Duluth’s Undeveloped Parks

The Duluth-Lester-River Boulevard—aka “Snively Highway”—is now the Amity Creek Trail. (image: Zenith City Press)

Janette Pollay Park

Mention Janette Pollay Park and most Duluthians think of the Girl Scout camp located along the north branch of Amity Creek near the intersection of Jean Duluth and Martin Roads. What they don’t realize is that the surrounding land is a sixty-acre city park of the same name. Created in 1914, this was Duluth’s first park located above Skyline Parkway, or “up over the hill,” outside the densely populated urban area and beyond the end of the streetcar line.

In January 1914 Mina Merrill Prindle, wife of local real estate magnate William Prindle, donated this forested land to the City of Duluth. She wanted it to be used as a public park named in honor of her mother, Janette Pollay. Although the park is often described in newspaper stories as 70 or more acres, the city’s record of Mrs. Prindle’s donation describes 58.43 acres in two oddly shaped parcels along Amity Creek, separated by a smaller piece of land that was not included (available records do not explain why she split the land this way). Two more acres were added to the north side of Janette Pollay Park in 1916—a gift from the Park View Farms Company.

Referred to in 1914 as one of the largest and most beautiful of the city’s parks, Janette Pollay Park was reportedly covered by virgin forest. Adjacent landowner Sam Snively, in an August 1915 News Tribune story, called it “an exquisite specimen of nature’s handiwork. Through it, in circuitous manner, courses the northern branch of Amity Creek, bounded on its outer curves, by high and graceful ridges, and enfolding by its inner curves beautiful plats of more even and level timbered land.”

This was a time when Duluth business leaders were working hard to promote local agricultural development as a way to bring down the cost of food. The Duluth Commercial Club had convinced the University of Minnesota to establish a demonstration/experimental farm in Duluth; it was completed in 1913, across the road from Janette Pollay Park. Homecroft developments of one to two acres, such as Greysolon Farms and Exeter Farms, filled suburban areas surrounding the city. Snively, President of the Duluth Land and Improvement Company, operated a four-hundred-acre dairy farm south of Janette Pollay Park.

Mina and William Prindle owned a beautiful mansion on Greysolon Road in eastern Duluth. Mina was actively involved in the real estate business along with her husband. He was President of W. M. Prindle & Company, which dealt in real estate of all types, from high-class properties to Homecroft developments. In December 1909 they formed a new business, the Nisswa Company, with Mina M. Prindle as secretary, her brother Eugene A. Merrill as vice president, and William M. Prindle as president and treasurer. The incorporation papers described the purpose of the company as “to buy, own, mortgage, sell, convey, and deal in real estate.” Mina Prindle’s name appeared frequently on real estate transactions involving both farmland and city lots through the 1920s.

Mayor William Prince graciously accepted Mina Prindle’s land donation and announced his plan to connect Janette Pollay Park to the eastern end of the city’s boulevard system. The park department started building a winding, scenic gravel drive through the park in 1915. It began at Jean Duluth Road, meandered through Janette Pollay Park, crossing the stream numerous times, then followed the creek through Samuel Snively’s farm and connected with the main parkway at the junction of the north and south branches of Amity Creek.

On the last day of September 1917, Mayor Clarence Magney formally opened the new road linking Janette Pollay Park to the city’s parkway system, and Sam Snively spoke poetically about the beauty of the drive, calling it “a scene entirely sylvan, but which leads again to and along the river which it crosses to rise and overlook the waters of the great Lake Superior, and hides again in the forest along the higher slopes of the ridges, overlooking the valley and the winding river.”

Just a year later the massive 1918 Cloquet Fire swept through this area, causing major damage. The conflagration completely wiped out many of the small Homecroft farms and left only one building standing on Snively’s property. After touring the devastation, Mayor Clarence Magney reported that “every one of the seven bridges in Janette Pollay Park has been destroyed… I doubt if there are more than 15 trees in the entire seventy acres that are alive.”

The forest could not be replaced, but within six months Park Superintendent Henry Cleveland announced his plan to repair the road and build new bridges “of rustic design…constructed of boulders and native rock, most of the material being found in the immediate vicinity.” He celebrated the completion of the first replacement bridge in October 1919, just one year after the fire. The News Tribune reported that construction of the remaining bridges would begin the following year, after the new park budget was prepared. However, this little-used area at the edge of town apparently did not make it into the city’s 1920 budget; no additional bridges were built in Janette Pollay Park, and the roadway gradually disappeared as the burned-over area began to recover.

F. Rodney Paine replaced Henry Cleveland as superintendent of the city’s parks at the beginning of 1926. It wasn’t until 1928 that Paine mentioned Janette Pollay Park in his annual report, writing that “the dead standing trees resulting from the 1918 fire had never been entirely cleaned out and during 1928 the rest of this material was cut down and burned up so that the park now is comparatively safe from fires.” And in 1929 Paine reported that “through the generosity of Mrs. W. M. Prindle who furnished the plants, a forest plantation of 2,000 Norway Pine, 2,000 Black Hills spruce and 500 Colorado blue spruce” was established. Local Girls Scouts helped to plant the trees. This is the last recorded improvement at Janette Pollay Park.

Mina Prindle’s donation came with numerous conditions. She requested that the property would “forever be known as Janette Pollay Park” and that it would forever be available “for the use and enjoyment of all the inhabitants of the city.” She also wanted the land to be preserved in its “natural condition.” In keeping with Prindle’s wishes, the park today remains undeveloped and open to the public, although there is no sign identifying it. The land is wild—there are no trails, just thick northern Minnesota second-growth forest that challenges the casual hiker. Amity Creek meanders freely through the area, eroding the steep banks and building gravel bars in the low spots. Other than the road that leads to the Girl Scout camp, there is little evidence of the winding scenic drive that Mayor Clarence Magney and Sam Snively celebrated in 1917. Several stone piles that once supported bridges, a rusty culvert in an eroded stream channel, and a hint of the level roadbed that traversed what Snively described as “high and graceful ridges” are all that remain of the city’s attempt to provide access to the park.

In 1979 the city attempted to purchase 205 acres between Amity Park, Hawk Ridge, and Janette Pollay Park—once the site of the Springhill Dairy—to both connect trails within the parks and help preserve the banks of Amity Creek. The property owner had decided against developing it into a housing community and hoped the city would purchase and preserve it. He asked $131,000, and state and federal funding was found to cover 75 percent of the cost. Both the city’s parks and recreation department and the Duluth Audubon Society supported the idea, as the property had essentially been used as a park for decades. City councilors including future mayor John Fedo voted 6–3 against a resolution to make the purchase. The News Tribune reported that the councilors against the purchase said, “The city already had enough park land.”

Smaller Forest Parks

Duluth’s smaller forest parks—Memorial, Hartley Tract, Minnesota Point, Kenwood, and Moose Hill—are scattered throughout the city. Many more parcels of property dedicated as park land have never been developed.

Bayview Forest Park, 353 acres located south of Bay View Elementary School, includes 275.5 acres of state land. Central Park Forest Park, 31.55 acres of land on the steep hillside between Fourteenth and Seventeenth Avenues West, is one of the city’s early platted parks that was never developed.

Memorial Forest Park is a 163-acre parcel of land located above Wheeler Athletic Complex roughly centered on the east branch of Merritt Creek between Haines Road and Hutchinson Road.

The 975 acres of the Hartley Tract Forest Park includes all of Hartley Field, Como Park, and 406.5 acres of state-owned land.

Minnesota Point Forest Park contains 146 acres, including all of the Minnesota Point Pine Forest Scientific and Natural Area and the Barrens.

Kenwood Forest Park’s ten acres — almost entirely tax-forfeited property—lie immediately west of the College of St. Scholastica.

Moose Hill Forest Park is the same as Moose Hill Park, an undeveloped eighty-acre rectangle of land east of the Lester River Road and north of Highway 61. Moose Hill is not the same as the Moose Mountain Scientific and Natural Area, 177 acres of hardwood forest owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found east of the Lester River Road 3.5 miles north of Superior Street.

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