Infrastructure, Industry & Immigrants (1888–1900)

Th Duluth Union Depot and its train shed (left) shown in a reproduction of a cyanotype image ca. 1905, photographer unknown. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

Duluth’s physical expansion was overseen by mayors Marcus Davis and Charles d’Autremont, both Democrats, and Republican Ray Lewis. Annexation increased not only the city’s size but, consequently, its population as well. The 1895 census found 59,396 people populating the Zenith City, nearly twice the 1890 estimate.

Most new arrivals were immigrants, including more Scandinavians, Irish, Germans, Austrians, Canadians, and French. They were joined by Belgians, Bohemians, Dutch, Hungarians, Spaniards, Turks, southern Italians, and a few Asians. While many skilled and professional transplants found homes over the hill and east of downtown, families of unskilled laborers continued to settle close to industry.

Finnish immigrants first arrived in Duluth in 1868. During the boom-and-bust 1870s, Minnesota Point from its base to the canal was called No Man’s Land. While its western half industrialized, property along St. Croix Avenue (today’s Canal Park Drive) east to the lake contained an enclave of shanties and boarding houses primarily occupied by Finns. By the 1890s the community included a Finnish church and school and a large bathhouse; locals called it Finn Town. Due to the vermin living beneath their outhouses, the Finns called St. Croix Avenue Rottakatu (Rat Street).

Between Finn Town and the canal lived a group of Orthodox, Lithuanian Jews. Russian immigrants in the 1880s included a number of Orthodox Jews who had settled above downtown, building Tifereth Israel Synagogue at Third Avenue East and Fifth Street. The Lithuanian Jews moved to the same area in 1899, worshipping nearby at Adas Israel Synagogue; the area became known as Little Jerusalem. In 1891 German-speaking Jews from Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia established the Temple Emanuel congregation in Endion, where they practiced Reform Judaism.

The French built homes in the Glenn (also known as Skunk Hollow) amidst Point of Rocks. They were joined by southern Italians in the 1890s, after which the area between Tenth and Fourteenth Avenues West became known as Little Italy. On Rice’s Point, Swedish-speaking Finns established Swede Town, called the Garfield Avenue district after other groups moved in. In the West End, German, Polish, and French Catholic churches clustered within a few blocks of one another. Still, the neighborhood remained heavily Scandinavian, as Norwegians and Swedes dominated Duluth’s landscape. The portion of Little Italy above Third Street housed more Norwegians than Italians.

This dramatic population increase further strained Duluth’s infrastructure, as its insufficient water and sewer system continued to create typhoid epidemics. German immigrant, grocer, and Democrat C. Henry “Typhoid” Truelson won the mayor’s seat in 1896 by promising Duluthians safe, affordable drinking water. His efforts created the Lakewood Pump House, which essentially ended the epidemics and today still supplies most of the city’s drinking water—and earned him the title of the “pure water mayor of the fresh water city.” One of his eulogists said that Truelson “first taught the people of Duluth how to take control of their city government and administer it in their own interest.”

Seven years after it regained its city status, Duluth’s citizens were served by sixty-five churches, several synagogues, nearly thirty public elementary and secondary schools, dozens of parochial schools, two nursing schools, and a business college. Public schools included the 1892 Duluth High School, later known as Old Central, a Romanesque Revival masterpiece that symbolized the city’s dedication to education. That same year Catholic girls’ high school Villa Scholastica began offering classes, and before the century was over construction would begin on the Duluth Normal School, which later became the Duluth State Teachers’ College.

Duluth in the 1890s also housed over one hundred saloons and dozens of brothels, and its options for more respectable entertainment increased as well. Masons built a new opera house alongside their new temple in 1889. Two years later former village president Andreas M. Miller opened the grand Lyceum Theater. Unlike Duluth’s opera houses, it had no private boxes; Miller’s socialist leanings inspired him to build a theater for everyone.

Many of those who enjoyed the Lyceum had arrived in Duluth at the new Union Depot, opened in 1892 to serve six railroads, or the nearby Omaha Road’s passenger station. Immigration increased as industry expanded on both sides of the bay. Shipbuilding came to Superior in 1889 when Duluth’s Alexander McDougall moved his American Steel Barge Company from Rice’s Point to Howard’s Pocket along the western shore of Conner’s Point and began building his revolutionary “whaleback” ore carriers. A whaleback had taken on the first load of ore at the DM&N docks, which by 1895 belonged to J. D. Rockefeller—who also owned most of McDougall’s company. The DM&N built two more ore docks before the century ended.

Thirty-four lumber mills lined the bay in Duluth and Superior in 1894, employing nearly eight thousand people. Eight flour mills processed grain in Superior, and while Duluth had only one, it was by far the most impressive; the 1888 Duluth Imperial Mill became the largest flour processing plant in the world until Pillsbury’s A Mill in Minneapolis surpassed it. And at least a half-dozen fisheries fed more than just the local population, as together they provided 78 percent of the nation’s herring.

Duluth also began taking full advantage of its port and rail connections, becoming a major wholesale or “jobbing” center. Warehouses popped up along Lake Avenue between the canal and the railroad tracks and along the waterfront centered on Fifth Avenue West. Their owners distributed and sometimes manufactured a variety of goods, but primarily groceries and hardware. The Stone-Ordean-Wells Company evolved from a one-man operation in 1872 to become the region’s largest wholesale grocer. Kelley-How-Thomson made and sold tools for miners and lumberman and competed locally with Marshall-Wells, which grew to become the largest hardware wholesaler in the United States.

Duluth’s annexations began paying off as well. Most of the West Duluth and New Duluth steel fabricators closed by the panic reopened by the century’s end. Brownstone from Fond du Lac was used to face Romanesque Revival buildings in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other major cities.