September 6, 1902: Death of Fish Hatchery founder Robert Sweeney

On this day in Duluth in 1902, Dr. Robert Ormsby Sweeney—the man who established the Lester River Fish Hatchery—in 1888, died in his home next to the hatchery. Born a Philadelphia Quaker, Sweeney came to Minnesota territory in 1852 as a trained pharmacist who considered himself an artist by occupation. A pioneer settler of St. Paul, Dr. Sweeney opened the first pharmacy in the state’s capital—leaving only to serve in the Union Army as an unpaid pharmacist during the Civil War—and, according to his obituary, designed the Minnesota state seal. By the mid 1880s Sweeney was considered one of the nation’s top experts on fish. It was said of Sweeney that “not man in the state and probably the United States knew more about fish or could discuss things piscatorial as interestingly as he could.” Sweeney operated the hatchery, which he designed, until he was replaced as the facility’s superintendent in 1894 by S. P. Wires. Sweeney remained heavily involved and he and his wife remained in the superintendent’s house until his death. You can read much more about the history of the hatchery and the remarkable Mr. Sweeney here.

Dr. R. O. Sweeney’s sketch of the proposed Lester River Fish Hatchery. (Image: Duluth Public Library)