August 9, 1870: Duluth council passes bond for ship canal

On this day in 1870, Duluth’s Common Council (akin to today’s City Council) voted to take on a $50,000 bond to dig a ship canal. The bond was essentially an agreement with the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad and the Banking House of Jay Cooke to loan the city $50,000 to hire a dredging tug to chew through Minnesota Point at what was then known as Portage Street, a path the Ojibwe and French traders had called Onigamiinsing or “Little Portage.” The canal was to be 150 feet wide and 16 feet deep and protected by piers on each side stretching 18 feet into the lake. The city issued one hundred $500 bonds bearing 7 percent interest, due September 1, 1890. The ordinance also mentioned a bridge, which was never built—the residents of Middleton (today’s Park Point) had to construct their own temporary bridge that was only in use in deep winter, when the shipping lanes were closed. The money was spent to hire the dredging tug Ishpeming, which first went to work on September 5, 1870; the canal was completed in April, 1871. Read about the legends surrounding the canal dig here, and a history of the canal itself here.

Number 90 of 100 $500 bonds issued to repay the $500 loan to the city of Duluth from Jay Cooke’s Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad for “harbor improvement” which included digging a ship canal through Minnesota Point. (Image: Lake Superior Maritime Collection)