April 13, 1881: Attorney J. D. Ensign elected mayor of the Village of Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1881, Josiah D. Ensign was elected mayor of the Village of Duluth, and it wasn’t much of a contest. Ensign had become president of the village, organized in 1877 after the city of Duluth went bankrupt, after Peter Dean resigned from the office in September 1880. In January 1881 Ensign was elected president. Several months later the village adopted a new charter that restructured the local government to act like a city. This forced the uncontested April 1881 election to officially make Ensign mayor. Ensign was instrumental in the legal fight concerning the Duluth Ship Canal, which lasted from 1871 to 1877 and involved both the state of Wisconsin and the city of Superior. His 1898 history of the Duluth Harbor development in the 1860s and 1870s is the seminal work on the topic. He also served as the St. Louis County Attorney and spent thirty-two years (1889–1921) as a district court judge. He and his wife Rose built a grand Victorian home in Duluth’s Ashtabula Heights and Duluth’s Ensign Elementary School was named for him. You can learn more about Ensign here.

Josiah D. Ensign. (Image: Duluth Public Library)