September 23, 1858: Pioneers establish Oneota—part of today‘s West Duluth

On this day in 1858 in what would become Duluth, the town of Oneota was established in what is now West Duluth. Essentially organized by the Merritt, Wheeler, and Ely families, Oneota developed along St. Louis bay at about today’s Forty-Second Avenue West. Edmund Ely arrived here first, then soon asked St. Paul’s Henry Wheeler to come north and set up a sawmill near Forty-Fifth Avenue West. In 1856 the town was platted “with a carpenter’s square and level.” That fall Hepzibah Merritt and five of her seven sons arrived to set up a homestead with her husband Lewis, who was already there with their two oldest boys. Among the buildings they constructed was the Merritt Hotel, and the first school in what would become Duluth was built in Oneota. The Merritts would become famous for gaining and losing a fortune in iron mining. The Wheeler family remains prominent in Duluth business, and we have them to thank for the Wheeler Field softball complex, once known as the Wheeler Race Track and Oneota Park. Oneota once stretched from about Thirty-Ninth to Forty-Seventh Avenues West, from the bay all the way up to Oneota Cemetery, just below today’s Skyline Parkway. The lower portion near the bay became industrialized over the years, home to blast furnaces and other smokestack industries. Oneota became part of the newly incorporated town of West Duluth in 1888, and part of Duluth when West Duluth merged with the Zenith City in 1894. By the 1950s, about 1,600 people lived in the area below Grand Avenue, considered “Lower Oneota.” Over a period of years that residential neighborhood was demolished for the I-35 extension through Duluth.

Oneota School. (Image: Duluth Public Library)