Recollections of the Early Days in Duluth Part 3

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Self-Published by author Jerome Cooley in 1925. Readers should be aware that Mr. Cooley put this book together when he was elderly, and not all of his “recollections” are historically accurate. Reader should also note that Mr. Cooley is very much a 19th-century man, and his language—much of which we would consider politically incorrect today—reflects the era in which he developed.


Our fine new Hotel Duluth reminds that the first hotels in Duluth were merely boarding houses.

For a number of years the old Lincoln House, on the lower side of First Street between First and Second Avenue East, was a place of note. It was a one-story building, twenty-five feet wide and one hundred and forty feet long. There was a room across the front with a large sheet iron stove and a corridor running between rooms on either side the whole length of the house.

Its beds were regular steamboat beds, three in a room, one on top of the other. I presume there were more cooties concealed in and around those rooms than there were in the trenches in France. As for other rooming house pests, don’t mention them and I won’t.

One of the first hotels built in Duluth was the American House, which is still standing just across the avenue from the First Presbyterian Church. If you scratched the red paint from the clapboards, you would find the name as large as life.

The old Immigrant House, or N. P. House, was built on Fifth Avenue west below Michigan street, just across from the old depot. It was built to house the immigrants who flocked in on the boats, bound for North Dakota. When it had served its purpose, it was torn down.

The old Wakelin House, which stood on the corner of First Street and Second Avenue east, was really a free lunch establishment, as one could stay there as long as he wanted to and not be bothered by being dunned for his board. Wakelin, poor fellow, lost his home, his health and his fortune and died destitute. Such is the result of unjustifiable charity.

The Clark House was built about that time, which was a great achievement, and the crowning glory of the Northwest in the hotel line. Col. J. J. Hull’s name will ever remain associated with it as manager. The Clark House was a frame building three stories high and with a pillared porch running its full length. In pioneer days it was the center of Duluth’s social life.


After the fish business got well developed enough to feed the lumberjacks, came the saw mills.

Cullen & Gilbert had a mill on Rice’s Point, about half way down. Their log pond took the place of the little islands that used to be there.

Hughes’ mill was below the canal, where the Shaw and Ingalls mill stood before the ditch was cut through.

Munger and Gray’s first mill was located where F. A. Patrick’s wholesale dry-goods building now stands. Their mill pond for logs was all the bay they required from about Fourth Avenue west to Sixth Avenue west. There was nothing out in the bay to hinder storing logs.

Finally when the Northern Pacific Railway built a warehouse on the bay where Simon Clark’s Marine Supply House now caters to aristocratic palates, traffic for the warehouse must go over a piling bridge down Fifth avenue west, through Munger & Gray’s mill pond.

So the mill was eventually crowded out and R. A. Gray built again at the end of Rice’s Point. After changing hands several times, it became the Alger-Smith mill. When it burned a few years ago, Duluth lost the last of those many saw mills that once graced her down-town water front.

One of the principal contributors to H. M. Peyton’s wealth was the old tug Nellie Cotton, owned by the Peyton, Kimball & Barber Mill. Jack Jeffery captained her until he finally quit the business, as he said he got tired loading slabs for fuel. Nellie would leave her dock at the mill on Rice’s Point with slabs piled as high as a load of hay-more fuel than tug, apparently.

She would go down the North Shore to tow logs up to the mill. The logs had been cut and piled on the bank somewhere the previous winter. In the spring they were rolled into the lake and the log boom fastened about them. Jack would hook on to the Nellie Cotton and start for Duluth.

It took from twenty-four to forty hours for him to make this trip. It was a slow proceeding, towing a boom of loose logs through the lake. A northeaster was liable to come up any minute and catch him before he got inside the canal. No job for a nervous man.

In those days they used one boom for logs, letting it bag out behind the tug. It worked all right until a storm struck it, then the logs would jump over the boom. As most of the bad storms came from the northeast, the logs would go ashore on the Point and could be picked up again. After such a storm, the Nellie Cotton would go along the shore of the Point with a boom and man, collecting the logs. So they were not a total loss. Though logs were cheap in those days and to lose some would have been no serious calamity.

They used to tell a story about Mr. Peyton, which illustrates in a measure how he made or saved his money. Sometimes he used to eat aboard his tug, the Nellie Cotton, and tugs were noted for setting a good table, as the crew would drive a poor cook overboard. At this time, his cook was William Jeffery. Bill had prepared a plum pudding for dessert and had been rather lavish with his raisins. When they were through eating, Mr. Peyton, as was his custom (he being a little deaf), cupped his hand behind his ear and said in a rather loud tone of voice: “Bill, Bill, I think I have saved plums enough for another pudding.”

He had picked out all of his plums and had them nicely laid on one side of his plate.

Bill said, “Mr. Peyton, all that is not eaten at this meal goes overboard,” which I think, Mr. Peyton knew, but thought it was a good chance to instill a habit of economy in his crew.

One spring we had very-high water in the St. Louis River and A. M. Miller’s booms broke at his Midway Dams and several million feet of logs came down into the bay and went through the canal. This was quite a loss, as it left the mill short of material.

The Planing Mill, Sash and Door Factory was built across the canal and owned by Carr and McQuade. Carr died in the early eighties and his wife survived him a few years. His family, four girls and one boy, remained in the city. The son became a foreman at the National Iron Works.

Another wood working mill was George Lautenschlager’s, which stood just behind the old Hayes block, at the corner of First Avenue east and Michigan Street. George was a typical German, as his name indicates. His family consisted of one boy and three girls. His son was working for the railroad as telegraph operator; one day he ran out to couple cars and got caught and his leg was cut off below the knee. He did not recover from the shock. The three Lautenschlager girls were teachers in our public schools and were classed among the few real beauties of Duluth.

Iver Wisted, a Norwegian, was a carpenter. He built a wood working mill on First Avenue east, just above the railroad tracks. He did well and prospered, with a fine family of boys and girls. One girl was a teacher in our public schools. One son, David, was the first Duluth soldier killed in France during the Great War. The local David Wisted Post of the American Legion is named for him. Another son, Matt, is now assistant registrar of the Duluth Board of Trade. Mrs. Wisted still survives, considerably over seventy years of age. Iver Wisted had but one bad habit, which finally took his business and ruined his health. It was hard to be perfect in those days, with no laws to safe-guard one. A son, Iver, was known locally as “Beaver,” from the long E sound of I in the original tongue.

John F. McClaren and Archie McLain, two good Scots, had the first foundry. It was located on Lake Avenue, corner of Sutphin Street. McLain was a blacksmith and one of the best horseshoers Duluth ever had. Their foundry and machine shop was finally merged into the Clyde Machine Company and McLain went to work for the city as horseshoer and blacksmith, where he remained until he died. His brother Jack was a Lake Captain and used to sail the Siskiwit. It was he who was sailing her when she was wrecked and from the exposure he suffered at that time he never recovered and died with consumption a few years later.

Sawyer and Davis had the first wholesale grocery house at the Head-of-the-Lakes. It was situated in a two-story brick building located where the First National Bank now stands. When the Jay Cooke failure in 1873 forced Gordon, Cooley and Company, of Barnum, to make an assignment for the benefit of our creditors, we owed Sawyer and Davis a small bill for groceries. At the time our mill was sold by the receiver, Mr. Sawyer overbid a legitimate purchaser who wanted the plant. He bid in the property and then would not take it. He afterwards closed out his grocery business and went into the wheat business and made a large fortune through a severe accident.

He was coming east on the Northern Pacific Railroad and as the train was crossing the Mississippi River at Brainerd the bridge collapsed and went into the river, forty feet below. The car in which Mr. Sawyer was, as it fell, struck on the middle pier in the river and broke in two, one-half going into the river on each side of the pier, leaving Mr. Sawyer lying on the pier badly injured.

It was said that the railroad company told him if he would not prosecute, they would give him the privileges of building and operating all the elevators along the line of their road. He accepted the proposition and moved to Minneapolis, where in a few years he made a vast fortune for his heirs to enjoy. His home here was at 109 East Second Street.

The Standard Oil Company wanted to put in a line of storage tanks in the bay between Elevators B, C and D on 48 Superior Street. But the elevator men claimed that if the storage tanks should ever catch fire, the oil they contained would spread over the water and set the elevators on fire.

This was about the time they were agitating-the building of a dry dock. There was considerable feeling worked up over the matter, for and against.

It seemed that there were some Standard Oil men, with money, interested in the dry docks and they were disappointed because the city would not let them put in their storage tanks on the bay front. They had influence enough to take the building of the docks to Superior.

Capt. McDougall had already built one whaleback boat in Duluth. But he had to pull up his plant and move it to Superior because the city would not let the Standard Oil Company put in their storage tanks where the elevator men thought it would endanger their property.

So Superior got two infant industries away from Duluth, though now-a-days Duluthians walk no farther than Superiorites for gas when the bus runs dry!

The first bank established in Duluth was Sargent’s Bank with Geo. Stone, cashier. J. B. Culver and W. R. Stone were officers. The bank did not survive the Jay Cooke disaster.

H. H. Bell operated a private bank in a little wooden building on the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street, on the western side. He once told me of his first customer, Jake Leidel. Jake had no money in the bank, but came in for a draft on St. Paul for fifty dollars.

Mr. Bell sold him the draft and charged him a quarter. He sent the money by express to meet the draft, for which he paid half a dollar! Business was chiefly a hobby in those days; not conducted for profit but to serve the public and keep a fellow busy when other entertainment was lacking.

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


  • Cooley, Jerome. Recollections of the Early Days in Duluth. Published by the Author"Duluth, Minn. 1925
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