Marshall H. Alworth

Marshall H. Alworth. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Marshall Alworth was born in Oneida County, New York, in 1846. He left home at age fourteen to work on the Great Lakes and eventually became a land and timber explorer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. He was in Duluth as early as 1873 but left after the financial crisis of that year. He married Nellie LaVeigne in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1878 and they moved to Duluth in 1882. Together they raised seven children, including Royal Alworth, who also rose to prominence in the Zenith City.

Alworth purchased extensive mining lands on Minnesota’s Iron Range and formed the Alworth Mining and Development Company in 1893, the same year the house was built. Mining wealth followed, and Alworth invested in real estate in Duluth, including the Alworth Building on Superior Street—then and now the tallest building in Duluth—which he financed for $500,000 in 1910. The sixteen-story building took just nine months to build, and most of that work took place over the winter. When it was complete, the Duluth News Tribune called it “a cosmopolitan office building, one that dwarfs the Tower of Babel” and “an epoch in the architectural history of Duluth.”

From Lost Duluth: Landmarks, Industries, Buildings, Homes, and the Neighborhoods in Which They Stood, copyright © 2011, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota
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Marshall H. Alworth (1846-1931) was financier and pioneer of Duluth. Mr. Alworth began his career as a land and timber explorer in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Mississippi. He eventually acquired considerable land, including some on the Mesaba range. These lands had already shown indication of iron ore, leading Mr. Alworth to believe that if the underground resources were properly explored a satisfactory commercial basis could be established. Upon investigation, significant deposits of ore were found and the Alworth Mining & Development Company was formed. Mr. Alworth became owner of considerable real estate in Duluth and took an interest in various industries to build up the cities. At the time of his death his estate was valued at over $6 million.

From Intensive Survey of Historic Resources in Duluth’s East End (Part 2), prepared by Debra Kellner for the Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission, August 2009. The entire document is on file at the Duluth Public Library.
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Marshall H. Alworth

With two of the greatest industries of northern Minnesota, lumbering and mining, Marshall H. Alworth has been intimately associated for a period of nearly half a century. For the greater part of that time he has been a resident of Duluth and one of the men of enterprise who have liberally bestowed their public spirit and also a share of their business influence in the development of the community.

Mr. Alworth was born at Florence, Oneida county, New York, October 26, 1846, a son of Nathan S. and Deborah (Wickwire) Alworth.

His father, who died about 1856, was a railroad man and was engaged in construction work for the Erie Railroad at the time of his death.

Marshall H. Alworth had four sisters, but is now the only survivor of his generation of the family. Beginning life with a district school education acquired in western New York, he left home between the age of thirteen and fourteen, and for many years had some of the “rough and tumble” experiences of life. For a time he worked on the Great Lakes, but eventually became a land and timber explorer, a work in which he achieved a high degree of expertness and skill, and which he followed for over twenty years.

About 1867 he began exploring in the timber lands of Michigan, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Minnesota, and after looking for timbers for others interested in investments finally secured a working interest and operated on capital of his own. It was about 1880 that he became financially interested in this industry, and during the past forty years he has held and developed large tracts of timber land, especially in the northern states.

Mr. Alworth first came to the city of Duluth in 1873. For several years he was employed under contract in exploring and locating Government land in Minnesota, Wisconsin and upper Michigan. Soon after he came to Duluth there occurred the memorable failure of Jay Cooke, initiating the tremendous financial depression of 1873. There was no disposition on the part of moneyed interests to continue the contracts in which Mr. Alworth was interested. With what money he personally commanded he looked over some in St. Louis county, but soon found his occupation practically gone. That financial depression was a serious blow to the development of Duluth, which did not recover for several years.

Mr. Alworth returned to northern Minnesota in 1882, again as a land looker, but he was a purchaser of lands at the Government land sale, and later, in the 1893 sale at St. Cloud, he acquired further land holdings.

Some of these lands were on the Mesaba Range. They had already shown indications of ore, and these indications led Mr. Alworth to believe that if the underground resources were properly explored a satisfactory commercial basis could be established. Thus he and his associates agreed not to sell the fee of the lands when the timber was removed, and that precaution was fully justified by the later outcome.

At first he gave options to explore, but found the work was not properly done, and he and his associates then took the matter directly under their own supervision. Much of the land had been “test-pitted” and worked over from one to three times, but the new and thorough investigations proved good deposits of ore. On that basis was formed the Alworth Mining and Development Company, an organization that was successfully continued for several years, as long as ore was found in paying quantities. The members of this company were J. L. Washburn, W. C. Agnew, W. H. Cole and Mr. Alworth. Finally they leased the lands and did not get more than two and a half cents a ton above what the option called for.

A number of other business enterprises have commanded the time and resources of Mr. Alworth. He became owner of considerable real estate in Duluth and took an interest in various industries to build up the town.

Among properties which he owns is the Alworth Building, construction of which was begun September 12, 1909, and the building, completed, was turned over by the contractors May 1, 1910. He also owns the St. Regis Apartments and a few buildings in other parts of the city. During his career at Duluth he is said to have invested about half a million dollars in local manufacturing industries.

Mr. Alworth has no church membership but is a supporter of many charitable enterprises and organizations. He is a Republican in politics.

He was married at Saginaw, Michigan, June 13, 1878, and of the seven children born to him and Mrs. Alworth two are now living, Marshall W. and Royal D. Alworth. The sons are actively associated with their father, Marshall looking after the mining properties and Royal after the real estate holdings.

Sources:

  • Woodbridge, Dwight and John Pardee, eds. History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1922.
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