Wade Stadium

A photograph of the Dukes’ first home game in their new digs on July 16, 1941; Duluth lost 6–3 to the Superior Blues. (Image: Tom Kasper)

According to Duluth baseball researcher Anthony Bush, in 1938 “the call went out for a new stadium to replace dilapidated Athletic Park.” The Citywide All-Sports Stadium Committee presented the city with a petition containing over 7,000 signatures supporting a $75,000 bond measure to build “All-Sports Stadium.” The bond issue was approved in 1938. Duluth then established a Public Stadium Advisory committee, which included Olaf “Uncle Ole” Haugsrud, the legendary owner of the Duluth Eskimos and, later, the Minnesota Vikings. The advisory committee recommended a site adjacent to Athletic Park.

The project was financed with $7,500 from the state and over $80,000 from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Following some grumbling by local unions, construction began on April 20, 1940. More than 380,000 paving bricks—all salvaged from the reconstruction of Grand Avenue—were used to build the ballpark, dubbed the Duluth Municipal All-Sports Stadium. In the end, the project cost $230,880, some of it provided by Mayor Edward H. Hatch from his personal funds. The Dukes played their first home game in their new digs on July 16, 1941, losing 6–3 to the Superior Blues.

The Northern League shut down after the 1942 season because of World War II and resumed play in 1946. Two years later five members of the Dukes were killed and most others severely injured when their bus was struck head-on in Roseville, Minnesota, as they drove along Highway 36. Only four members returned to baseball, and four years later Frank Wade sold his beloved team. He acted as adviser to the new owners until a heart attack struck him down in January 1953. The Duluth News Tribune, which called him Duluth’s “Mr. Baseball,” wrote that eighty-year-old Wade, “always vigorous and robust, cracked under the strain” of the 1948 tragedy.

According to Bush, “a year later the old stadium advisory committee came together to propose that the city rename the municipal stadium in Wade’s honor.” On February 3, 1954, the stadium officially became Wade Municipal Stadium.

The Dukes played without a major league affiliate from 1950 to 1954 when they joined the Cincinnati Redlegs system. The Dukes and Blues merged in 1956 as the Duluth-Superior Dukes. The team became part of Chicago’s American League affiliate, bringing the White Sox monicker back to the Zenith City. In 1960 the team changed its name back to Dukes when it hooked its wagon to the Detroit Tigers. Twelve of the players on the Tigers’ 1968 World Series Championship team had played for the Duluth-Superior Dukes, including Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, and Denny McLain.

By the end of the 1960s, Duluth’s professional baseball team was once again affiliated with the Chicago White Sox. While the Duluth team thrived financially, the Sox struggled. In 1970, as a cost-saving measure, Chicago dropped its affiliation with the Dukes, who could not find another major league sponsor. It was just as well—the league folded the next year.

Wade Stadium continued to host high school baseball, and from 1971 to 1988 the University of Minnesota Duluth baseball team played its home games at Wade. The stadium even hosted rock concerts, with Willie Nelson, the Beach Boys, and Three Dog Night all performing at Duluth’s municipal stadium in 1983. Still, the stadium fell into a state of neglect.

At the same time a new, independent Northern League formed in the early 1990s, and a community task force began a fundraising effort called “Save the Wade” to fund the ballpark’s renovation. While little money was raised, the promise of a new team and a new league was enough for the city to authorize a $527,000 renovation project. The Duluth-Superior Dukes played at the Wade for ten seasons, taking the league championship in 1997, but failing to turn a profit. The club moved to Kansas City in 2002.

The following year, the Duluth Huskies of the Northwoods League, a summer college baseball league, moved into the Wade. (The stadium has also been the home field of the St. Scholastica Saints men’s baseball team since 2000 and the longtime home of the Hunters of Duluth’s Denfeld High School.) The Huskies worked with the city in 2012 to find funding for much-needed repairs, including bolstering a leaning wall along the first-base line and repointing the building’s brickwork. Their efforts to acquire state funding failed in September 2012, but the battle didn’t end there. The following March the compromised portion of the facility’s right-field wall collapsed, adding more urgency to the project. A 2014 bonding bill provided $2.3 million for the project, less than half of the $5.7 million requested, but enough to get things started. Another $2.3 million was added to the project in February 2015 through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The project’s finishing touches were completed in May 2015. Much of the work involved installing a new drainage system and artificial turf and reconfiguring the ticket stalls, concession area, and press box. The wall was reconstructed and the entire stadium was spruced up during the effort; some of the work was accomplished by volunteers organized by the Huskies. New lights and a new scoreboard were also installed.

St. Scholastica College athletic director Don Olson gave a lot of credit for the renovation to Mayor Don Ness, City Communications and Policy director Daniel Fanning, and former Huskies general manager Craig Smith for getting the project funded, telling the News Tribune that the three “deserved much of the credit for their vision for the project and their perseverance in following through with it.” As a result, in 2016 Wade Stadium—one of the last brick ballparks built by the WPA—was in better shape than when the Dukes first took the field in 1941. In May 2016 the softball fields adjacent to the stadium were rededicated as Dick Swanson Fields in honor of the longtime varsity softball coach at Denfeld High School.