The Gales of November: Mataafa Shipwreck

A gale swept Lake Superior after extraordinary high pressure began to fall on November 27, 1905. Snow, ice pellets, freezing temperatures and mountainous seas caused havoc all over the big lake. The most spectacular accident claimed the Mataafa.

The ore-laden freighter departed Duluth, towing the consort barge James Nasmyth, in the late afternoon of November 27, only to be attacked on the open lake. After a futile battle with the elements, the Captain of Mataafa decided to turn back and seek shelter. He managed to turn his freighter and the trailing barge, but trying to bring both through the port entry in these conditions was unwise. As a result, the James Nasmyth was left at anchor on the lake to ride out the storm.

On the run for the harbor entry, Mataafa got caught by the current and was pushed off course. The hull hit bottom, smashed the pier and soon lost power. The ship and all on board were at the mercy of the wind, waves, and current; it was driven aground and broken into three pieces.

Continue reading...

Demolished Homes of the Mayo Brothers

William J Mayo was the older of the two Mayo brothers who, along with five partners, founded the not-for-profit Mayo Clinic in Rochester. William was the more serious of the two brothers and was often described by one word — brilliant. William married Hattie Damon in 1884. Together they set out to build themselves a new home. They found a large lot with a number of mature trees that they both loved at 427 West College Street. There was already a modest home on the property, so before they could build they had to demolish it. Their new, Queen Anne style home was completed in 1888. A broad porch graced the front with a gazebo at the corner. The exterior was painted conservatively — pale yellow with white trim. The home featured modern conveniences such as gaslights and running water. 

William and Charles spent most of their lives together, so after William married and moved from their parent’s house, he offered Charles a room at his new home. Charles continued to live with William and his family until he married and built his own house next door to William. When Charles and his wife moved away from College Street, William and Hattie moved as well. They built a newer home further up College Hill. They sold this property to Kahler Corporation who demolished it in 1918 to make way for a building of luxury rentals, The College Apartments.

Continue reading...

Who Killed Ruth Munson?

On Thursday, December 9, 1937, the badly burned body of Ruth Margaret Munson was found in the southwest corridor on the second floor of the Aberdeen Hotel in St. Paul. Munson and two friends were laughing and happy as they danced and listened to the orchestra for four hours at the Ace Box Bar, 2360 University Avenue, the previous evening. So what happened to Ruth between 12:30 a.m. when she left the bar, and 7:00 a.m. when her body was discovered?

St. Paul’s Oakland Cemetery

Under the cover of darkness, the living and the dead would come together to Jackson Woods. Here, the living would offer their final goodbyes to their loved ones before burying them in an unmarked grave under a canopy of old oak trees. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Jackson, his wooded paradise on the northern edge of St. Paul had become a popular burial site for those who couldn’t afford a proper burial or lacked ties to a local church. By 1853 Mr. Jackson had petitioned the city to allocate funds to purchase property that could be used for non-sectarian burials.

That same year, a group of prominent citizens gathered the money needed to buy a 40-acre parcel of oak savannah with gentle rolling hills just to the north of Jackson Woods to be used as a city cemetery.  Promoters of this new cemetery boasted that the site was so remote that there was little chance that “the hum of industry would ever disturb its rural quiet.”1 As the cemetery slowly developed, and more land was purchased, Chicago-based landscape architect Hoarce W.S. Cleveland was retained to fashion the cemetery into the rural garden design that was popular for cemeteries at the time. In 1873, Cleveland took the rectangular tract of land, 80-acres at this time, and designed an open curvilinear plan that did not try to change the nature of the topography, but enhance it and maximize its beauty. Winding pathways followed the natural contours of the land and groves of giant oak trees offered visitors a sense of serenity and comfort.

Continue reading...

Wonderland’s Glass Castles

At the turn of the 20th century, urban amusement parks were a popular form of communal entertainment. Throughout the country, parks modeled after Coney Island in New York were popping up in most major cities. Attractions varied from city to city, but most featured a roller coaster, carousel, an aerial swing for thrill-seekers, a dancing pavilion for couples and teenagers, flower gardens and picnic spaces for families, and an electrically lit tower that could be seen for miles to guide crowds to the park.

Tangletown’s Guardians of Health

The Washburn water tower sits on a hill in the heart of the Washburn Park (commonly known as Tangletown) neighborhood. It is  surrounded by winding city streets and picturesque south Minneapolis homes. It is hardly forgotten – quite the opposite really. An online image search will load hundreds of images from numerous vantage points, photos from every season, black and white, color… it’s all there. However, for me, this is a perfect representation of something which is often forgotten – a beautifully designed municipal structure.

In the early 1930s the City of Minneapolis decided to replace the aging water tower originally on the hill with something larger to accommodate the growing population south of the city. Upon hearing this, three notable professionals from the neighborhood decided to lend their expertise in designing and engineering the new tower. Their idea was simple – if the community needed a larger water tower, and it was going to be in their backyard, why not make it a work of art? Why not take a functional public structure and turn it into into a community treasure?

Continue reading...

Taconite Harbor – Lake Superior’s Once-Upon-A-Time Town

In 1957, trucks loaded with prefabricated homes rolled along Highway 61 toward a new building site just south of Schroeder. By 1990 the homes were leaving the same way they arrived.

In the 1950s, business at the Erie Mining Company was booming. Taconite pellets harvested from mines in Hoyt Lakes were sent by train to the company’s loading docks, which were designed to be the fastest loading in the world, along the shore of Lake Superior. From there it would be sent by ship to Detroit to make automobiles, or to the steel mills further east. Each year an average of 10 to 11 million tons of taconite pellets were sent out of this facility.

Twenty-two tidy three- or four-bedroom homes arrived in 1957 to line the two streets nestled between Highway 61 and Lake Superior. Each home was built in about two hours. A fire hall and community center were erected around this time as well. Although the area was technically part of Schroeder, the little area established itself as Taconite Harbor.

For $400 down and $100 per month, workers at the nearby loading dock and power plant could settle into the quaint bungalows which were painted in pastel colors. Ornamental trees and shrubs were planted, and backyard gardens were tended with care. A playground, baseball field, and tennis and basketball courts were carved out of the ample open space behind the homes. There were block parties and volleyball games in the summer, ice skating and hockey games in the winter. For a while, there were as many as 74 kids in this small neighborhood. Families flourished here.

Continue reading...