Skyline Parkway & Seven Bridges Road

A sketch by Morell & Nichols of a design for the stone arch bridges of Snively Boulevard, known today as Seven Bridges Road. (Image: Mark Ryan)

Snively Boulevard

Although the park board did not extend the parkway to the east, one ambitious citizen—Samuel Frisby Snively—decided to do it on his own. In 1899, perhaps inspired by the work of the park board, Snively started building a scenic road at the far eastern end of the city. He later recounted that he “felt that the city should possess a right of way along this stream [Amity Creek], so varied in interest and scenery…to a junction with the contemplated easterly extension of the Rogers boulevard.”

Snively’s road began at the junction of Lester Park’s carriage paths—Oriental and Occidental boulevards—and followed Amity Creek up the hill for about two-and-a-half miles to his farm. Snively walked the hillside to find the most scenic route, “without regard to the ease of construction,” as he later explained. He contacted landowners along his proposed path and convinced many of them to donate the strip of land he needed for the right-of-way, then he asked those same landowners to donate money for road construction. He managed to raise $1,200 from landowners, $400 from the Lakeside Land Company, and a pledge of $1,500 from the city.

Snively described the road as very costly and difficult to build. Many trees and stumps had to be removed, and the stream crossings required long, high bridges over Amity Creek. Snively spent over $7,000 of his own in addition to what had been contributed by other sources. After building about half the length of the planned roadway, he ran out of money and launched a new fundraising effort. He convinced a number of prominent Duluthians, including Chester Congdon, G. G. Hartley, F. A. Patrick, and park board president Luther Mendenhall, to contribute $50 each. This additional funding made it possible for him to complete construction as far as Jean Duluth Road.

Snively opened his road for public use in 1901 and continued to seek financial support from every source he could think of to extend it. In 1903, acknowledging the importance of the road, which “affords access to the city…from a large suburban and farming country which is rapidly building up,” Duluth’s common council pledged to reimburse Snively $1,000, but not until there was enough money in the city’s permanent improvement fund. The county board promised an additional $750. How he used this money is not clear; he apparently continued construction west from Jean Duluth Road to Vermilion Road north of Park Hill Cemetery.

Snively succeeded in building his road, but he struggled to maintain it. The wooden bridges deteriorated after a few years, leaving the road unsafe for vehicles. Editorials in the News Tribune soon began calling on the city to fix the road, but the resources were not available.

In July 1909 Snively approached the park board and promised to find investors to purchase $10,000 of a proposed park bond issue “provided proceeds of same would be expended for the restoration of the Snively Road.” As a result, in 1910 the park board was given control of Snively Road with the intent to turn it into a boulevard that would eventually be connected to the parkway system. The board appointed Snively to work with an engineer to refine the right-of-way and acquire additional land along the route that was suitable for dedication as a park. In May 1910, Snively reported to the board that “he had influenced several abutting owners to offer to dedicate lands in aid of proposed extension of Snively Road and Parkway.”

The park board hired the landscaping firm of Morell & Nichols to design stone arch bridges to replace the old wooden structures. Local stonemasons constructed the bridges, which they faced with stone collected from the creek or quarried from nearby outcrops. Special pink granite purchased from quarries in St. Cloud, Minnesota, topped the bridge walls and piers.

The newly rebuilt Snively Boulevard, later renamed Seven Bridges Road, opened in July 1912 with the announcement that “while no formalities are to be observed today in connection with the opening to traffic the public is urged by members of the park board to drive over the road and enjoy its likeness to a trip through wonderland.”

The following year saw the end of the Duluth Board of Park Commissioners after citizens approved a major change to the city charter and adopted a commission form of government, which placed five commissioners in charge of five city departments. The new charter eliminated all citizen boards and shifted responsibility for the parks to the mayor as commissioner of public affairs. William Prince, first mayor under the new charter, announced that he supported the park system but he intended to abandon “the policy of spending thousands upon thousands of dollars for roadways.” Mayor Prince chose instead to focus his efforts on creating playgrounds. During Prince’s administration, from 1913 to 1917, the parkway was maintained but not expanded.

After the loss of the park board, Snively became the primary supporter of the city’s parkway. As the News Tribune later explained, “Although the winding road atop the hill overlooking Duluth had been laid out before Mr. Snively came into public office, he was largely instrumental in its very existence as a private citizen. But it was not until he was elected mayor that the present Skyline parkway, which is commonly called the boulevard, began to take on its scenic beauty. Under Mr. Snively’s personal direction this boulevard was extended westerly and easterly,” finally reaching a length of more than twenty-five miles.

Bardon’s Peak Boulevard

When Sam Snively took over as Duluth’s mayor in 1921, he had a grand vision for “a combined park and boulevard system” that included: 1) extending and connecting the boulevards from Jay Cooke State Park along the brow of the hill all the way to Lester Park and Brighton Beach; 2) creating parks along the ravines and creek basins; and 3) linking the parks together by the boulevard and building driveways through the parks from the hillside down to the lake. He intended that the parkway would be part of a “great interstate and international highway” leading from the Mississippi Valley through Duluth and along the lakeshore to Canada.

Snively went to work immediately to make his vision a reality. His first project was to carry on the work that one of his predecessors, Mayor Clarence Magney, had started. In 1920 Magney had begun to work on connecting the parkway to the newly created Jay Cooke State Park. He planned to extend the road across the western hillside from Thompson Hill to Beck’s Road and then south along Mission Creek to the St. Louis River and the state park. Magney took the first steps to acquire land for the road, but he resigned as mayor in late 1920 to become a district court judge. (Trevanion Hugo, who served as Duluth’s mayor from 1900 to 1904, finished Magney’s mayoral term before Snively took office.)

In May 1921, Snively completed the purchase of 330 acres surrounding a high rocky outcrop overlooking Morgan Park, Smithville, Gary, and New Duluth. The natural landmark was known as Bardon’s Peak for Superior, Wisconsin, pioneer James Bardon, who once owned the land. Snively named the new park land after Magney in recognition of his contributions to the Duluth park system, and went to work building the road. Bardon’s Peak Boulevard, which Snively opened to traffic in 1925, included an impressive overlook at Bardon’s Peak with dramatic views of Lake Superior and the St. Louis River estuary. The overlook was outlined by a rough stone wall built of the same type of local rock as the picturesque bridge over Stewart Creek. In 1927, on the east side of the Stewart Creek bridge, the city built a memorial to Sam Snively. It consisted of a small reflecting pool surrounded by flagstones; a small stream of water cascaded over a rough stone wall into the reflecting pool.

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