Surviving the Panic of 1857-2

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Land Office Removed to Portland.
Prospects seemed to brighten a little for Duluth and Portland in 1859, when the federal headquarters, the land office, was removed from Buchanan to Portland. Luce wrote: The office at Buchanan not resulting in the building up of the place as its promoters had anticipated, and its geographical location not being favorable to the greater number of people, it was removed to Portland June 26, 1859, the office being in a building near where my warehouse stood, built by the proprietors of Portland. Soon after its occupation the building burned, but the books, papers, furniture, etc., were all saved in good condition. The office was then moved to a building at the base of Minnesota Point, where it remained until May, 1861. This was on the pre-emption claim of William Nettleton. There were two changes in the office of register, the first being the substitution of J. S. Watrous for Clark, and the second of J. B. Culver for Watrous.

William Epler stated that the building owned by the proprietors of Portland was a log house, as was also that to which the land office was removed after the burning of the former. Carey, however, states that the second house in Portland used as the land office was a small frame building erected by William Nettleton and J. B. Culver on the Nettleton claim.

A Historic Building; Land Office; First Public School Building; County Office; Probate Court; Original Masonic Quarters.– Carey goes into detail regarding the history of the Nettleton building to which the land office was removed, after the fire. He writes: The United States land office was located at Buchanan in 1857. In May, 1859, it was removed to Portland, but unfortunately there was no suitable building that could be obtained in Portland for office room, so a small story-and-a- 152half frame building was erected by William Nettleton and J. B. Culver, on the Nettleton claim, about on the site of the old log election-shanty. The land office was kept there until-the appointment of Marvin and Luce, as register and receiver, in May, 1861; then the United States land office was removed into the general office room in Mr. Luce’s residence in Portland, where it was kept for eight years, until the appointment of Ansel Smith and William H. Feller, as officers. After the land office was removed out of the old building, it was occupied as a residence for a short time in 1861 by Judge John Dunphy, who was register of deeds of St. Louis County in 1859, and also held the office of judge of probate some years thereafter. … It was in that old land office building that the first public school for the Duluth School District No. 5 was kept in 1862. … That old building is entitled to still greater fame; it was in it that Masonry in Duluth had its birth. It was in it, on the evening of the 10th April, 1869, that Palestine Lodge, No. 79, A. F. and A. M., held its first meeting … springing up, as it were, from the “little acorn to the mighty oak” of the present. In 1870, the old building was moved down from its old historic site to Superior Street, about seventy-five feet east of the corner of First Avenue, East. It was enlarged, and for a time was occupied by Frank McWhorter, as a fruit stand, and was afterwards destroyed by fire.

At the time the old land office was used for the meeting which was to usher in the Palestine Lodge of Masons it was in the occupation of Mr. Mayhew, who had used it as a residence for some years.

It was in it, probably as a guest of Mr. Mayhew, that Prof. H. H. Eames made his headquarters in 1865, after returning to Duluth from the Vermilion range and lake, during his exploration of which region he found iron and also gold.

Population, 1860.-The federal census taken in 1860 showed that 406 persons were then resident in St. Louis County. How many Indians, or half-breeds, were included in that total it is not possible to say, but from other records it would seem that there were not then so many white persons resident within the limits of the county.

Carlton County, in 1860, was shown to have a population of only 51.

Lake County had 248, more than twice as many as were living in that county twenty years later, the federal census of 1880 showing only 106 persons in residence.

Birth of Republican Party on North Shore.-In the early elections, in fact in all the elections of the fifties, the democrats were supreme; there seemed to be only one party; but as the agitation against slavery gained force, the opposition to the democrats increased.

Probably the earliest activities of the republican party on the North Shore centered in Oneota. It may have had its birth in a debate held at the schoolhouse of Oneota on March 6, 1860, “Slavery” being the subject debated. Mr. Peet’s diary is the authority, and while no mention of the republican party is earlier made in his record, the references were frequent after the debate. A week later, March 13th, Mr. Peet notes in his diary: “I was for a few minutes at a republican meeting at the schoolhouse.” On March 20th, he writes: “Eve., at a meeting of the Republican Club.” Several references to the meetings of the Republican Club during the next few months were made, culminating in a long entry on the Fourth of July, 1860, when he wrote: The Fourth of July was celebrated here at Oneota, William Richardson, of St. Paul, and myself made speeches. … A picnic dinner was spread in the schoolhouse chapel, and from 80 to 100 persons were present. My speech was received with considerable applause and tears, the most so of any effort I have ever made, I think. One wicked man said he would have raised a mob and pulled me down, if popular sentiment against slavery had not been so strong in my favor as to make him powerless. My words against slavery were only a few, but God did give me words, of burning patriotic eloquence that 153made good men and women weep, for which I praise God. Eve., at republican meeting.

Quite a decisive change in political alignment had occurred since the first election, in 1855, when it seemed that “there was only one party-the democrats.” Topographical Survey.-A topographical survey of “bays, rivers, and shores” was begun in 1860, states Luce. He wrote: In the summer of 1860, a corps of government engineers and assistants, under the charge of General Meade (afterwards commanding officer in the battle of Gettysburg), were engaged in a topographical survey of the bays, rivers, and shores of the lake. A base line on Minnesota Point, some four miles in length, with high towers at each end, was constructed for the purpose of triangulation, measurement and observation, preparatory to the charting of the topography of the lands under water, showing the depths of water. The survey was continued in the spring of 1861, when General Meade was ordered to Washington to enter active service in the army.

William Epler was of the surveying party. Apparently, the work was interrupted by the outbreaking of civil war. In 1866 government engineers began a survey of Superior Bay, and entry.

Distinguished Visitors.-In 1860, also, General Sherman and other military officers visited the Head of the Lakes, apparently in connection with the same survey. Luce writes: About this time, probably in 1860, a party of military officers, consisting of Generals W. T. Sherman, Ord, Sibley, and others whom I do not recall, visited Duluth, meeting the government steamer Search, but for what purpose I never knew. They inspected the bays and surrounding country and returned without divulging the objects of their mission. The meeting was a very agreeable one, as might be expected from the presence of such a genial man as General Sherman. I had the pleasure of meeting the party in my office and tendering to them the usual refreshments. The occurrence in a populous community would hardly have been noticed, but when there were scarcely enough people to permit the grammatical use of the pronoun “we,” it was a rare treat, which all enjoyed.

General Sherman paid another visit to the Head of the Lakes, after the close of the war, and then, as perhaps on the first visit, he passed over the old Military Road, being accorded a memorable reception upon arrival, as will be noted later.

The Old Military Road; Early Mail Carriers; the Old Stage Route.-Harry Ashton, son of Washington Ashton, the pioneer newspaper man at the Head of the Lakes, gives a good account of the old Military Road, the only avenue of land travel from Superior to St. Paul before railways were laid. Part of his paper has been quoted in Chapter VII, but to continue the account, he wrote: William Schuster … packed the mail from Superior to Changwatona, a distance of 100 miles. The old hero of the Fatherland often had to ford swollen streams, and, on one occasion, on arriving on the banks of Willow River, he found the stream so swollen that he could not ford it. He built a raft, and attempted to cross, but was carried five miles down the stream before he could make a landing. In many cases the mail got wet, and it is related that Mr. John LaFave, also an early carrier, used to open the mail bags, build a fire, and place the letters and: papers on sticks and dry them out, after which he would replace the mail and resume his journey.

Joe Laveash, a noble descendant of the red man, also packed the mail overland. James Bungo, a descendent of Ham, carried the mail on a mule between Superior and Twin Lakes. Frank Roy packed the mail from Superior to Kettle River, and Mr. January carried it from Kettle River to Taylors Falls, and on one occasion Mr. January and August Zachau embarked in a canoe down Kettle River. While plying their canoe down the turbulent river, they upset and lost the mail, but swam ashore. On arriving at Taylors Falls, Mr. Zachau was placed on the stand, and exonerated Mr. January from all blame for the loss of the mail.

The late Hezekiah Shaw drove cattle over the road in the fifties and sixties, and during the Indian scare in 1862, it was reported that he was massacred by them. Such was not the case, however, as he drove cattle into town the next day. Tom Garrity … drove cattle, and did teaming over the road. A. E. Philbrooks … and James Syer, father of Mrs. P. E. Bradshaw, also drove cattle and carried supplies over the road.

Charles Doble started a wagon route along in the latter part of the fifties, and carried mail, express and passengers. It was abandoned at intervals, and finally went out of existence altogether, when the stage coach made its appearance.

This stage route was operated by Burbank Merrian and Company, of St. Paul. Colonel Allen, at one time proprietor of the Merchants Hotel in St. Paul, also owned an interest in it. These stages were built at Concord, New Hampshire, and were generally known as the Concord coach. It was a large vehicle, standing about ten feet in the air. The bed of the coach rested on thorough braces, with a front booth for carrying mail and express, and a hind booth, for carrying trunks and heavy baggage. On both sides, near the top of the coach, running along the whole of the bed of the coach, were rings to which ropes could be attached, so that small articles of express could be tied on top. This carryall of transportation was hauled by four or six horses. These horses were all trained the same as fire horses, and knew their respective places. There were fourteen relays of horses between Superior and St. Paul. William J. Gidley was superintendent, and Thompson Ritchie … was agent. Mr. Dingley, an old overland stage driver, was road foreman. The first station after leaving Superior was Fitzpatrick, fifteen miles out. … The next stopping place was Twin Lakes, where Chester Williams, John Dunphy, and the genial George Stull were hosts, at different intervals. The next station was Blackhoof, noted for the abundance of black deer that ranged in that vicinity. The station was kept by Mr. Jackson, and, by the way, his corpulent daughter-she weighed 350 pounds-presided over the larder that touched the hearts of many a hungry passenger. Moose Lake, the next stopping place, was kept by a Frenchman, by the name of Bouillard, and later by Mr. Gavioud. Willow River came next, a way-station where the horses were watered and fed. Kettle River was the next station, at which place Basil Dennis was the genial host. Deer Creek, which is about two miles from Hinchley, was kept by Mr. Hathaway, who was afterwards murdered while attempting to arrest a fugitive from justice.

Changwatona came next, and was kept by one of the many Smiths. After the stage route was abandoned, the family moved to Superior, where they were known by the nickname of the Changwatona Smiths, in order to distinguish them from the many other Smiths. The picturesque Sunrise City was the next station, and was kept by John Moll, a German. Wyoming was the next station, and was kept by Mr. Tombler; Columbus came next and was kept by Capt. James Starkey, an ex-alderman from St. Paul, and a prominent man in the Northwest. Little Canada was the next station, where they watered and fed their horses. St. Paul came next, the end of the stage route, a distance of 160 miles through the wilderness. When first started, it took six days to make the trip, but it was finally reduced to three. Among the drivers, who were the pride of the small boys when they drove up to the Avery House and who operated at the different stations along the route, were James Benton, John Cotours, John Trowbridge, Scott Wicked, Ben Wilkins, Joe Martell, John Gouge, and John Skelton.

Click on “2” for the rest of the story….


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