s 1891 tunnel plan to traverse the ship canal. (Image: Zenith City Press)