Looking Backwards or Sidelights on the Early Founders of Duluth

Address Delivered by Jerome Cooely at the Annual Meeting of the Duluth Board of Realtors, December 10, 1920. Readers should be aware that not all of Mr. Cooley’s recollections are historically accurate. Readers 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.


Jerome Cooley. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

It is often said that the only real enjoyment old people have is in recounting the events and living over again the scenes and incidents of early life. Perhaps this is so, but as we are all on the same highway, the old and well beaten trail which leads “from the cradle to the grave,” running on high with both brake bands busted and the reverse gear not working. It is but a question of time, and a short time at that, when we will arrive (what few of us last thru) at that time and place where the wicked cease from troubling and the people are at rest. So it is sometimes a good thing to stop in our mad career and review the people who have ·passed in order to benefit by their experience, and to gather inspiration from their works and try to avoid their errors. Our beloved city is not so old but that its early founders, their history, their lives and their works in laying its foundation that it might become one of the greatest commercial and manufacturing cities of our continent, can be recalled.

All modern cities which amount to anything have to go thru, in infancy all kinds of ailments, in the way of over-valuation, over-bond issues, over-taxation, over-guarantees for new industries whose founders seldom go farther than to collect their bonus and then jump the town, leaving the city to foot the bills.

It. is an impossibility to tell in what direction a new city will grow. No one can tell what crazy boom will attack it or what undue influence will divert or retard its growth.

The centers of cities, social and financial, change many times by the mere building of a fine home or a business block. Duluth has seen many such changes. Commencing about 1852 and for a number of years thereafter, Minnesota Point was the residence and business center and really all that was Duluth. Later business made its way to East Superior Street, which was then known as Portland. ]. D. Ray owned or controlled nearly all of Portland Division and the man whom Banning & Ray’s Addition was named after, and was really one of the first real estate dealers of note in our city; a man who had the happy or unhappy faculty, or the ability, of giving a deed to almost any piece of property anywhere, regardless of the ownership, and would often make it stick. This was before abstracts were in vogue. His home at that time was on the lake shore below Superior Street, just east of Fifth Avenue East. The land office was located down the north shore about twelve miles at a place called Buchanan, now long extinct. It was established in the fall of 1857. John Whipple was receiver and Samuel Clark register. Their report would indicate that they had rather a serious time in getting the office located and running. Their letters show that it cost them $60.00 to get their safe, which had a double padlock, from Superior to Buchanan. The plats, books, and blanks were lost in transit. Mr. Whipple went to hunt them up. He left Superior October 13th, 1857, on the steamer Elgin for Chicago, arrived there the 25th, after a very stormy passage. From there he went to Dubuque, Iowa, as the papers were shipped up the Mississippi River. When he got there he found they had left. Took the next boat for St. Paul, but on arriving there found no mail. The postmaster said that they had been shipped back to Chicago. He then started back for Dubuque hoping to overtake them, knowing that if they got to Chicago they would be too late to catch the last boat for Duluth that fall. On arriving at Dubuque he found they had not arrived. The postmaster there said they had probably gone to Taylors Falls. He then took the next boat up the river and found the accumulated mail for the whole upper country at Taylors Falls. After sorting out the land office papers he hired a team and started for Buchanan over the old Government trail, which had been cut thru from Superior to St. Paul. He got as far as Deer River where the roads were found impassable for teams, and he could go no farther. He then hired a packer and they got as far as Kettle River when the packer played out and quit. He was then forced to get another packer and by taking part of the load himself, he reached Superior after four days, more dead than alive, as much of the way the mud and water was above their knees. In 1859 the land office was moved to Portland and Sidney Luce was appointed receiver. Duluth does not seem to have gotten on the map officially at Washington until 1862. Luke Marvin, father of Arthur Marvin of the Auditor’s office, was then appointed register by Abraham Lincoln, and Col. M. H. Feller succeeded him. In 1869 Ances Smith was appointed. The land office was then located on the southwest corner of First Street and First Avenue East, where the Yale Laundry now stands, where it remained until about 1875.

It was supposed in the early days that the north shore of Lake Superior was one vast copper mine and it was expected that a large city would spring up near Stony Point or Sucker Bay. Up to about 1850 the north shore was part of the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation and was guarded with scrupulous care by the Indians to prevent explorations by the white man.

One of the first hotels built here was the American House, which is still standing just across the avenue from the First Presbyterian Church. The other was the Lincoln House, which stood on the lower side of First Street, between First and Second Avenues East. It was 25 feet wide, 140 feet long and one story high, and no doubt contained more live animals than the trenches in France, and of the same kind. And then the old Wakelin House, which stood on the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East and was really a free lunch establishment, as one could stay there about as long as he wanted to and not be bothered by being dunned for his board. The poor old man lost his home, his health and his fortune and died destitute. Such is the result of unjustifiable charity.

One of the first and finest residences of the city was built by Dr. Foster, at No. 436 Lake Avenue South, just this side of the canal, which was cut thru a few years later. He was the editor of Duluth’s first paper, the “Minnesotan,” and was the, man who gave Duluth the name of “The Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas.” He was also Duluth’s first postmaster. The house stood until a short time ago, a relic of past grandeur. Thomas H. Presnell was then the printer’s devil. He was one of the few survivors of the First Minnesota Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg; was clerk of the county district court from 1887 to 1890, and afterwards served as clerk of the U. S. District Court at Duluth until his death a few years ago. The courthouse was located about Fourth Avenue East and Superior Street. Nearly all business was then done east of First Avenue East, and the only road down the point was along the lake shore. Mr. Lautenschlager later had a planning mill where Davis’ feed store now stands, at the corner of Michigan Street and First Avenue East.  Ben Decker had a brewery on what was then known as Brewery Creek, away out in the woods between Seventh and Eighth Avenues East on First Street.  Barringer & Potter had a furniture store in the Banning & Ray building which stood on the corner of Superior Street and Fifth Avenue East.

J.C. Hunter built a fine home on Superior Street and Ninth Avenue East, which is still occupied by Mrs. Hunter. The Hayes block was on the corner of First Avenue East and Superior Street, built and owned by President Hayes.  Foley Brothers had a dry goods store across the avenue. Mish Pastoret had a liquid refreshment store where the Pastoret & Stenson Block (sometimes called the “Mormon Temple”) now stands.  Perkins Johnson, now the County Clerk, was then selling porterhouse steak for 12 ½ cents per pound and giving away liver, on the other corner.  C. Poirier, shoe store, M. Moran, groceries, C.H. Oppel, groceries, George Sherwood, saloon, Charley Winkler, cigar store, Louis Ebmer, saloon, Herman Berg, butcher shop, and E. Fiebiger, hardware, were also doing business on Superior Street between First and Second Avenues East.  The Masonic Temple was located in a two-story wooden building where the Temple Opera now stands, at Second Avenue East and Superior Street.

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