October 24, 1870: Property for site of Duluth Ship Canal purchased

On this day in Duluth in 1870, the city of Duluth purchased the lots on  Minnesota Point that would be dredged up to become the Duluth Ship Canal. Digging was already underway—it had begun September 5 of that year, when the dredging tug Ishpeming took its first bite of the sandbar. According to historians Dwight Woodward and John Pardee, the canal site had been chosen by W. W. Hungerford, chief engineer of the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad, who selected “Portage street and Lots 253, 255, 256 and 257, Minnesota avenue, upper Duluth; George F. Bagley of Detroit, Michigan, was paid $2,000 for the first three of these lots and H. L. Jones $650 for Lot 257.” Portage Street was also the route of Onigamiinsing, Ojibwe for “little portage,” a trail that had likely been used for centuries by the Ojibwe and the Dakota before them and thought to be the same portage used by Duluth’s namesake Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Luht in 1679. Eighteen years later, Michigan lumberman and real estate investor Wilhelm Boeing would claim that he owned the property that was once Portage Street and, therefore, he owned the canal. He came to Duluth and essentially attempted to blackmail city officials, threatening a lawsuit if they didn’t pay him a ridiculous sum for the canal. He even tried to block ship traffic through the canal. Find out how Boeing made out with his scheme here.

Detail of a photograph of the Duluth Ship Canal, Duluth, Minnesota, by W.H. Jackson, 1899. The concrete piers were constructed between 1896 and 1902; note that while the light poles are in place, their diffusion globed have yet to be installed. (Image: National Park Service)