October 31, 1855: Town of Clifton—the first in northeast Minnesota—platted north of today’s Duluth

On this day in 1855, the town of Clifton, first community platted in what would become St. Louis County, was platted about nine miles north of Duluth along the Lake Superior Shore. It was the first townsite platted in Superior County, which was later renamed St. Louis County after its boundaries were redrawn to also create Cook and Lake counties. J. S. Watrous platted the township, which had been surveyed by Richard Relf earlier that month. Watrous was ambitious: the plat of his townsite included two long parallel piers stretching out into Lake Superior to create a large harbor. Since claim-jumping was common, prospectors often hired men to “hold” the property—to camp or build a small cabin on the site in order to hold the claim. One of the men Watrous hired to “hold” Clifton was John Talmadge, who camped along a nearby river, which today is named in his honor. According to historian Dwight Woodbridge and John Pardee, like most towns platted along the north shore in the 18590s, “the name was the only existence that Clifton ever had.” And like those others, Clifton was intended to be a copper town, as the region was thought to have large copper deposits. More than a dozen townsites were platted between today’s downtown Duluth and Grand Marais 150 miles further north. But prospectors never found enough copper to open a productive mine, and following the Panic of 1857 attempts to set up copper mines ended. Read more about these copper towns and the early history of Lake Superior’s Minnesota North Shore here.

This roadside marker may be incorrect, as it places the Clifton townsite at the French River, when historic records indicate Clifton was at the mouth of the Talmadge River.