Becoming the Twin Ports (1893–1910)

This perspective map of Duluth and Superior in 1910 was made by Henry Wellge. (Image: Zenith City Press)

As industrial growth increased shipping traffic, the limitations of Duluth’s ship canal and the Superior Entry, along with the harbor’s shallow depth, prevented bigger ships from carrying larger, more profitable loads. In 1893 the Duluth-Superior Harbor Improvement Committee, led by McDougall, petitioned Congress for funds to make improvements. Three years later the US Congress appropriated $3 million to make the waters between Duluth and Superior what local newspapers called “the most modern [harbor] in America.” The project called for deeper channels—the government was working to make every shipping lane on the Great Lakes twenty feet deep to allow for larger vessels—and for both the canal and entry to be widened and bolstered with concrete piers. The act also declared that “the harbors of Duluth and Superior [are] unified.”

Completed in 1902, the project also increased the population, as hundreds of Finns were recruited to perform the manual labor. Still, Duluth had lost ground immediately after the panic, down 10 percent to just under 53,000 people in 1900. (Superior, meanwhile, had risen to over 31,000, making it Wisconsin’s second largest city.) That year Republican Trevanion Hugo narrowly ousted Truelson from the mayor’s office, winning by just six votes. (When he won his second election by eight votes, he told newspapers he congratulated himself that he had “made two new friends.”) A grain-elevator engineer originally from Cornwall, England, the popular Hugo oversaw Duluth’s final attempt to keep its 1890 promise to Park Point: the construction of a unique bridge over the ship canal.

Hugo’s administration also witnessed the formation of United States Steel (USS). After Rockefeller essentially stole the Merritts’ holdings, the Mesabi Range had become a battleground, fought over between his Lake Superior Consolidated Mines, Andrew Carnegie’s Carnegie Steel, and Henry Oliver’s Oliver Mining Company. Their competition intensified until J. P. Morgan felt it was disrupting the national economy—particularly his banks. To avoid another panic, Morgan bought out Rockefeller, Carnegie, Oliver, and others to form USS. The giant company took over Iron Range mines as well as the DM&N and D&IR railroads and ore docks. The deal made many men very rich, including Chester Congdon, Oliver Mining’s chief legal counsel. Congdon and his wife, Clara, used their increased wealth to build a grand estate, Glensheen, at 3300 London Road.

The Congdons were just one of many wealthy families who built opulent homes from Endion to Lester Park. They included iron, grain, shipping, lumber, and real estate magnates as well as lawyers, physicians, merchants, and other professionals. The area between Twenty-First and Twenty-Eighth Avenues, including Longview above Fourth Street, became known as the East End. The Congdon neighborhood centered on Congdon Park along Tischer Creek, built on land the Congdons donated. Crescent View developed above Superior Street between Tischer Creek and the exclusive Northland Country Club, founded in 1899 by Kitchi Gammi Club members.

By 1905 Duluthians were claiming that their city was home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the U.S., a statement no statistical report has ever supported. The “millionaire” concept was then rather new, and Duluth was among at least a half-dozen US cities making the same claim to attract industry.

Hugo left the mayor’s office in 1904, defeated by Democratic dentist Marcus Cullum. Cullum and his successor, Republican Roland Haven, enjoyed overseeing further growth. The Aerial Transfer Bridge over the canal began operating in 1905, and a year later the Great Northern Power Company completed construction of the Thomson Dam along the St. Louis River dalles, fulfilling Jay Cooke’s 1868 vision. The dam brought coal-free electricity to Duluth—as well as a lot of Serbians, recruited for its construction. They settled in New Duluth and built St. George Serbian Orthodox Church.

More good news came in 1907, first when USS announced plans to build a steel plant adjacent to New Duluth. The company didn’t need another mill, but offered to build one in St. Louis County as a compromise to kill a proposed state bill for a tonnage tax, which would have dramatically increased USS’s operational costs in Minnesota. Later that year Cuyler Adams opened the first iron mine west of Duluth on the Cuyuna Iron Range, named for himself and his dog, Una. Its mines first shipped ore in 1911.

The 1907 shipping season saw the Duluth-Superior Harbor surpass the harbor of New York in tonnage, allowing it to claim title as the nation’s largest port. While both Duluth and Superior thrived, a few local industries showed signs of decline: Northeastern Minnesota was running out of the pine trees that fed Duluth’s lumber mills, and the brownstone quarries were nearing exhaustion at the same time that concrete was supplanting sandstone. The quarries closed by 1910, and by 1921 the lumber industry, considering northeastern Minnesota to be “played out,” had moved on to the Pacific Northwest. Still, the success of other industries kept the local economy buzzing.

Cullum regained the mayor’s office in 1910, the same year Duluth’s population surpassed 78,000. The census declared that the Zenith City was home to 2772 Finns, more than in any other US community (which perhaps gave rise to another Duluth nickname, the Finnish Riveria). Duluth also led Minnesota cities in its population of Belgians, with 141, but not Scandinavians, an honor that fell to Minneapolis. Duluth held 29,633 foreign-born citizens, including 7281 Swedes, 5009 Norwegians, 4418 non-French Canadians, 1423 French Canadians, 2595 Germans, 1367 Russians, 1165 Austrians, 961 English, 648 Italians, 620 Irish, 554 Scots, 405 Danes, 79 Romanians, 76 Hungarians, 69 French, 62 Asian Turks, 57 Greeks, 49 Dutch, 48 Swiss, 31 Welsh, and 363 others from “unspecified countries.”

Superior’s population had risen as well, climbing to more than forty thousand and allowing it to retain its title as Wisconsin’s Second City. Together 119,000 people lived at the Head of the Lakes, and commerce on both sides of the St. Louis River was so intertwined that the two communities essentially acted as one. In 1910 the commercial clubs of both cities decided that the phrase “Head of the Lakes” was both too long and too vague (what lakes)? Along with the Duluth News Tribune, the clubs sponsored a contest for a title that would define the two cities as one entity. They selected “The Twin Ports at the Head of the Lakes.” Usage quickly shortened it to “the Twin Ports.”