From Duluth’s Historic Parks: Their First 100 Years by Nancy S. Nelson & Tony Dierckins, Zenith City Press, Spring 2017.
From its reorganization in 1891 to its dissolution in 1913, some of Duluth’s most prominent citizens served on Duluth’s Board of Park Commissioners. The board was led by president Luther Mendenhall, longtime vice-president Bernard Silberstein, and secretary Henry Helm, who also served as the first park superintendent. Other members included a true pioneer, a physician, a Catholic bishop, an attorney, and several executives from Duluth’s jobbing houses, predecessors to today’s wholesale distributors. All had one thing in common: a passion for Duluth and the quality of life of its citizens.
Luther Mendenhall: Board President, 1891–1913
Martin Luther Mendenhall (who went by his middle name) was appointed to the Duluth Board of Park Commissioners following its reorganization in 1891. He remained on the board as its president until it was eliminated in 1913. In 1910 the board decided to make each board member responsible for three or four specific parks in Duluth’s growing system; Mendenhall was assigned Lakeshore and Fairmount Parks.
Born on a farm in Chester, Pennsylvania, Mendenhall attended the University of Michigan and served as a quartermaster in the Union Army throughout the Civil War, taking part in several battles, including Gettysburg. Following the war he moved to Philadelphia to study law. In the late 1860s he became involved with Jay Cooke’s Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad; Mendenhall was part of a team Cooke sent to Duluth to complete the railroad, set up banking houses and hotels, and oversee other Cooke investments. Mendenhall made investments of his own and, with other pioneers, financed Duluth’s first blast furnace and established First Methodist Church. After the Panic of 1873 left Cooke penniless, Mendenhall—instead of leaving bankrupt Duluth—doubled down on the Zenith City and stayed. When Duluth lost its city charter in 1877, Mendenhall acted as treasurer of the reforming community and was, along with Andreas M. Miller and Judge Ozora P. Stearns, instrumental in salvaging Duluth’s financial future. In 1882 he organized the Duluth National Bank, which by 1889 had evolved into Duluth’s First National Bank. Mendenhall invested in other enterprises as well. He and Guilford Hartley together owned much of the Duluth Street Railway Company and incorporated Duluth Dry Goods and the Duluth Shoe Company. Mendenhall also served as the first president of the Duluth Library Association.
When he retired from business in 1912, Mendenhall was honored with a celebration at Duluth’s exclusive Kitchi Gammi Club (he had been a member since 1882). Fellow park board member Bishop James McGolrick praised Mendenhall for his philanthropy while another board member, John Jenswold, called Mendenhall a “promoter of the City Beautiful,” responsible for developing “the city’s beauty spots.” His friend Guilford Hartley said Mendenhall was “a man that has never been known to speak ill of his neighbor, and he always is to be counted on to help when help is needed, whether it is for any direct benefit to him or not.” When it was Mendenhall’s turn to speak, he noted that while he and his fellow pioneers had begun the work, others “must take up the work and complete it.” He then added, “I hope to live to see the day that this empire will be a garden spot. We are building, not only for our own satisfaction and possible profit, but for prosperity.”
Mendenhall’s reputation was sullied in the 1890s when his relationship with Kate Hardy led to a scandalous divorce from his wife, Ella. Hardy was the headmistress and namesake of Hardy Hall, a private girls prep school that Mendenhall had constructed along Woodland Avenue. Following his divorce, Mendenhall married Hardy in 1898. The school, renamed Craggencroft, closed in 1902. Unable to find a buyer for the property, Mendenhall had the entire structure disassembled, then built three houses on the property reusing the original building’s field stones. Luther and Kate Mendenhall lived in one of the houses until his death in 1929 at age ninety-three. He ascribed his long life and health to the fact that he was from a Quaker family and had led a Quaker’s calm and temperate life.
Bernard Silberstein: Board Vice President, 1891–1911
Bernard Silberstein, along with Luther Mendenhall, was appointed to the Duluth Board of Park Commissioners in 1891. Fellow board members elected him vice president, an office he held until he resigned from the board in April 1911. Between 1910 and his retirement he was responsible for Portland Square, Chester Park, and Lincoln Park.
In 1866, eighteen-year-old Hungarian-born Silberstein left Vienna, where he had been educated, to immigrate to the United States. He eventually landed in Detroit, but soon after headed to Duluth, as he often said, “only to look around.” Silberstein must have liked what he saw. He returned to Detroit to marry Ernestine “Nettie” Rose Weiss, a native of Budapest, then took his bride to the Zenith City for their honeymoon. The Silbersteins stayed, helping to establish its first synagogue, Temple Emanuel. Bernard and Nettie, along with brothers Asa and Henry Leopold, are considered Duluth’s first Jewish residents.
Silberstein began his career in Duluth selling items from house to house before he and William Farrell opened what is thought to be Duluth’s first dry-goods store, which, according to his obituary, sold “everything imaginable.” (Dry goods described anything not considered hardware or groceries.) Before the year was out, the pair had joined forces with a man named Whitcher to form Whitcher, Silberstein & Company, referred to in newspapers as Whitcher & Silberstein’s Fancy Furnishings Store. The partnership was short-lived. By 1872 Silberstein was working with Isaac Bondy under the name B. Silberstein Company. Bondy, who lived and worked in New York City, acted as the company’s purchasing agent. In 1881 they organized the Silberstein & Bondy Company; the firm’s 1884 building still stands at 9–11 West Superior Street.
In 1912 the Silbersteins moved into High Point, an eight-thousand-square-foot Georgian Revival home at 21 North Twenty-first Avenue East designed by Frederick German. In 1913 Silberstein ran for mayor but was defeated by William I. Prince in one of the wildest political contests in the history of Duluth. Two years later he ran for city commissioner. Both he and James Farrell, who had also lost the mayoral race in 1913, were elected by wide margins; Farrell was the nephew of William Farrell, Silberstein’s first business partner in Duluth. Silberstein held the office of commissioner of public safety until 1919, when he refused to run for another term.
The high point of public recognition for Silberstein came in 1920. Recently retired from politics, he celebrated the golden anniversaries of his marriage, his business, and his membership in Covenant Lodge, an Independent Order of B’nai B’rith, which held a golden jubilee banquet and ball in honor of Mr. Silberstein. The event was described as “the most brilliant ever staged by the Jews of Duluth, Superior and Northern Minnesota and, in a small measure, indicated the esteem with which he was held by the people of his faith everywhere.” That esteem was again on display in Duluth newspapers two years later, when Bernard Silberstein passed away on September 3, 1922. The flag over city hall flew at half mast, and both the Palestine Lodge and Covenant Lodge held services. In his obituary, the Duluth News Tribune recognized his major contributions to the city’s park system: “With great foresight and optimistic as to the future of Duluth, he often advanced the money to the city for the purchase of park property. It was the cash that brought the best deals and in those early days the city had very little money with which to do any high financing. But he took a chance and advanced the money that Duluth might have a park system to be proud of.”
Secretary Henry C. Helm: Duluth’s First Park Superintendent
Henry Clay Helm served as a member of Duluth’s Board of Park Commissioners from 1891 to 1903 and became the Zenith City’s first park superintendent in 1899. Helm was born in 1844 in Logansport, Indiana. Not much is known about his early years, but when the Civil War broke out he was living in Monticello, Minnesota. He enlisted with the 8th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment in August 1862, and rose to the rank of sergeant before mustering out in June 1865. The 8th spent most of the war battling Native Americans in the Dakota and Montana territories, but later participated in battles in Tennessee and North Carolina. By the time the war ended, the 8th Minnesota had travelled more miles than any other regiment of the Union Army.
Helm returned to Monticello following the war and in 1881 married Emma Rozelia Kreis, a Monticello resident who was born in Baltimore in 1854. The Helms came to Duluth in 1884 and settled in the West End. Helm was involved in real estate and founded the West End Building and Loan Association. He purchased what became known as the Helm Addition, between Twenty-sixth and Thirtieth Avenues West along the northern edge of the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks between Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth Avenues West just north of Michigan Street. Helm built his home at 2702 Huron Street. During the lumber boom of the 1890s, sawmills surrounded the area, and the Helm Addition became part of Slabtown, so named because its working-class residents used discarded slabs of bark from the sawmills to heat their modest homes. (Much of Helm Street was lost to the expansion of Interstate 35 through Duluth.)
Helm, a Republican, ran for alderman of Duluth’s Sixth Ward in 1889 but failed to get his party’s nomination. Two years later he was appointed to the brand new Board of Park Commissioners and elected the board’s secretary. By 1899 Helm was receiving a salary of $25 per month for his work as secretary when the board decided to also employ him as the first superintendent of parks. In 1903 Helm resigned as a member of the board to devote all his time to the job of park secretary/superintendent.
In 1898 Helm found himself at the center of controversy when members of the West End Commercial Club objected to the construction of a stone wall in Lincoln Park, which they claimed was a project directed by Helm. The club members saw the wall—estimated to cost $5,000—as an unnecessary expense that would injure local property values and spoil the looks of the park. Construction was stopped, but the issue led to accusations of favoritism by residents of West Duluth who thought a park in their neighborhood was long overdue. According to the Duluth News Tribune they claimed that Lincoln Park—located in the West End, where Helm lived—had been “constantly improved…through the influence of Secretary Helm…while all requests for West Duluth’s proposed park [were] met with a deaf ear.” The group also expressed their belief that Helm, as secretary and superintendent, was “practically the entire board. He is said to audit, approve, and pay all bills for the board, and to generally control the park system affairs.” Further, the entire board was “avowedly against West Duluth.” West Duluth residents would finally get their park, Fairmount, in 1901.
In March 1909 the Duluth Commercial Club endorsed a petition signed by many leading citizens requesting the park board to provide band music in the city parks. The News Tribune reported that Helm gave a cold reception to the petition. “There is no money for that purpose, and I am not sure that we would use it if we had it. We are not much stuck on band concerts.”
That same year Henry Helm resigned as park superintendent, reportedly due to failing health, and moved to the West Coast to eventually become a fruit farmer in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he died on February 1, 1920. His brief obituary credited him as being instrumental in the improvement of Cascade, Lincoln, Fairmount, and Lester Parks.
Arthur B. Chapin (1892 to 1900)
William K. Rogers was the only board member who remained in office following the reorganization of the Duluth Board of Park Commissioners in 1891. When Rogers resigned from the board due to poor health and left Duluth in 1892, Arthur B. Chapin took his place on the park board, serving until 1900. A native of Ohio, Chapin came to Duluth by way of Saginaw, Michigan, where he worked as a lumberman after fighting with the First Ohio Cavalry during the Civil War. In 1886 he and his wife Electa moved to Duluth to help his nephew G. C. Greenwood run his retail hardware company, which was reorganized as A. B. Chapin & Co. By 1890 Chapin & Co. had merged with the hardware department of Wells-Stone to become Chapin-Wells. In 1892 another Saginaw man, Albert M. Marshall, purchased the firm, which he renamed Marshall-Wells, and turned it into the largest hardware wholesaler in the world. Chapin later organized the St. Louis Lumber Company, which he sold in 1906. His wife Electa died in 1904; in 1907 he married Florence C. Greenwood and the couple moved to Pasadena, California. Chapin died in Los Angeles in 1913.
Irvin T. Burnside (1900 to 1908)
Dr. Irvin “Ira” T. Burnside replaced Chapin on the park board in 1900 and served until 1908. Little is known about Burnside, who was born in Berlin, Wisconsin, in 1857. Burnside, his wife Clara, and their daughter Anna moved to West Duluth sometime in the 1890s, where they joined the Holy Apostle Episcopal Church. A son, Harlan, was born in 1901. In 1912 Dr. Burnside accidentally killed a ten-year-old boy in Lester Park after the boy, according to witnesses, jumped in front of Burnside’s car as it was passing a streetcar. The doctor was later acquitted of negligence. That same year he and his fellow members of the West Duluth Commercial Club led the effort to extend Fairmount Park to the St. Louis River. Burnside also served as director of Oneota Cemetery Association. In 1919 he sold his property, including an eighty-acre tract in Proctor—some of which he set aside as a public park—and moved to Minneapolis where he lived until his death in 1929.
Reverend James McGolrick (1901 to 1913)
From 1891 to 1900, Duluth’s mayor sat on the park board as an ex officio member—first M. J. Davis (1890 to 1891), Charles d’Autremont Jr. (1892 to 1893), Ray T. Lewis (1894 to 1895), and Henry Truelson (1896 to 1900). After 1900, a rule change eliminated the mayor as a board member, and Reverend James McGolrick—the first bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, serving from 1889 until his death in 1918—occupied the open seat until its 1913 dissolution. McGolrick was born in Ireland’s County Tipperary in 1841 and received his education at Dublin’s All Hallows College before coming to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1867 to assist Father John Ireland, who later became archbishop of that city. From 1868 to 1889 McGolrick served as the pastor of Minneapolis’s Church of the Immaculate Conception; he built the church’s first temporary facility, a simple wood-frame building, by himself. While McGolrick was bishop, the Duluth Diocese built Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Mary’s Hospital, St. James Orphanage, and Cathedral School, which was funded in part with a $30,000 gift from the bishop himself. Known for his extensive personal library, McGolrick also served on Duluth’s library board. While on the park board he was responsible for Cascade Square, Twin Lakes, Hilltop Park, and the city’s playgrounds.
Francis A. Clarkson (1903 to 1907)
In 1903 the park board combined the roles of board secretary and park superintendent into one paid position. Henry Helm, who had already been serving as secretary/superintendent, resigned from the board to continue in this role as paid staff. Francis A. Clarkson was appointed to fill Helm’s seat, serving until 1907. Clarkson first arrived in Duluth in 1887 when he was forty-four years old, relocating from Perry Mills, New York, to help establish Wells-Stone Mercantile, a grocery and hardware wholesaler. The firm’s grocery division was absorbed by Stone-Ordean in 1896, creating Stone-Ordean-Wells. That same year Clarkson withdrew from the company to establish the Clarkson-Wright Mercantile. In 1904 the company began manufacturing syrups, packaged teas, vinegar, extracts, and ammonia and distributed its products throughout Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Canada. Clarkson died in 1913 after being confined to bed for nearly three years while suffering from “a disease of the arteries.” That same year Clarkson-Wright merged with the Gowan-Peyton-Congdon Company to create Gowan-Lenning-Brown, considered Duluth’s premier wholesale grocer. The firm’s 1913 headquarters at 525 Lake Avenue South is known today as the Paulucci Building.
John Jenswold (1907 to 1913)
Attorney and respected civic leader John Jenswold replaced Clarkson in 1907, serving until the board was eliminated in 1913. As a member of the park board, Jenswold was responsible for Lester Park, Snively Boulevard, and the squares in Lakeside. Born to Norwegian immigrants in 1857 in Albany, Wisconsin, Jenswold was the eldest of eight children. His family relocated to a farm in northwestern Iowa in 1865, with eight-year-old John driving the family’s team of oxen. He eventually earned a law degree from the University of Iowa and started practice in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, before establishing himself in Duluth in 1888. During his career he argued more than 240 cases before the Minnesota Supreme Court. In 1908 Jenswold’s fellow Democrats tried to convince him to run for Minnesota governor, but he declined. He retired from practice in 1936 and died on June 2, 1940.
Frederick A. Patrick (1908 to 1913)
In 1908 Frederick A. Patrick replaced Dr. Burnside and in 1911, after Bernard Silberstein resigned, Patrick became the board’s vice president, serving until it was eliminated in 1913, and was responsible for Congdon Park and Rogers Boulevard. Born in 1857, Patrick came to Duluth in 1891 from his hometown of Marengo, Illinois, where his father found success in banking, manufacturing, and merchandising. In Duluth, Patrick worked as the treasurer of Stone-Ordean-Wells until 1901, when he and J. E. Granger formed Patrick-Granger Drygoods. The firm eventually became the F. A. Patrick Company, which in 1904 began manufacturing shirts and overalls. By 1924 the company, under the name Patrick Duluth Knitting Mills, owned several mills throughout the state and distributed nationally a wide range of garments including overcoats, shirts, and sportswear. Its most popular product was the Mackinaw jacket, a short wool coat which was warm but light in weight. In 1902 Patrick spearheaded a movement to revive Duluth’s dormant Chamber of Commerce, creating the Duluth Commercial Club—predecessor to today’s Chamber of Commerce—in the process. Patrick died in 1931, two years after he sold his company, from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.
Leonidas Merritt (1911 to 1913)
While Patrick replaced Silberstein as vice president, Leonidas Merritt filled his seat and served until the board’s 1913 elimination. As a board member, he was responsible for Chester Park, Lincoln Park, and Portland Square. Merritt was twelve years old when he arrived at the Head of the Lakes with his family in 1856 and helped establish Oneota Township (now part of West Duluth). Merritt worked a variety of jobs until 1890, when he and several of his brothers opened the Mesabi Iron Range. Leonidas Merritt remained connected with the mining industry. He married fellow Oneota pioneer Elizabeth Wheeler in 1873, and together they raised three children. Merritt served as the first president of the West Duluth Village Council and represented northeastern Minnesota in the 1893 to 1894 Minnesota legislative session. A former alderman, he became Duluth’s first commissioner of public utilities (1914 to 1917) and later commissioner of finance (1921 to 1925). He retired from business thirteen days before his death in 1927, remarking that “if I’ve learned one thing it’s this—don’t give up an idea that you’re satisfied is correct, when the ‘experts’ say it can’t be so.”