Duluth’s First Park Board (1889-1891)

From Duluth’s Historic Parks: Their First 100 Years by Nancy S. Nelson & Tony Dierckins, Zenith City Press, Spring 2017.
A hand-drawn draft of a seal for Duluth's first Board of Park Commissioners. (Image: Duluth Public Library)
A hand-drawn draft of a seal for Duluth’s first Board of Park Commissioners. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

 

Made up of William K. Rogers  (president), John H. Upham (vice president), Fredrick W. Paine (secretary-treasurer), Roger S. Munger, and Mayor J. B. Sutphin (as an ex officio member) The men that made up Duluth’s first park board (1889 to 1891) were three of the city’s most remarkable pioneers.

Major John H. Upham, the board’s vice president, earned his rank during the Civil War. He enlisted in the 149th New York Infantry in 1862, served in the Army of the Potomac, and was wounded three times at Gettysburg, losing a finger in the process. In 1864 he became captain of the 107th U.S. Colored Infantry. Born in Fayetteville, New York,  in 1841, Upham came to Duluth following the war, contracting with the  federal government on river and harbor improvements at the Head of the  Lakes. Upham was behind the wheel of the dredging tug Ishpeming when the vessel cut the Duluth Ship Canal in 1870 to 1871. Upham was called “the submarine diver of Duluth,” as in 1871 he surveyed portions of the St. Louis River by donning diving gear and walking along the river bottom. In 1872 he wed Libbie A. Banks, also of Fayetteville, and together they had two children. Major Upham died in a sanitarium in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, in November 1920.

Frederick W. Paine, father of legendary Duluth Park Superintendent F. Rodney Paine, sat on Duluth's original Park Board. (Image: Duluth Public Library)
Frederick W. Paine, father of legendary Duluth Park Superintendent F. Rodney Paine, sat on Duluth’s original Park Board. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

The park board members selected Frederick W. Paine, one of the city’s most respected bankers, as their secretary/treasurer. Born in 1856 in Niles, Michigan, Paine began his career in 1875 in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, law firm of Taggart, Simonds and Fletcher, which sent him to Duluth in 1880 to look after its interests in the Graff, Little and Co. sawmill. In 1882 he and Luther Mendenhall established the Duluth National Bank, and Paine worked as its cashier for five years until he and Henry Lardner—father of humorist Ring Lardner—established the house of Paine & Lardner, later the Security Bank, which failed in 1896. Paine then left banking and invested in life insurance and real estate companies. Besides the park board, he served on the board of education and committed his time to the community fund, the symphony association, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, St. Luke’s hospital, and several welfare and charitable societies. In 1928 Paine became the fourth person elected to the Duluth Hall of Fame. He died in February 1940. Paine’s son, F. Rodney Paine, served as Duluth’s superintendent of parks from 1926 to 1937.

Roger Munger. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)
Roger Munger. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

Roger S. Munger was born in North Madison, Connecticut, in 1830 and married Olive Gray in Maine in 1858, a year after he and two of his brothers opened a music store in St. Paul. The siblings built St. Paul’s first opera house and performed as the Munger Brothers Orchestra. Roger and Olive Munger were just the twelfth family in Duluth Township when they arrived in the late 1860s. Partnering with other Duluth settlers, Munger built Duluth’s first sawmill, first flour mill, first coal dock, and, as in St. Paul, its first opera house. He was also a founding member of Duluth’s Board of Trade and established the Lake Superior Elevator Company and other businesses. While he only held one elected office (register of deeds, 1898), he also served on the first school board and the first city council. It was Munger who, in 1870, hired the dredging tug Upham used to dig the ship canal. He died in 1913.

John B. Sutphin. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

A native of New Jersey, John Sutphin had arrived in Duluth in about 1868, when he was just twenty years old. He started out by trading beef along Lake Superior’s south shore and later opened a meat packing plant in the West End that was later taken over by Elliott’s Meats. In 1876 Sutphin was aboard the steamer St. Clair when fire broke out and passengers and crew panicked. Only three passengers survived, including Sutphin. He was elected as mayor of the Village of Duluth in 1886 and became Duluth’s mayor a year later, when the city regained its charter. (Duluth lost its city charter in 1877 and became a village at that time.) The Republican served as mayor until 1890 and therefore became the last mayor of the Village of Duluth and the first mayor of the re-born City of Duluth—and the first mayor to serve in this building. His term in office was described as “one during which the city enjoyed much prosperity.” Duluth’s Sutphin Street in the Canal Park Business District is named for him (Sutphin once owned a dock on nearby Minnesota Slip). After his term in office Sutphin became grain weighmaster for the state of Minnesota. He died in the home of his son Ralph at 318 Third Avenue West after a long battle with kidney failure. The newspaper’s report of his death ended with this touching tribute: “Few men have enjoyed a wider circle of friends in Duluth than Mr. Sutphin, and his demise will cause much regret.”

From Duluth’s Historic Parks: Their First 100 Years by Nancy S. Nelson & Tony Dierckins, Zenith City Press, Spring 2017.

 

Sources:

  • Nelson, Nancy and Tony Dierckins. Duluth’s Historic Parks: Their First 160 Years. Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota: 2017.