November 16, 1872: “Most Terrible Storm Ever” on Lake Superior

On this day in Duluth in 1872, the Zenith City experienced what Minnesotian editor Dr. Thomas Foster described as “The Storm King: The Most Terrible Storm Ever Known on Lake Superior.” Waves reportedly rolled “over Minnesota Point,” and two vessels were wrecked, the propellor St. Paul and the schooner Alice Craig. The outer breakwater, built to protect Grain Elevator A and the vessels docking alongside it, was nearly destroyed, and when it was breached waves battered vessels tied up along the docks to ride out the storm. Newspapers throughout the region covered the story, but had a difficult time getting the facts straight. There was a great deal of disagreement over the storm’s cost, and several papers, including the Winona Republic, reported that waters in the bay were “fifteen feet higher than ever known,” which would have placed Minnesota Point under water. The South Pier of the ship canal lost five or six cribs, though the North Pier was undamaged. Despite reports that Duluthians were united in their resolve to rebuild the breakwater, it was a government structure and the Corps of Engineers chose to not rebuild. Instead, it focused on improving the new ship canal, ordering a beacon for the south breakwater later that same year. Duluth’s ongoing lawsuit with Wisconsin over the ship canal forced the city to build a dike in the bay, so it did not have the financing—nor authority—to repair the breakwater. In 1886, after Elevators A and Q were destroyed by fire, most traffic in the outer harbor came to a end, as commercial slips and docks were all located in the inner harbor, protected by Minnesota Point.


The St. Paul. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)