December 10, 1915: City officials approve zoo in Lester Park

On this day in Duluth in 1915, the Duluth Elks Club announced it had received approval from city officials to open a zoo in Lester Park. The Elks had been pushing city officials on the idea of a zoo all year, pressing hard in November. On December 6 the city adopted a measure for the zoo; a donation of wire fencing by the Pittsburgh Steel Company and fence posts from the Alger-Smith Lumber company helped convince officials the zoo wouldn’t be too much of a burden on city coffers. Newspapers reported the likely spot would be Fairmount Park, but on the tenth Mayor William Prince and Commissioner Farrell accompanied a committee of Elks on an inspection tour of both Fairmount Park and Lester Park, and a portion of Lester was chosen: “In the lower end of the park.” The first two tenants of the zoo were to be, of course, elks—two of them, donated by the game warden of the state of Washington. Unfortunately, the warden gave them to Sioux City, Iowa, before Duluth officials agreed to allow the zoo. With no animals, the zoo didn’t open until the following year, and its first residents consisted of “a couple of deer and two red foxes” which had been donated by a trapper. By mid May, a goose and a porcupine were added. In June the Lester Park Improvement Club objected to the zoo, saying the animals might cause a nuisance. The zoo did not open in 1917. When Duluth finally did get a zoo, it was at Fairmount Park. Its first resident was a deer.

Lester Park Pavilion, ca. 1900. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)