The Village of New Duluth

This grainy image, recovered from microfilm, is the only photograph of Charles Lovett we have been able to locate. (Image: Zenith City)

The beginning of the movement which eventually brought into establishment the incorporated Village of New Duluth may be stated to have been in the coming of Charles E. Lovett to Duluth in 1886.

It was not until 1891 that New Duluth was incorporated, and the earlier movements are best told in the words of Charles E. Lovett, himself, as he gave them in a speech delivered before the New Duluth Commercial Club, in 1911. He said:

The first time I visited Duluth was on December 9, 1885. At that time West Superior Street, from Sixteenth Avenue, west, was not even graded, nor was any part of First Street graded. Triggs and Kennedy showed me about, and offered to sell me two lots on the lower side of First Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues, west, for $3,200.00. These same lots are now fairly worth $1,000.00 per front foot.

The city looked mighty crude, and the West End was grown up to bushes and except where spots had been cleared for buildings it had the appearance of wild cut-over land. Where West Duluth is (except a small area at Oneota) was what eastern people call “a slashing.” Where the present Grand Avenue is there was a corduroy road cut through the tall bushes.

There had been a growing conviction throughout the country, and especially throughout the Northwest, that Duluth was destined to become a great city, and it was rapidly rallying from the disastrous reaction, which the Jay Cooke failure and the panic of 1873 caused. Investors were coming in and buying property at prices which staggered the old settlers here, but which seemed ridiculously low in three or four years. The real estate brokers who had gone through the hard times from 1873 to 1883 were, as a rule, extremely pessimistic, while the newcomers, like M. B. Harrison, Myers Bros., Triggs and Kennedy, Gridley and Mishler, and others, were rank optimists, and were booming the city in the most improved style.

The result of their efforts together with the growing sentiment favorable to Duluth, was that an active real-estate market began in 1886, and culminated in a great boom in the winter of 1886-87. I located in Duluth December 2, 1886, and boarded at the old St. Louis Hotel. There were times that winter when the spacious office of the hotel, from 7 to 10:30 P. M., was so full of brokers and prospective buyers that it was difficult for a person to make his way through the crowd. The tremendous activity suddenly subsided in March and a crowd of Twin-City dealers tried to transfer the boom to Ashland, but it would not work.

During the winter the West Duluth Land Company was incorporated by 0. HE. Simonds, R. S. Munger, Myers Bros., Judge Stearns, T. B. Casey, Judge Ensign, and others. This was the first organized attempt to plat land above Oneota, or to bring industries to Duluth, by offering them free sites and liberal bonuses. Notwithstanding many disappointments, it was a success.

In December 1888, our firm worked up a deal which resulted in the purchase of 353 acres owned by Myers Bros., at Spirit Lake, afterwards Spirit Lake Park, and now owned by the Minnesota Steel Corporation. The purchasers were: George N. Lyman and Sons, then of Milwaukee; D. H. Roe and George H. Lyon, of Chicago; W. C. White, J. D. Westenholm, C. E. Lovett, and B. D. Brown, of Duluth. We paid $100,000 for the property, and that was the high-water-mark for up-river property at that time. This sale created quite a sensation, but it was not to be compared with the stir caused by the sale of 155 acres between West Duluth and Spirit Lake (known now as Ironton), to Dr. W. Seward Webb, H. Walter Webb, (vice-president of the New York Central Railroad), Fred W. Vanderbilt, and others, for $145,000.

My partner, B. D. Brown, worked up the deal and the party came from New York by special train to examine the property. This property had been bought by John A. Willard and Albert Harrington the year before for less than $50,000.

Matthew Bland Harrison made much history in his time. He came to Duluth with very limited means, but was a member of one of the old families of Virginia, a man of great energy and foresight, and a good judge of real estate. His name will be associated with that period of Duluth’s history as long as the city stands. He bought wild lands at both ends of the city, one for fine residential property, and the other for factory and business sites; and his judgment has been confirmed by events. He advertised Duluth more liberally and more efficiently than any other man of his time, and he soon became one of the largest dealers in Duluth. He joined the Merritts in the opening up of the Mesabi range, and helped build the Missabe Railroad. He died of Brights Disease in February, 1892, and his death was a great loss to Duluth.

We had many transactions with him during the last years of his life, and I have never known a fairer, more honorable man, or one who had keener judgment. I turn aside to pay tribute to my old friend, whose untimely death was a source of grief to … many devoted friends.

Mr. Harrison had not only good judgment, but the best nerve of any man I ever knew. He thought nothing of going into a bank and borrowing, on short-time paper, from $10,000 to $20,000 with which to buy bargains in real estate. He sometimes became temporarily embarrassed, but had the faculty of getting out, and in order to do so, he would often throw over some valuable properties that would insure sales.

The Start of New Duluth.
The sale to Webb, Vanderbilt, et al, was made Dec. 10, 1889, and soon thereafter Mr. Harrison came to me and wanted to sell us 400 acres of land he had recently bought, lying between Spirit Lake and Fond du Lac. He asked $300 an acre. I told him that it was too much, as the land was bluff and rough, and probably rocky. He declared it was not, but, on the contrary, was free from rocks, ravines, and bluffs, and urged me to go up and see it.

On December 28, 1889, accompanied by my brother-in-law, D. H. Roe, of Chicago, I drove up and looked it over. I had gone over the Northern Pacific road between Duluth and Fond du Lac many times, but the track was too low to get a good view of the land, and I had formed an impression that the rocks and hills came down very near the water. Imagine my surprise when I found that it was the largest body of level ground on the Minnesota side adjacent to Duluth. We drove far enough to see the present site of New Duluth, then turned back and took a private road and drove down to John Smith’s farm, and went in. … He gave us full information regarding the various tracts of land as far as Fond du Lac. I determined to get up a syndicate if possible, and buy not only the Harrison land, but enough more to make 1,000 acres, with considerable water front, and lay out a manufacturing suburb.

In the spring of 1889, the West Duluth Land Company platted West Duluth, Fifth Division, and it was reported that the company realized from the seventy acres thus platted $460,000. With these facts before I could see millions in it. I took the matter up with George N. Lyman, then of Minneapolis. He thought favorable of it, and I went to see him twice about it. He was willing to go in, provided his brother-in-law, S. T. McKnight, would join him.

In the meantime, Mr. Harrison’s notes were coming due at the bank, and he was urging the sale of the land. He notified us that he absolutely must have $10,000 earnest money on his land not later than February 15, 1890, or he would take from us the exclusive agency. I went to Minneapolis that night, and spent most of February 15th with Lyman and McKnight. At 4 P. M. I took the train back to Duluth, with cheques for $10,000 earnest money. I wired Harrison to meet me, turned over the cheques, and took the first train for home, Lakeside, at 11:20 P. M.

Failure Threatened
Mr. McKnight was the head of the Northwestern Lumber Company, with mills at Eau Claire, and a millionaire. He was a man who did not rely entirely on his own judgment, and he therefore brought his junior partner to Duluth with him, when he and Mr. Lyman came to look over the land on February 25. The partner was an aggressive man who had unlimited confidence in his own judgment, and he was of the opinion that it was an utterly wild-eyed scheme, and he was free to say so. When I met them at the Spaulding, Mr. McKnight was the bluest man I ever saw, and said he did not care to see the property, that he had changed his mind, and would not go in. I finally persuaded them to go up to West Duluth, hoping that after seeing the car works, and other evidences of industry, they would be willing to drive on to Spirit Lake. They went to West Duluth, but would go no further. I then induced them to go to Lakeside and see what had been done there. But it was to no purpose. The junior partner was of the opinion that it was only cut-over land, and not worth $25 an acre, and would not be needed for city lots in a hundred years. He knew more about it, not having seen the land, than Mr. Lyman, although he had had no experience in that line of business, while Mr. Lyman had handled many large deals and had been very successful.

Soon after, I went to Minneapolis and saw Mr. McKnight. He blamed himself; said he had lost $5,000, and deserved to lose it for being such a fool; that if he had had any sense he never would ‘have gone into such a wild scheme, etc. I told him that I did not agree with him, and believed I could get other parties to take it up, and that if he would be patient, I would try to get him his money back, which I did. I brought Mr. Harrison down to meet him with me on March 1st, and he agreed with Mr. McKnight to give us time to work up another deal, and if we succeeded, he would turn back the earnest money.

Clouds Cleared Away
O. H. Simonds and I went to Chicago, on March 14, and succeeded in negotiating a deal for the removal of the Marinette Iron Works to West Duluth. We got back on March 23, and my diary shows that the next day, Mr. Brown and I spent much of the day and the evening conferring with James W. Norton and Frank R. Webber, with a view of organizing a syndicate for the purchase of the Harrison land and other tracts, and the formation of a land company. The next day, Mr. Webber brought Colonel W. K. Rogers into the conference, and we had another night session with Norton and Webber. The third day Dr. C. A. Stewart was called in, and from that time on we made steady progress

The result was that within about two months we secured sufficient land, either by purchase or by getting property owners to put in their land and take stock of the company for it, at par, the land to go in at a level price of $500 an acre. Those who refused were bought out by a syndicate composed of Norton, Webber, Stewart, Hudson, Jacques, Lovett and Brown.

In this way we secured 2,100 acres, and the deferred payments amounting to about $350,000 were assumed by the company. The company was ready to be organized, and had been trying to think of a suitable name for the town and the company. I asked Mr. Harrison to suggest a name, and he promptly answered: “New Duluth,” of course. We agreed that it was the most suitable name. I suggested the name of the principal street, Commonwealth Avenue.

Company Capitalized
The company was capitalized for $1,000,000; ten thousand shares each, of the par value of $100. With more than 2,000 acres of fine land, admirably adapted to townsite purposes, with five miles of waterfront and good railroad advantages, everyone considered that the situation was ideal. Industries were secured, and with such plants as the Herman Becklinger and Herman Sawmill and Furniture factory, the Hurd Refrigerator Plant, the Atlas Iron and Brass Works, Fred Herman’s Sash and Door Factory and Planing Mill, and W. P. Heinbach’s Sawmill were secured, and later a contract with B. B. Richards, for a factory, we felt that the future of the town was assured. We cleared up some 240 acres of land and platted New Duluth, First Division, opened up some of the streets, and, before fall, houses and churches, hotels and store buildings were being built at a very rapid rate.

The first officers of the company were as follows: Frank B. Webber, president; C. H. Lovett, first vice-president; C. A. Stewart, second vice-president; J. W. Norton, secretary and manager; H. H. Bell, treasurer; and after the bank failure Henry A. Smith was elected treasurer. The directors were: James Bardon, J. W. Norton, F. B. Webber, H. H. Bell, T. T. Hudson, M. B. Harrison, F. R. Kennedy, C. A. Stewart, H. A. Smith, E. L. Bradley, and C. E. Lovett.

First Sale
We held the opening sale of lots on October 28, 1890, just ten months to a day from the time I first saw the land. This was the most remarkable sale ever held in the Norrthwest. The large outer office of the 280company was filled to suffocation the evening before the doors were to be opened. With hundreds of men crowded into one room, as thick as they could stand, the room became warm and the air so foul that men fainted, and when anyone collapsed he was taken out over the heads of the crowd, as that was the only possible way of getting him out. One man soon died as the result of that experience. Robert Benson, one of the city detectives, was the first man at the door, and had the first choice of lots. We adopted the rule that they were to have choice of lots in the order in which they stood in line, and each person was restricted in the number of lots he could buy. The sales amounted to $412,000.

The sale was such a phenomenal success that the price of stock went from par to $165 a share, $100 being the par value. It did not seem as though anything could intervene to prevent us from realizing millions from the venture. We could not see a cloud in the sky-nothing but azure blue; but there was a big storm on the way, and it struck us like a cyclone. The failure of the Barings, of London, came as a clap of thunder from a clear sky.

It was world-wide in its effects, and as Bell and Eyster’s Bank had rediscounted heavily, and were called upon to take up their paper, they were forced to the wall. The New Duluth Land Company had over $24,000 in their bank, but fortunately we had $56,000 in the National Bank of Commerce, $20,000 in the First National, and $25,000 in the Bank of Superior.

Still, it affected the numerous buyers of lots so that we were unable to collect many of the deferred payments, and it stopped all further sales.

Hard Times
I shall never forget the worry and the anxiety of the next few years, as the panic of 1893 came on before we had recovered from the effects of the Baring failure, and the sober times which succeeded it. I am sure Webber and Norton, Bardon and Stewart, Hudson, Jacques, and Lyman will never forget those trying times. We all stood shoulder to shoulder. Mr. Bardon was a tower of strength.

That is the story of the combination responsible for the creation of New Duluth. The money panic almost took the life out of the village. Had it not been for that stringency, with the breaking down of the confidence people, business men as well as speculators, had in the future of the place, it might have gone on rapidly to astounding development. As it now is, all that is left of the original plants established at New Duluth is the furniture factory.

Prosperity, With the Coming of the Steel Plant.
Still, as Mr. Lovett consolingly reflected, “a new vision and a brighter one than the founders of New Duluth ever had” eventually “opened to the view,” when it was known that “the largest corporation in the world (the United States Steel Corporation), owning its mines, ships, railroads, and controlling the markets for its products,” would establish on “this fair plain” (part of New Duluth) one of the “largest, and most modern, up-to-date steel plants in the world.” In general, New Duluth has become the residential part of the “Steel City.” The foregoing is the essential history of New Duluth, and it is hardly necessary to record at length from the actual minutes of the village governing body. Briefly, the village organization was effected in October, 1891, the first meeting of trustees being held on October 3, 1891. The first officers were: G. Lind, president; L. B. Sage, recorder; H. O. Krueger, Ira J. Mahoney, and Julius F. Hermann, trustees.

The National Bank of Commerce, of Duluth, was during the first months of the village, designated “as the village repository,” fortunately.

And before the year was out it had a newspaper of its own, the “New Duluth Pioneer.” G. Lind was re-elected in 1892. He resigned in November, and Ira J. Mahoney succeeded him. He was re-elected in April, 1893.

The New Duluth National Bank was organized in December, 1894, and became the village repository. James Larson became president in 1894.

In December, 1894, “Trustee C. F. Scott was appointed to consult T. T. Hudson, ‘or some good legal talent,’ in regard to necessary steps in the matter of the annexation of the Village of New Duluth to the City of Duluth.” On December 31st, “Village President James Larson, Treasurer Hurd, and Recorder J. A. McCuen, were appointed as a committee to conduct annexation matters with the Duluth officials.

The council of the Village of New Duluth then adjourned sine die; the Village of New Duluth was dead-after a municipal life of three years, one month and twenty-eight days.”

Sources:

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