The Autobiography of Alfred Merritt

Alfred Merritt. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Duluth, Minnesota, January 1, 1917.

My father came to the Head of the Lakes on the sidewheel steamer North Star on the 3rd day of July, 1855, this being her first trip through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie. She came through what is now known as the Superior Entry, between Minnesota Point and Boland’s Point, the latter now being called Wisconsin Point. He came to erect a saw mill to be built on Conner’s Point for Newell S. Ryder.

The Indian Treaty had been made in the fall of 1854 at La Point, ceding practically all of the northeastern part of Minnesota to the Government.

My father took a squatter right on a piece of land, which after the survey was made proved to be a part of what is now West Duluth.

The survey was made during the winter of 1856. After making the squatter claim he had to have his family come up the lake to hold the land.

Mother was living at Austinburg, Ashtabula County, Ohio, at which place there was an Institute where my four older brothers had attended school.

Mother packed the household goods and shipped them to Superior, Wisconsin, care of the Hanna, Garrison Company, by way of Cleveland, Ohio. She took us five younger boys and started for the Head of Lake Superior. Brother Lucien, one of the three older brothers. started before us to drive our old black cow to Cleveland so that we could take her up on the boat with us.

When we got to Cleveland we found that we had missed the boat, and we then had to wait eight days for the Propeller Manhattan. Capt.

Lyman Spaulding was master, the first mate, I do not remember his name, and the second mate they called Big Mouth Charley. My brother Lucien walked back to Austinburg to school before we left on the boat.

We five boys kept mother pretty busy, I guess, looking after us.

Leondias and I being the oldest, walked over the whole city of Cleveland and Ohio City, the latter being really a part of Cleveland, but separated in 1856. I well remember Perry’s monument and the parks. The city was small then.

It must have been about the 18th of October that we took the boat for that far off land, away up in Minnesota. I remember mother’s friends saying to her, “What are you going away up to Lake Superior for? Why you will freeze to death up there.” We had a fine trip all the way through Lake Erie, through the St. Clair river, past Detroit, and on through Lake Huron. Well do I remember how beautiful it was all the way up the St. Mary’s river. I recall that we took on a lot of wood at Rosebury Island, and then more at Whiskey Bay, above the canal. The Indians were camped all along the St. Mary’s river, and at the falls they were spearing whitefish, which for us was a wonderful sight. After we left Whitefish Point we boys wanted to see a storm. In about four hours we had all that we wanted, but the storm did not stop, and all of us were very sick, with the exception of mother. I recall that we made port at Grand Island, Marquette, Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor, Ontonagon and La Point. Bayfield and Ashland were not in existence at that time.

W\e passed through the Old Superior Entry into Superior Bay about 2 o’clock P. M. on the 28th day of October, 1856. I wish that you could have seen how beautiful the Head of the Lakes looked at that time. It was practically in a state of nature. The Indians were there with their wigwams scattered up and down Minnesota and Wisconsin Points, with the smoke curling from the top of the wigwams, and their canoes skim- 1086ming along the waters of the bay or hauled upon the shore. Fish and game were in abundance. Tall pines and hard wood trees were growing on the hill sides and down to the water’s edge, and with the leaves of the hardwood trees turned as they were in the fall, what a beautiful sight it was.

I have many times wished that I had a picture as it looked then, or a gift of language to describe the beauty of the Head of the Lakes as I saw it as a boy nine years old.

My brother Napoleon was at George R. Stuntz’s dock at the end of Minnesota Point, and when we passed the dock he jumped in the old Mackinaw boat and rowed over to Old Quebec Pier at Superior. The steamer had to go up the bay nearly two miles before she could turn to come to the dock, that being the channel at that time, so my brother beat us to the dock. On landing we met father and Mr. Edwin F. Ely and the Rev. James Peet, and you can well imagine how glad we were to see father and my brother Napoleon. Mother and my three youngest brothers stayed that night at Mr. Peet’s house and also Mr. Ely’s house. They lived at that time at what was called Middle Town at Superior. We all got in the Mackinaw boat and rowed up to Mr. Ely’s house and all landed there except a man by the name of McCoy, and my brothers, Napoleon and Leondias, and myself. We rowed on up to old Oneota, and I recall my legs were too short to reach the bottom of the boat. We landed on the shore between what is now Forty-fourth and Forty-fifth avenues, West, at the foot of the old saw mill log slide. I now own that particular ground, On landing there the first man that I remember of seeing was Edwin H. Hall, the next were John G. Rakowsky and Andrew Reefer. Mr.

Hall was dressed in a red shirt with a white bosom, a red sash, broad cloth pants and fine boots. He was a regular frontier dandy.

The house in which we lived was built on Block 29, Oneota. There was just a small clearing of perhaps one-half acre, and all the rest was covered with pine trees clear up and down the bay. There was only one place on the side hill where one could climb up to see over the trees and look into Wisconsin and up and down the river, and out over the four points, Rices, Conners, Minnesota and Wisconsin, into Lake Superior.

Even at what is now known as the Point of Rocks one could not see out.

Mr. Ely had cut a trail through the pine woods to a rock bluff that was called the Mountain Sight, where you could look right down Forty-sixth avenue, West. From this bluff one had a fine view of the whole country at the Head of the Lake. The view from there looking over the tops of the trees from this place at that time could never be forgotten. It is fixed in my memory and often I close my eyes and let the old scenes pass once more. The autumns especially were beautiful, with the turning of the leaves over on the South Range, which was covered with hardwoods and evergreens trees, no axe having marred nature at that time, there being hardly a tree cut from Minnesota Point to Fond-du-Lac.

As a boy I knew every man and woman on this side of the State Line.

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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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