Imagine a perfect Duluth summer evening in late July 1907. You and a friend, dressed in your best summer whites and straw hats, arrive via the Hunter’s Park Limited streetcar and alight at McGhie’s grocery store at Oxford Street. You discover, to your aesthetic delight, an avenue of torches guiding you to Hunter’s Field, just half a block away. You stroll with dozens of others through a brilliantly lit arched entrance—electric lights!—to a forest glen around the edges of which a creek gently gurgles, a tableau of softly colored paper lanterns enhancing the light of a full moon and the occasional flash of lightning bugs. The scents of pine trees, wildflower and sticks of incense waft through the air, and next to a decorated stage, beautiful young women pose on pedestals like classical statues. A full orchestra plays while small children and young girls dressed as fairies flit about.
The play you are there to see? Naturally, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by local Professor A. F. M. Custance. All the actors are neighborhood young people with names you recognize: Hugo, Washburn, Denfeld, Macfarlane, Nolte, Woodbridge, Hunter and Miller. They are the sort of young people you read about in the local society pages, who attend the finest colleges and East Coast preparatory schools. They are the children and grandchildren of Duluth’s leaders: mayors, school district superintendents and real estate men. Even young Claude Washburn, home from his travels, is there to play Lysander.
To neighbors and other residents who visited Hunters Park that evening, the scene became an indelible memory of true gentility and community. Hunters Park was what every neighborhood aspired to be: full of expansive, well-manicured lawns; impressive but not ostentatious homes; and friendly respectable people. The next day’s review in the Duluth News Tribune could hardly do justice to the perfection of the evening. The reporter called it “a delightful surprise and artistic treat to the most fastidiously inclined poetic nature—enchanting, bewitching, romantic, and inspiring.”
Hunters Park residents must have been chagrined, however, to see their neighborhood misidentified in the review’s headline: “Woodland Made a Fairy Haunt.” Even in 1907, as today, Hunters Park as a distinct neighborhood could be “disappeared” by a tendency to call everything along the Woodland Avenue streetcar line past Mount Royal “Woodland.” (For a history of Woodland, click here.) Neighborhood residents knew that Hunters Park’s boundary on that side of the avenue ends midway up Dairy Hill, or what is today the entrance to Hartley Nature Center, and it’s likely that the Duluth News Tribune received more than one critical note in the next day’s post to that effect.
Hunters Park today has absorbed three other smaller neighborhoods: Waverly Park, Kenilworth Park and Glen Avon. Of these three, only Glen Avon is still used in common parlance. The original Waverly Park has been split in two, half of which is now included in the Chester Park-UMD neighborhood. The Kenilworth Park name never stuck, but on plats it was the area between Woodland and Livingston Avenues, Snively Boulevard and Oxford Street.
Except for the insistence of real estate agents, older residents, and cranky historians, the survival of the Hunters Park name is still under threat of being absorbed by Woodland. The southern boundary is Arrowhead Road; the eastern boundary is Vermilion Road (with a bit of an easterly jog to Silcox and Wallace Avenues); the northern boundary is Tischer Creek where it runs west to east through Hartley Nature Center; from Hartley Road, the western boundary zigzags north along the Hartley property.
Each of the neighborhoods was centered on a community institution. For Waverly Park, it was the first Duluth Curling Club, which was located within the rectangle formed by Vermilion Road, Wallace Avenue, Bruce Street and Victoria Street (now Arrowhead Road). Kenilworth Park’s offering was a fire hall on Vermilion Road. Glen Avon was centered on the Glen Avon Presbyterian Church, originally located across the street from the current stone edifice. And Hunters Park’s heart was McGhie’s grocery store at Oxford Street, also known as the Hunters Park Grocery and, later, the Snow White.
A Scot’s Fiefdom
It could be said that Hunters Park, more than any other Duluth neighborhood, was the personal fiefdom of one extended Scottish family, spearheaded by Ronald M. Hunter and his brother-in-law Angus Macfarlane. While Ashtabula Heights and the East End were full of gorgeous mansions built for the richest of Duluth’s citizens, Hunters Park and Glen Avon, platted in 1891, were meant to be exclusive in an altogether different way.
Ronald M. Hunter’s father, John C. Hunter built a hunting cabin near Oxford and Woodland (one hand-drawn map places it at the lot on the northwest corner of Vermilion Road and Oxford Street). This was the first building in the area. Later, he either moved this cabin or built another log summer home on Woodland and Fairmont Street, which still existed in a more embellished form as late as 1960, according to historian Jean Macrae in her neighborhood history, “The Development of Glen Avon-Hunter’s Park Area of Duluth.”
Glen Avon, originally consisting of Angus Macfarlane’s property, was named by him to refer to the glens of Scotland and the Avon River in England. In the late 1880s, Macfarlane built the first year-round home in the neighborhood, a fine house and farm located near Lewis Street and Columbus Avenue, right on Tischer Creek. (It appears he tried to persuade people to rename the creek “Avon,” but never quite succeeded in that endeavor.)
Oatmeal Hill is one name that continues to confuse some, but Jean Macrae asserts that it refers specifically to the area by Waverly Avenue from Hardy Street to Victoria Street (now Arrowhead Road). According to information she received from Jean Gibson (who grew up at 1907 Waverly), the name was coined by Dan Mahoney and her brother George Gibson. It seems old Mother Gibson was fond of making big bowls of oatmeal for the boys before they ran down the hill to catch the streetcar on their way to work at the bank, and thus the appellation stuck.
When Macfarlane and Hunter platted the neighborhood to sell their real estate, they named the streets after places they knew in Scotland and England, Sir Walter Scott literary references, elite colleges, famous Scotsmen and the women they loved.
While there were never any written covenants restricting ownership in the neighborhood, it was widely rumored that Macfarlane and Hunter flat-out gifted the first lots to friends they wanted as neighbors, which would explain why so many of the earliest residents were Scots as well. At a time when neighborhoods opened up for sale with a huge advertising blitz, Hunters Park was notable for the lack of such fanfare in its earliest years. A 1907 article a little more than a month after the Shakespeare evening bore the subhead: “Only the Right Kind of People Are Wanted by the Dwellers in This Beautiful Suburb.” Residents were quick to assert (somewhat disingenuously) that “Wealth is not a necessary qualification—far from it. What is desired by the Hunters parkers is respectability and neighborliness.” Lots were purportedly “cheap,” but it was clear that aside from one small group of servant-class Italians who lived on Carlisle Avenue, “respectability” included a very narrow subset of Duluthians, Scots Presbyterian preferred.
Indeed, unlike most Duluth neighborhoods, there was only one church: Glen Avon Presbyterian. Originally a Gothic style structure built in 1893 for families who found traveling downtown to First Presbyterian too onerous, the present church was finished in 1909. It is made of bluestone quarried from nearby Hunter’s Hill, then described as “blue trap stone with trimmings of brown stone and…plate glass windows and chandeliers of the latest kind.” The vast majority of community events were centered on the church, including a popular annual Fourth of July picnic held at Hunter’s Field, complete with fireworks.
Keep Your Broom on the Ice, Boys
Macfarlane’s money was spent in great quantity on both church buildings and other notable neighborhood institutions. He spent $7,000 to build the Curling Club in Waverly Park, which operated for only three years between 1893–1896. It reportedly had three sheets of curling ice with a skating area around them, and the clubhouse included a large fireplace. According to Macrae, “An early description speaks of the extravagant layout, the commodious clubrooms, the magnificent rink, the bonspiels, and the many social and happy gatherings held there, the ladies often preparing dinners for the curlers.” When the curlers abandoned it for better quarters downtown, it stood empty for many years, until one winter when it collapsed under the weight of heavy snow.
Macfarlane was also responsible for building the first two schools in the neighborhood. The first was a two-room schoolhouse Macfarlane had built on his property along the creek between Lewis and St. Andrews Streets in 1887. One room was for classes; the other served as the MacFarlane family’s ice house. The second schoolhouse—built by the city in 1893—was located at St. Andrews Street and Rosyln Avenue on land donated by Macfarlane. Glen Avon closed in 1905 when Washburn Elementary School opened nearby. (It was demolished in 1910; houses now occupy the lot.) Only Washburn still stands. It closed in 1993 and is now owned by the Duluth Bible Church.
Hunter and Macfarlane were no slouches when it came to ensuring profit in their neighborhood endeavors. The same year they platted the first four divisions of Glen Avon and the first division of Hunters Park, they also began regular service on their single-track railway from Fourth Street and 24th Avenue East to Petre Street (now St. Marie) to Woodland on up to Austin Street. Their Motor Line Improvement Company had several familiar investors, including G. G. Hartley, A. S. Chase, Joseph Sellwood, J. D. Stryker, and J. D. Howard. A waiting station built in 1892 for riders of this line still stands across the street from the Glen Avon Presbyterian Church, though it has been converted to a private home. By 1901, like other street railway companies formed to serve new suburbs, Motor Line Improvement had been absorbed by the Duluth Street Railway Company. Most of the time, the line ran only to Forest Hill Cemetery, but it did go to the end of the line seven times a day. Prior to 1902, trolley poles ran down the center of Woodland Avenue; after that year they were moved to the sides of the street. Until the streetcar operators got annoyed with no-shows, it was also common to have packages of groceries or other household purchases delivered curbside along the line.
In the evenings, the neighborhood streetcar stops must have been a virtual Who’s Who of Duluth real estate men, lawyers, judges, educators and businessmen. The main stop after Glen Avon waiting station was Oxford Street, where one could get meats, groceries, penny candy, tam-o’-shanter hats and mail at George McGhie’s store. (Until the post office was built next door, McGhie actually had the mail delivered to his store at his expense for the convenience of his neighbors.)
Author Margaret Culkin Banning wrote a description of growing up in a stately Victorian house just beyond the store on the 2300 block of Woodland Avenue. It was near the turn of the 20th century, and her father W. E. Culkin was the Register of the Duluth Land Office and eventual founder of the St. Louis County Historical Society. Their next-door neighbor was Charles C. Salter, founder of the Bethel Mission. She recalls that when the streetcars occasionally got stuck below their bluffside homes during blizzards, the elderly Salter would hobble down his long stairway to serve them coffee. Charles Miller, namesake of the Miller Trunk Highway, was also a neighbor. Across Roslyn Avenue from their driveway lived the McCabes (who a decade later built another home that now serves as the McCabe Renewal Center). At the end of the street, at the corner of Roslyn and Oxford, were the W. A. McGonagles and the J. L. Washburns. Across Oxford were the R. E. Denfelds and the William A. Pryors.
The Washburn home was the most impressive house on a fairly impressive corner. Culkin Banning describes it as “tall and turreted, painted dark green and with a low stone wall…surrounded by porches.” It also had three living rooms, a billiard room, and a catalogued library. Those books later were donated to form the foundation of Washburn Elementary School’s library. (Read more about the house here.)
Except for the Washburn home, demolished in 1946, Culkin’s house and all the others she mentions still exist—though the stone wall that ran along the Washburn property’s borders still stands. After a few owners, the large Pryor house was bought by the Glen Avon Masonic Lodge in 1923 and served as their headquarters until about 1999, when it returned to use as a private home.
Across Woodland from the Culkin Victorian is the house where Ronald M. Hunter lived with his family, which then stood next to a large open area commonly called Hunter’s Field, below Hunter’s Hill. In effect, this was the “park” in Hunters Park, where the community often held events like the play mentioned above, athletic competitions, carnivals and picnics. The field now hosts Glen Avon Hockey and Baseball, but the curious can find remnants of sidewalks and an elevated bridge along Tischer Creek nearby. The hill, which most people today access via a steep track at the end of Fairmont Street, was once probably climbed via a more sedate trail that can still be embarked upon where the dirt end of Abbotsford Avenue meets the hockey club parking lot. For at least forty years, gazebos stood halfway up and at the top, furnished with wooden benches where ramblers could rest.
Click on “2” for the rest of the story….