History of the Village of West Duluth (1889 – 1894)

The West Duluth Village Hall photographed around the time it was built. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

West Duluth, adjoining the historic Village of Oneota, so conspicuous in the pioneer period, came into corporate existence, as a village, in 1888. In 1887, “the site of West Duluth was a barren waste,” states John L. Morrison, a forceful and earnest newspaper editor of Duluth. “Pine stumps were prominent.” In the summer of 1888, the West Duluth Land Company purchased several hundred acres, and started development. From the outset, it became an industrial center, the Duluth Steel Company and the Minnesota Car Company “locating there” even before the territory was granted village government, distinct from Oneota.

On January 1, 1889, the Village of West Duluth “has three business houses and thirteen residences,” but in that year “public and private improvements effected aggregated in cost $1,036,620” and there were “1,900 real estate transfers, aggregating $2,743,182.” So that it may be imagined the village was being quickly built. In not much more than a year after the incorporation of West Duluth, its population increased from 300 to 3,500. Real estate transactions in 1890 reached a total of $4,000,000, almost, and some important manufacturing plants were then in course of construction. The future was so roseate that one enthusiast referred to the place as “The New Pittsburgh, the City of West Duluth,” arguing in substantiation that: “Commanding a territory which cannot be invaded by any of her competitors, West Duluth will, in time, cause Minneapolis and Chicago to recognize her strength as a rival manufacturing center.”

The “Village of West Duluth was incorporated under the state law, and with it was included the pioneer townsite of Oneota.” The first meeting of the council of the village was held at the office of Leonidas Merritt, on October 20, 1888. The first officials were: Leonidas Merritt, president; S. L. Smith, recorder; S. K. Duff, S. I.Johnson, and Freeman Keen, trustees; A. F. Swanstrom “served as treasurer.” C. H. Martz “was elected village engineer,” a responsible post in that rapidly-growing industrial center, and Anders Thompson was first street commissioner. The council meeting of December 3, 1888, was held in “the new Oneota school building.” Franchises for public utilities marked the business of council in 1889.

With the rapid growth of the place, the council, in early 1889, “voted to secure a charter for the City of West Duluth,” but the movement apparently did not go further.

An entirely different council came into office on March 12th, 1889, not a single member of the original council being returned. The new president was John D. Boyd. Council meetings thereafter were held, for some time, “at Moles’ Hardware Store.” The West Duluth Incline Railway was one of the accomplishments of that year, the line three miles long, and using 15,000 feet of cable, being completed on October 9th, at a cost of $107,000. A “Watch House” (village hall and jail) was built, electric street-lighting, gas and water, and street railway franchises were confirmed, and the council met, for the first time in the “watch house,” on December 21, 1889.

John T. Gunniss was president in 1890, and on April 24th First Street was changed to Oneota Street. It is said that “West Duluth was booming, and contractors found it a perfect paradise.” About that time the State Legislature had established more favorable governmental powers for villages that exceeded 3,000 inhabitants, and at the end of 1890 “a committee of citizens to work with the Village Council” to secure for West Duluth these greater privileges was appointed.

In March, 1891, A. Dunleavy became president, and soon afterwards the village was divided into four wards. On May 12, 1891, the more favorable charter having been granted, another election was held, and John M. Martin became president, and under the new charter the office of municipal judge was established, T. C. Himebaugh being the first incumbent.

The burden of establishing public improvements and utilities to keep pace with the rapid growth of the village caused the trustees to seek the flotation of a bond issue for $200,000 in 1891. One hundred and fifteen thousand dollars’ worth of bonds were rapidly sold.

In 1892, the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railway Company “was granted the right to cross certain streets in its entrance to Duluth from the Mesabi iron range.” Dr. A. Rockwell became president in 1892, and in 1893, the last year of the Village of West Duluth, John M. Martin was elected, T. C. Himebaugh being still municipal judge.

On May 12, 1893, “annexation of the Village of West Duluth to the City of Duluth was decided on”; on May 26, “West Duluth gave a majority in favor of bonding St. Louis County in the sum of $250,000, to help the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railway.” On November 20, 1893, “it was reported that West Duluth’s assessed valuation was $7,000,000, and Duluth’s $35,000,000. On the same date, President Martin and Trustees Hall, Peterson, Kirkwood, and Olafson were named as a committee from the Duluth Council, to arrange a program for the ‘marriage festival,’ in connection with the union of the two municipalities January 1, 1894.” The “last regular meeting of the (West Duluth) council was held December 21, 1893,” and the “union of Duluth and West Duluth was consummated January 1, 1894.”


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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