Michael & Emily Chambers

Emily Chambers (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Michael Chambers—Duluth’s last brownstone quarryman—was hardly a quarryman at all, but an Irish auctioneer transplanted from St. Paul. In 1869 Michael Chambers purchased property in Fond du Lac known as Colonel Carlton’s farm, which included a plum orchard and, conveniently, a brownstone quarry. Chambers Quarry would utilize the coming Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad to help transport its stone, described as “dark chocolate” in color.

Along with the rest of the country, Chambers panicked with the financial crisis of 1873. He posted an ad to sell his quarry but received no offers. Four years later he threatened to tear down his home rather than pay property taxes, and he skipped town in 1879. The cantankerous Martin Boyle took charge of the operation in Chambers’ absence. Chambers was essentially out of the brownstone game until his death in 1895.

While his wife Emily was quite refined (she was educated in a Quebec convent, spoke French fluidly, and was an accomplished pianist), Michael Chambers could be difficult to deal with. Born in County Cork, Ireland, Chambers first emigrated to Canada before arriving in St. Paul in the 1860s, where he became a successful auctioneer. Historian William Coventry describes Chambers’ career as “punctuated by friction with partners, unstable financial situations, and scuffles with the law.”

Chambers’ absence from Duluth in 1879 was noted in the Duluth Weekly Tribune. His creditors assumed he had skipped town, but he returned claiming an attack of neuralgia had left him partially demented, and he had traveled from Duluth to Nova Scotia to California before he “came to.” Over the years he accused James Hayes of a “murderous assault” (case dismissed), attempted to sue A. R. McFarlane for defamation of character (case dismissed), and in 1882 was himself accused of illegally selling liquor to an Ojibwe (case dismissed). That same year Martin Boyle of the Krause Quarry confronted Chambers on a train, grabbed Chambers “by the beard,” and struck him repeatedly before pulling a revolver; fellow passengers intervened to halt the violence. In May 1891 Chambers was again assaulted, this time by Alphonse Guerard over a property dispute. That July an arson fire gutted the Chambers’ mansion; Guerard was suspected of starting it. Months later, Mr. Guerard’s home was also destroyed by an arson fire. No legal action was taken in either case.

Emily Chambers lived many more years and was a highly regarded resident of Fond du Lac.