April 12, 1870: City of Duluth holds its first City Council meeting

On this day in Duluth in 1870, the new City of Duluth’s first city council held its initial meeting in the Portland School at Third Avenue West and Superior Street. The city council was then made up of alderman representing four voting wards, one was elected for a two-years term and the second a one-year term. Duluth’s first ward would be represented by R. S. Munger (2 years) and Sidney Luce (1 year), the second ward by William Nettleton (2 years) and Edgar Nash (1 year), the third ward by C. E. Sweet (2 years) and David Geiger (1 year), and the fourth ward by James D. Ray (2 years) and brewer Nicholas Decker (1 year). Luce was elected council president, Ray council vice president, and Walter Van Brunt city clerk. Their first order of business was to consider two ordinances, “one for the licensing of saloons and the other for the suppression of dogs, of which there were said to be about 1,000 of all colors and breeds in and around Duluth.” The Duluth News Tribune added that at the end of the meeting, City Clerk Van Brunt was “instructed to procure the necessary books for his temporary use.” In 1922 Van Brunt edited a multi-volume history of Duluth and St. Louis County. Fifty-two years after that first meeting, Duluth’s first city clerk remained a little miffed about those necessary books: “The members of the council were at first very loathe to commit the city to heavy expenditures, and even pondered long over small outlays, expecting City Clerk Van Brunt, for instance, to be content in using a cheap notebook for the necessary permanent entry of important initial measures enacted by the council. Maybe their long consideration of his astonishing request for an appropriation of fifty dollars, with which he might purchase a suitable set of record books, eventually broke down their parsimoniousness.” [Parsimoniousness = “frugal to the point of stinginess.”]

Walter Van Brunt, Duluth historian and the Zenith City’s first city clerk. (Image: Duluth public Library)

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