Robert B. Whiteside

Robert Whiteside. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

A native of Ontario, Canada, Robert B. Whiteside (1855–1931) labored in the lumber camps of the South Branch of the Muskoka River when he was still a boy. In 1882 he went to work for a lumber concern on Wisconsin’s Black River as log and river foreman. He later became a timber cruiser, buying forest property on what would become Minnesota’s Vermilion Iron Range. Many of his timber claims later became valuable as mining sites, and Whiteside became wealthy developing them and the communities that housed those who worked the mines. As a founder of the town of Ely, he helped open both the Pioneer and Chandler mines and built Ely’s first hotel, the Pioneer. In Duluth he was a partner in the Zenith Dredge Company, but his interests were not limited to Minnesota. At one point he was one of Minnesota’s largest investors in oil properties of the Southwest U. S. In 1899 Whiteside optioned to purchase Calaveras Grove, a redwood forest in California, to exploit its timber. This spurred groups like the Sierra Club into action to stop the sale. Whiteside did purchase the land, but he agreed that he would not cut down a single tree for sale as lumber. In 1931, the year Whiteside died, the Grove became the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. One historian said of Whiteside, “The great resources of his career have been represented not so much by money as by physical power and endurance, judgment, determination, and a faculty of fighting to victory without regard to obstacles interposed.”

____________

Popular reputation accords to Robert B Whiteside of Duluth the title of capitalist. When he first came to the district of Northern Minnesota his capital aggregated only $3,500.

He has in truth been a capitalist in more than one sense. The great resources of his career have been represented not so much by money as by physical power and endurance, judgment, determination, and a 761faculty of fighting to victory without regard to obstacles interposed.

His record is that of a highly successful man and his activities have made him widely known not only in the Duluth country but in other states as well.

Mr. Whiteside was born in Ontario, Canada, March 13, 1856. He had a public school education, but his real training came not from books but through experiences that developed every physical and mental faculty in his character, including self-reliance. Only a boy, he worked in the lumber camps of the South Branch of the Muskoka River. Iis first venture was of itself an illustration of independence and courage. He contracted for the purchase of a tract of stumpage, and personally labored and engineered the campaign for logging the tract. It was his first case of real profits from the products of the iorest.

Mr. Whiteside’s association with the Duluth country began forty years ago, in 1881. The old logging firm of Hall. & Norton secured his services as log and river foreman on th-e Black River in Wisconsin on January 10, 1882. In later years Mr. Whiteside has made a large part of his fortune through his mining interests. At the beginning, however, he was a practical timber man, and as a timber cruiser he explored many of the ranges without a thought of the treasures underground. Some of his early explorations deserve permanent record in the history of the iron ranges. In 1883 he went on a trip over the Vermillion Range, cruising for timber, taking along five men and building homes and locating homestead claims. He is said to have been the first timber cruiser to examine the localities where are now numerous ore mines. At one time he had sixty timber claims located. His plan was to place homesteaders on these claims, and while he was searching out the most valuable timber tracts there was another historic character, Captain Harvey, who was exploring the same district in search, of metals and minerals. Captain Harvey is known in history as the man who made the first discovery of iron ore in the Ely district, having located what was known as the Pioneer Mine. This mine was on land comprised in one of Mr. Whiteside’s timber claim locations.

In early years Mr. Whiteside realized very little from the mineral resources underlying his properties on the ranges. He owned the superficial rights of the Chandler Mine property, and sold that claim for $2,000, and received only $1,500 for the Sibley Mine. During his homesteading explorations Mr. Whiteside and his party walked all the distance of more than a hundred miles from Duluth to what is now Ely, carrying packs on their backs. He enjoyed to the full the rugged experiences of such work, and in endurance and capacity for physical toil’he had few equals.

During all these years he was engaged in logging operations. He and his brother John in 1893 were associated with W. C. Winton and S. G. Knox in the organization of the Knox Lumber Company, with headquarters at Winton, Minnesota. Mr. Whiteside was superintendent of the logging department of this company until 1898, when he sold out to H. F. David of Duluth. While he owned some of the choicest tracts of stumpage in Northern Minnesota, Mr. Whiteside gradually extended his interests to other timber districts. In 1899 he acquired 13,000 acres of the big timber lands of Calaveras county, California, and he still owns that immense tract. The purchase included the Calaveras Grove and the Tuolumne Grove, containing 762the largest trees in the world. Several trees on that tract contained more than half a million feet of lumber.

A few years ago Mr. Whiteside was credited with operating more drilling outfits for the uncovering of ore deposits in the Lake Superior region than any other individual operator. His prospecting for ore was always part of his individual operations, carried on at his own expense. He owns a quarter interest in the fee of the Zenith Mine and a sixth interest in the fee of the Pioneer Mine, both at Ely, and has been vice president of the Rouchleau-Ray Iron Land Company and president of the Presquele Iron Mining Company.

In recent years his operations have taken still another direction.

These have brought him the distinction of being the largest investor and most successful operator from Duluth in oil properties of the Southwest.

Mr. Whiteside, for all his success, remains a man of quiet, democratic tastes, and his pleasures and recreations are largely furnished by his diversity of business affairs. Some years ago he bought Big Island, in Spirit Lake, an enlargement of the St. Louis River, opposite the steel plant, and has improved and made this valuable as a farm as well as a country retreat. He regards all the old-timers of Duluth and the Range country as his friends, and is also well known socially at Duluth. He is a member of the Commercial Club, the Kitchi Gammi Club, the Northland Country Club, a life member of the Duluth Boat Club and the Curling Club. He is a Scottish Rite Mason and Shriner. Mr. Whiteside has reared a fine family. He married at Duluth in 1888 Miss Sophia Kimberg. The seven children born to their marriage are James E., Roger V., Robert Walton, Frances Burton, Gordon Douglass, Walker Lee and Marion Calaveras.

Sources:

  • Dierckins, Tony and Maryanne C. Norton. Lost Duluth: Landmarks, Industries, Buildings, Homes, and the Neighborhoods in Which They Stood. Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota: 2012.
  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
  • Menu