Waterfront Development (1869-1873)

This sketch of Duluth from the outer harbor appeared in a publication called Every Saturday in 1871. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

In the early months of 1870 many important projects were in process of construction; the Clark House, with its magnificent ballroom, was nearing completion; Elevator “A” was beginning to loom up encouragingly; the railroad company’s dock works on the shore interested most people and Culver’s dock was expected to add to the general prosperity all felt was assured. Then, the breakwater project was finding employment for many men, property owners, no doubt, seeing in all this work by outside interests that their pockets were, 191figuratively speaking, already bulging with money. And, of course, not one interested Duluthian was likely for a moment to forget the all-important railway undertaking then fast nearing completion.

Elevator A.-According to Egan, work on the elevator began in 1869, and was in charge of Mr. C. B. Newcombe. Regarding the construction work, Egan said: In 1869 the construction of Elevator A was begun. Mr. C. B. Newcombe had charge, and being an elegant young and Christian gentleman, he considered it the proper thing to have all his employees assemble every morning for prayers. This mob of something like two hundred men of all nationalities and religions, some of them just off the Union Pacific Road and altogether a hard lot, took it at first as a joke, but when Mr. Newcombe, on two or three successive occasions, led the prayer, he would get a bootjack, loaf of bread, or fish, hurled, at his head. Divine prayer stopped after the first week, and has never since, directly or indirectly, been connected with the elevator or wheat business of Duluth.

Graves, Munger and Markell were the men responsible for the elevator enterprise of 1869-70, states Bardon. Elevator “A” was completed on September 24, 1870, but it was not until May 30, 1871, that the first shipment of grain was made, the propeller “St. Paul” then taking 11,500 bushels of wheat. The building of Elevator “A,” of course, was in no way connected with the settlement of North Dakota, because it was not until December, 1870, that the first acre of land in that state was entered, and it was not, it appears, until 1875 that Oliver Dalrymple opened up his Red River Valley farm, and demonstrated that the soil of the Dakotas could not be excelled for the production of No. 1 hard wheat. Dalrymple’s first wheat was shipped to Duluth, passing into Elevator “A,” having been purchased by Charles B. Newcombe and Company, the lessees of the elevator.

Charles F. Johnson, who arrived from St. Paul in March, 1870, spoke of “the small army of men” he then saw “employed laying the foundations for a grain elevator, and constructing a breakwater in front of it.” Elevator “A” had a capacity of 350,000 bushels and was built by the Union Improvement and Elevator Company. In 1872, Munger and Markell built Elevator No. 1, of 200,000 bushels capacity. In 1878 Elevator “A” was enlarged to 560,000 bushels capacity. These two elevators met the requirements of the trade until 1880, when Elevator No. 1 burned. Elevator “A” met a similar fate on the night of November 27, 1886, but by that time, Duluth had many other elevators; indeed, to an aggregate capacity of eleven million bushels.

Jerome E. Cooley, who first saw the Head of the Lakes in the summer of 1870, had the following to say regarding the Citizen’s Dock, Elevator “A,” the breakwater and that part of Duluth: On July 4, 1870, I first saw Lake Superior, and a country road where Superior Street now is, a few winding tracks up the hill, and a road down Minnesota Point on St. Croix Avenue. The marsh where Lake Avenue was afterwards made was not at that time filled in. … They were then digging the canal, and St. Croix Avenue was the regular thoroughfare. The marsh covered all the space from Michigan Street to the canal, with a bank of gravel near the lake shore, where the road was constructed. When the old Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad was built in here, and constructed their dock at the foot of Third Avenue, East, they cut off a portion of the lake where the City Hall, Forward’s and Totman’s buildings now stand. The railroad came in on piles from Rice’s Point. … Col. Joshua Culver had built what was called the Citizen’s dock out into the lake, about two blocks this side of the canal. The Union Improvement and Elevator Company had built Elevator “A” at the foot of Fifth Avenue, East, with enough of a breakwater to protect boats, when there was no wind. But the first wind that came … washed the most of it away, and the steamer “St. Paul,” which was lying at the dock, broke loose from her moorings.

The railway company had built a dock, known as De Costa’s, on the west side of Rice’s Point, in 1869, and the railway plant necessary in the construction work then being prosecuted from the Duluth end was discharged at this dock, but owing to the shallowness of the channel through the Bay of Superior, lightering was often necessary at the natural entrance. As the year advanced, the plan of making an outside harbor, by building a breakwater at right angles to the shore was conceived, making a dock from the breakwater to Minnesota Point possible. The work was commenced in the fall of 1869, and was so far advanced by the opening of navigation in 1870, writes Judge Ensign, that in fair weather, vessels loaded at the dock and discharged their cargoes upon it.

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