June 26, 1859: Buchanan becomes a Ghost Town

On this day in what would become Duluth in 1859, the town of Portland became the home to the Federal Land Office, which essentially turned the office’s former location, Buchanan, into a ghost town. The Land Office was where pioneers filed claims on property and was also used as a defacto county courthouse. Buchanan—located along today’s Scenic Highway 61 between Stony Point and Knife River—was established in 1857 and, according to historian Walter Van Brunt, was “expected [to] eventually be the capital of the county and also the great copper port of Minnesota.” The town was home to the North Shore Advocate, the first newspaper in Northeastern Minnesota, but as Van Brunt points out, “when Buchanan’s hope of being a metropolis faded in 1859, the Advocate was discouraged and soon ceased altogether to advocate.” In Portland, the Land Office operated in a small building constructed near Sidney Luce’s warehouse along the shore at Third Avenue East. According to Luce, “Soon after its occupation the building burned, but the books, papers, furniture, etc., were all saved in good condition. The office was then moved to a building at the base of Minnesota Point, where it remained until May, 1861.” After the Land Office moved out, the building became the residence of Judge John Dunphy then, in 1862, it housed the first public school for Duluth School District No. 5. In 1869, the building became the birthplace of Duluth’s Masons, when Palestine Lodge No. 79 held its first meeting there on April 10, 1869. A year later the building was moved to Superior Street between First and Second Avenues East. It was enlarged and used as a fruit stand operated by Frank McWhorter. It was later destroyed by fire.

U.S. President James Buchanan, namesake of the town of Buchanan, which existed briefly in the 1850s. (Image: Public Domain)