September 22, 1898: “Empire Builder” James J. Hill visits Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1898, Great Northern Railroad president James J. Hill visited the Zenith City to mark the opening of the Fosston Line, which connected the railroad from the Red River Valley to Duluth. Hill toured the lake and harbor on a boat, then was honored with a reception at the Lyceum Theatre. Former mayor C. H. Graves introduced current mayor Henry “Typhoid” Truelsen as the “pure water mayor of the fresh water city,” and he and several others spoke before Hill took the podium. He started his speech by remarking that he had last visited Duluth 28 years earlier, upon the completion of the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad, and that on this trip he had taken that same road, which by 1899 had become the St. Paul & Duluth. Afterwards, Hill toured the city on the street railway system, enjoyed a naval parade and fireworks in his honor, then retreated to the Kitchi Gammi Club—where he was a member—along with Guilford Hartley, Luther Mendenhall, Congressman Page Morris, Mayor Truelsen, and others. The Duluth News Tribune reported that about 5,000 people, “visitors from the northwest” (actually Grand Forks, North Dakota), came to Duluth to witness the celebration and were very impressed with Duluth’s buildings, particularly the Board of Trade, Torrey Building, and Central High School. Hill had this posted in the Duluth News Tribune the next day: “As I am about to leave your city I wish to convey through your columns to the good people of Duluth my most sincere and heartfelt thanks, and to assure them of my lasting gratitude for the hearty and warm welcome they have shown me today. I can never forget the deep feeling of good will shown me by the people of Duluth, and I hope their prosperity will be all that they expect.” There is one thing Hill did forget about Duluth: He had also visited the Zenith City on October 5, 1887 (we know because the Duluth News Tribune reported on that visit, too).

“Empire Builder” James J. Hill. (Image: Public Domain)