January 7, 1879: John Drew elected president of the Village of Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1879, John Drew was elected president of the Village of Duluth. (The title was essentially that of mayor.) Drew was born in Redding, Connecticut, in 1815. His family later relocated to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and Drew first came to Duluth in 1870 after purchasing a Superior Street lot for his business. Newspapers described him as a “merchant tailor” who sold a full line of  “clothing and furnishings.” He also invested in real estate. Three-time mayor Trevanion Hugo later described Drew as “a benevolent, shrewd, sensible-looking, rather-inclined-to-be-undersized gentleman.” Upon Drew’s death the Duluth News Tribune wrote that “during the ’70s [Drew] was one of a group of five or six men who in their various lines did practically all the business that was done in northeastern Minnesota.” Duluthians elected Republican Drew their mayor in 1876 following the term of Democrat Peter Dean. The paper also explained that in the 1870s, Duluthians called Drew “Uncle John” and Dean “Uncle Peter.” According to historian Walter Van Brunt writes of the time Drew was first elected: “Those were dark days indeed; business was at a standstill; no one had money with which to pay taxes; city debts were unpaid; interest on the bonded indebtedness was permitted to run on; and the city officials were driven to desperation in an attempt to save the sinking government.” It was under Drew’s leadership that the city decided to reorganize, but the first man elected Village president was A. M. Miller—Drew decided that resigning was the best way to avoid being held personally responsible for the debts of the former city. When Drew left office after his 1879 term, Dean was voted in as village president. Drew retired from business in 1883 and spent the next 26 years of his life looking after his real estate investments while living at 118 Lake Avenue North. Drew and his wife Emma had three children: Charles, born in Sheboygan in 1855; John R., born in Sheboygan in 1863; and Mary, born in Duluth in 1871.