Sneak Peek: The Depots of Fond du Lac

The 1896 St. Paul & Duluth Passenger Depot at Fond du Lac. [Image: Lake Superior Railroad Museum]

This week‘s sneak peek from our forthcoming book Twin Ports Trains: The Historic Railroads of Duluth & Superior 1870–1970 features the historic passenger depots of Duluth‘s Fond du Lac neighborhood, the original built in 1870 by the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad and the second in 1896 by the St. Paul & Duluth Railroad and was later owned by the Northern Pacific. The 1870 building still stands—although not in its original location. Enjoy!

The LS&M/St.P&D Depots of Fond du Lac

In 1870 the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad built a passenger station at 122nd Avenue West in what was then the Village of Fond du Lac (French for “Bottom of the Lake”), which would be annexed by Duluth in 1895. The village was the oldest community in what is now Duluth. For centuries it had been the site of an Ojibwe village, and in 1818 John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company built a post and stockade near today’s 133rd Avenue West. The traders worked hand-in-glove with the Ojibwe, who had primarily resided in a village on Nekuk and Amik islands in the river adjacent to the fur post.

The fur trade began dying out in the 1830s, and the fur post was abandoned in 1847. After the Treaty of LaPointe opened the region to EuroAmerican Settlement in 1856, several EuroAmericans who had made a permanent home in Fond du Lac—including Francis Roussain, Alexander Paul, George Morrison, and Rueben Carlton (namesake of Carlton County)—established the Village of Fond du Lac. Duluth town founder Joshua B. Culver also signed on as village incorporator.

The 1870 LS&M Passenger Depot in 1963, after it had been sold, moved, and opened as the Olde Depot Inn in 1925. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

There is no historic photo nor written description of the original LS&M Fond du Lac Depot, but its 1895 bill of sale indicates it was thirty feet wide and seventy-five feet long. It served the LS&M and its successor the St. Paul & Duluth until 1895, when the St.P&D built a new depot at 133rd Avenue West (pictured at top). The new facility was actually two buildings, a freight depot and a passenger depot, joined together by a covered platform.

The depot became the property of the Northern Pacific in 1900 when it purchased the St.P&D, after which the line between the depot and West Duluth became known as the NP’s Fond du Lac Branch, which operated until 1925. (See “The Fond du Lac Branch & Forgotten Forebay” on page ??). The 1895 depot and platform, as well as a turntable added by the NP in 1909, were removed by 1935.

Fond du Lac resident O. A. Peterson purchased the 1870 depot in 1895 and the following year moved it to 13308 West Third Street, a stone’s throw from where its replacement stood. It served as a residence until 1925, and thereafter as a restaurant called the Olde Depot Inn, which closed in 1985. It still stands today and once again serves as a private residence.

The latest idea for the cover for Twin Ports Trains (like the book itself, it’s a work in progress…).