Although the local resort industry near Detroit Lakes stretches back to the 1870s, it wasn’t until the automobile allowed families to become more mobile that Detroit Lakes became known as one of the top resort destinations in the region. As roads improved and leisure time increased for Americans after World War I, demand for outdoor recreation hit a fever pitch. To meet this demand, numerous resort hotels and tourist cabins were constructed along the northern shore of Detroit Lake in the 1920s and 1930s. The darling of this later phase of the burgeoning tourist industry were the Fairyland Cottages.
In 1938, Art and Beatrice Shipton opened the Fairyland Cottages. The cottages were modeled after the iconic movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was released the previous year. Art and Beatrice designed the cabins, and their daughters chose to name each of the twelve, wood-frame cottages after a character in the popular movie.
The cabins were arranged around a U-shaped gravel driveway and across the street from a private beach on Detroit Lake. Each cottage was sheathed in identical white lap siding with corner boards and trim that were painted red. A porch with a clipped gable and curved underside gave the cottages their fairytale look. Each cottage was identified by a carved wooden character from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs attached to the front. Red lawn chairs were placed in a plot of grass bordered by white rocks for guests to relax and socialize with other vacationers.
Park Terrace was an opulent building of Victorian townhouses located on a steep hill just off of Mesaba Avenue in Duluth. Built in 1890 by the Meyers Brothers Company, a local real estate business, the building was situated to give residents one of the best views of downtown and the harbor in the city. The design featured a grand corner tower complete with a large Star of David weathervane that sat atop an ornate metal dome. Six upward terraces climbed the steep hill on the northeastern side of the building, and four terraces ascended the northwestern side. To reach their home from the street, residents climbed concrete exterior stairs to a concrete walkway that led to an individual porch for each of the two or three level homes.
The Meyers brothers, Benjamin, Henry, and Jacob, all lived with their families at Park Terrace for five years. By the mid-1890s Benjamin had moved to a house on London Road and Jacob relocated to Texas, which left Henry to run the real estate and investment business in Duluth until his death in 1931. After Henry’s death, Park Terrace began to deteriorate, and the building was abandoned. By 1936 Park Terrace had been sitting vacant and dilapidated for some time, so the decision was made to demolish the building. The cornerstone, which can be seen just below the corner porches in the historic photo, was saved and has been placed at street level where it still rests. Today, trees and bushes cover the terraced foundations and crumbling staircases where the grand building once stood.
As construction workers were excavating a roadway along the eastern shore of Prairie Lake near Pelican Rapids in 1931, they uncovered one of the most exciting prehistoric finds in this region of North America—a human skeleton. The remains were found nine feet below the surface and encased in fine layers of clay which had once been the bottom of a lake that predated glacial Lake Agassiz. The state archaeologist was called in to exhume the bones and look for additional artifacts that would help identify and date the remains. At the time, the bones were determined to be those of a 15-year-old boy who died close to 20,000 years before. An unusual conch and elk antler knife were also found near the skeleton. For many scientists, the remains and artifacts were proof that prehistoric people inhabited this part of North America.
Soon after the completion of the roadway, a plaque was placed at the site where the remains were found. It said: “The remains of the Minnesota Man of the Pleistocene Age were found in this road cut on June 16, 1931.” In 1959, a wayside rest was established near the site, and a new marker was placed there by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Last fall I was able to cross a few stops in Duluth’s west end off of my to-do list. I wanted to walk the path that once ran alongside the Incline Railway for several years, but it always got pushed down on my list because I haven’t spent a lot of them in this part of town. I decided to park along Skyline Parkway (between N Sixth Avenue W, and N Eighth Avenue W) and walk down to Fourth Street W where the pathway appeared to end. Even though there are a few houses close to the walkway, it still feels like you’ve discovered a hidden piece of history.
The Incline Railway (a.k.a. The Seventh Avenue West Incline, and later the Duluth Skyride) was built in 1890 by Highland Improvement Company to transport people and horses up and down the hill. Two separate tracks ran a half-mile up the hill, rising to more than 500 feet above Lake Superior. The original trolly cars were large enough to hold four teams of horses with a wagon, or up to 250 people per car. Cars ran every fifteen minutes, and a one-way trip took about sixteen minutes.
Before the Interstate Bridge was built between Duluth and Superior in the late-1890s, the only way to get between the two cities was by ferry. Of course, ice prevented them from running in the winter. The Duluth-Superior Bridge Company, funded by the Great Northern Railway, was formed in 1894 to build a bridge connecting Connors Point in Wisconsin to Rice’s Point in Minnesota. Disagreements between the two cities delayed construction for years, and the bickering didn’t end once construction began. When the bridge opened on April 23, 1897, the first person to make the journey across the bridge found that the Superior side hadn’t been completed and he was forced to turn around. The bridge wasn’t officially completed until July.
A toll was collected from everyone crossing the bridge: pedestrians and bicyclists paid five cents, wagons and carts were fifteen cents, and each head of cattle cost a dime. These travelers crossed using a platform that hung off of the western side of the structure. Two parallel railroad tracks running down the center of the bridge carried trains and trolleys. Eventually, the bridge was refitted for automobile traffic. The streetcar line was removed in 1938, and by 1949 only one railway track was in use.
When people think of the gold rush, they think of California, but Minnesota had its own gold rush. With stories of people striking it rich in California spreading east, even the slightest hint of gold elsewhere in the country would spark a new frenzy. When a vein of gold-laden quartz was found amid the forests and lakes of Minnesota – the hunt was on. While it certainly wasn’t as large or frenzied as California’s rush, Minnesota’s gold rush shaped the history of the northern-most part of the state.
Fools Gold Rush
In 1865, State Geologist Henry Eames encouraged assay on a vein of quartz from Lake Vermillion that had indicated a gold value of $23 per metric ton. He explained that the slates around the lake were crisscrossed with veins of quartz in which nearly all showed the presence of precious metals like gold and silver.
After the results of the Eames assay had begun to spread, people started to flock to Lake Vermillion. A reporter with the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote in 1865 that a majority of points on the lake were “composed of talcose slate sprinkled with gold-bearing quartzes.” He went on to explain that the rocks were covered with thick, spongy moss that when removed revealed bright veins of quartz enriched with gold.
“The Picturesque is seen in ideas of beauty manifested with something of rudeness, violence, or difficulty. The effect of the whole is spirited and pleasing, but parts are not balanced, proportions are not perfect, and details are rude. We feel at the first glance at a picturesque object, the idea of power exerted, rather than the idea of beauty which it involves.”
— Andrew Jackson Downing, American Landscape Architect
Travelers come upon the Stewart Creek stone-arch bridge in a bend of an unpaved section of Skyline Parkway, where the bridge reveals its mammoth, craggy, Picturesque stonework over a beautifully wooded ravine. The bridge was constructed around 1925 as part of a new section of the scenic parkway. It conveys a mood rather than a particular style and was designed as much for its ornamental effect as it was for its function.
Made of locally-quarried, dark green gabbro, the single 30-foot elliptical arch spans the deep ravine of Stewart Creek. Atop the arch, a row of boulders shaped into a row of jagged sawtooth creates a railing and gives the bridge a Medieval look. Additional stones were roughly worked into pinnacles and extend along the retaining walls that extend along the bridge approach. The bridge was intended to be the gem of the western extension of Skyline Parkway, which was expected to eventually connect to Fond du Lac and Jay Cooke State Park.
The Arthur Orr was a 286’ steel package freighter built by the Chicago Ship Building Company. She was entered into service as a package freighter on the Great Lakes in 1893. The Arthur Orr served faithfully out of Duluth, carrying packages and small freight up and down the north and south shores of Lake Superior.
After leaving Duluth with a mixed cargo on November 21, 1898, the Arthur Orr was driven ashore during a heavy storm in the early morning hours of November 22 at the mouth of the Baptism River near Silver Bay. No lives were lost, but most of the cargo spilled out of the ship and into Lake Superior.
The Arthur Orr was towed back to Chicago to be repaired and lengthened to 334’ in 1899. She returned to service later that year and served until 1947 when she was scrapped in Hamilton, Ontario.
Photos courtesy of the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library.
During World War I, the military recruited 20,000 nurses for duty. More than 10,000 of them served overseas during the Great War. Most nurses either served at one of the 58 military hospitals or helped staff 47 ambulance companies that operated on the Western Front. This photo shows Tena Heglund Johnson of Fosston in her Army Nurse Corps uniform shortly before she left for Europe in 1918. She was 31 years old when she enlisted. After the war, Tena continued to work as a nurse at the Fosston Hospital.
Photo courtesy of the East Polk Heritage Center.
Rumors of copper riches hidden in the North Shore’s streams and hillsides had excited the imaginations of mineral prospectors and speculators for years. Copper towns were numerous along the North Shore of Lake Superior in the mid-19th century. With few exceptions, the townsites, much like their creators’ dreams, never became a reality.
In 1856, Buchanan was established as the seat of the U.S. Land Office in the northeastern land district in Minnesota Territory. The founders of Buchanan had high hopes of creating a boomtown — they believed there was a lot of copper in the nearby bed of the Knife River. The first settlers expected Buchanan to eventually become the capital of the county and the greatest copper port in Minnesota. Along with the perceived mineral seams, a seemingly endless supply of white pine and fur-bearing animals all around, and the close proximity to the port of Duluth seemed to make this an ideal place for a town.
It wasn’t long before a hotel, several saloons, boarding houses, a steam dock, residences, and buildings for the post office and newspaper office sprang up in Buchanan. All of the buildings were likely constructed with logs from the forest along the shore. An early copper prospector described that, “Timbers were taken out, nicely hewen for five two-story buildings in town.” Two of these buildings were used by the land officers while the others served as a hotel, boarding house, and saloon. When men ventured out of the wilderness and into Buchanan, they typically were looking for three things; provisions, a saloon, or the temporary companionship of a woman.
One hundred and eleven years ago today (June 20, 1904), the final Government Land Sale took place in Thief River Falls. A crowd of towns people and hopeful settlers gathered on the north side of the old Washington School to watch as the last 93,000 acres of surveyed land were sold. The town had been established just 17 years prior.
Photo courtesy of the Pennington County Historical Society.
Huson’s Sandwich Shop, pictured here in 1935, was a popular eatery on Pokegama Avenue in Grand Rapids for several decades. Huson’s was located between Second and Third Avenues. The shop was owned by Leo Buckley from the 1920s until 1942 when the shop closed. In December 1943, George Lemler and his wife reopened Huson’s for several more years. It’s unclear when the shop closed for the last time, or when the building was demolished. The Wells Fargo drive-up is now located on the former site of Huson’s.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society (MI8.9 GR3.1 r10)
Interior of the Central School in downtown Grand Rapids. Built in 1895, the three story building served as an elementary school from 1895 to 1972. A community effort restored the building in 1984 and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society (MI8.9 GR5.2 p4)
The Pine River Dam near Brainerd was the fourth dam built as part of the Mississippi River Headwaters Reservoirs system. The original timber dam was constructed from 1884-1886. A concrete dam replaced it in 1905. This photo was taken in 1910.
The dam site once included a house, office, a barn, a carpenter shop, a blacksmith shop, two warehouses, a wood shed, and a chicken coop. These structures were demolished through extensive redevelopment for public recreation.
A railroad crew poses on the tracks with shovels. This crew laid track near Thief River Falls around 1905. Behind the crew, a pump trolley is visible on the tracks. A pump car is a railroad car powered by its passengers. It was often used to get from the nearest town to where the crew would work at the end of the track.
Photo courtesy of the Pennington County Historical Society.
The Mesaba Railway ran streetcar service between Hibbing and North Hibbing. This car is stopped near the Oliver Hotel on Third Avenue in North Hibbing in 1921. This stop was at the north end of the line.
Photo courtesy Iron Range Research Center.
It was a typical Monday morning for the crew of the flat-bottomed scow, George Herbert. Captain Charlie Johnson and lumber clerk William Hicks were discussing their trip one-hundred miles up the north shore of Lake Superior with provisions for the M.H. Coolidge Lumber Company. Three other crew members, Ole Nelson, George Olson, and Ole Miller were loading shovels, axes, smoked meats, coffee, whiskey, and lard into the scow’s hold. The lake was calm, and the weather was fair for November, but a steady northeast breeze made the temperature feel like it was below zero. The unpowered scow was loaded quickly. Captain Johnson rang the F.W. Gillett, their tug for the trip, to let them know the scow was ready.
As the George Herbert and F.W. Gillett made their way east along the shore, the wind began to blow harder, and the temperature began to fall. Hoping they could get past the edge of the storm, Captain Johnson stayed on course. By about 1:00 in the afternoon, the wind and the waves had increased to an alarming level. Johnson continued to press eastward hoping to find relative safety from the wind behind a group of islands near present-day Taconite Harbor. After two hours, the scow and its tug dropped anchor on the lee side of Two Islands. The George Herbert and F.W. Gillett were the first boats to encounter the storm that would become known as the Big Blow of 1905.
Superintendents at the Spruce Creek Civilian Conservation Corps camp near Lutsen in the mid-1930s.
Workers at the Spruce Creek CCC camp were responsible for building the many of the trails in the Cascade River State Park. Other projects included a highway concourse and the Cascade River overlook. The Spruce Creek CCC camp operated from July 24, 1934 until October 1936.
Photo courtesy of the Cook County Historical Society.
This photo of the First National Bank in Ironton (Crosby) shows the wealth that flowed through the Cuyuna Iron Range in the 1920s. Two tellers were always available to customers — one to receive money (deposits) and one to pay money (withdrawals). The bars surrounding the tellers were gleaming brass. The counter was made of rich, dark wood with marble running along the bottom. The entire public space of the bank was carpeted — a rarity for public buildings at the time. Did you notice the spittoon on the floor between the two tellers?
Photo courtesy of the Cuyuna Iron Range Heritage Network.
Such a beautiful instrument. Students from The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth playing harps at a recital in 1957. Pictured left to right are Dea Bowden, Betty Dunlap, Ann Sander, Vivian Schuldt, Elverna Stalvig, and Diane Smith.
Photo courtesy of The College of St. Scholastica.
Colonel Alvaren Allen began stagecoach service from St. Paul to Crow Wing with his four-horse Concord coach line in 1854. As the need to travel west and south of St. Paul grew, so did the coach line. Within a few years Allen had eight coaches departing from St. Paul each day; three to Minneapolis, one each to Crow Wing, Stillwater, Mankato, and Hudson, WI. The last coach would follow a route through New Ulm, Faribault, and Owatonna. The coaches carried freight as well as passengers — which mean the latter were forced to hold on as best they could as the stagecoach bumped over well rutted, but poorly maintained, wagon trails. In this photo from 1898, several gentlemen from Mankato are about to board the Concord coach for St. Paul. Photo courtesy of the Blue Earth Historical Society.
In February 1915, students poured into the first vocational school in the state. Located in the mining town of Eveleth, this school was the first education building in Minnesota to be devoted entirely to industrial subjects. The Prairie School style building was designed by William Bray and Carl Nystrom of Duluth for around $48,000. The building was constructed of gray Menominee brick and terra cotta. The exterior featured an intricate cornice and a diamond pattern in the brick above the factory-style windows on each end of the building. A relief carving just under the cornice in the center of the school announced that this was the Eveleth Manual Training School.
The interior of the Manual Training School was functional and modern. It was thought to be completely fireproof because reinforced concrete was used for the floors and ceilings, and the interior walls were made of light-gray brick and tile. The only material used in construction that would have been flammable were wooden floors in the corridors and lecture and drafting rooms. The building was wired for electricity throughout and was heated by a steam vacuum system. Skylights brought abundant daylight to the large drafting and woodworking rooms, as well as the electrical “laboratory”, on the second floor.
German immigrant Thomas Erdel opened the Rathskeller Over the Rhine (great name!) in the late 1800s. Pictured here in 1905, the saloon stood on the corner of Second Avenue N and First Street in Moorhead. Catering to a well-heeled clientele, the saloon served European beer, and a German band played on the verandah each night in the summer. The saloon was forced to close shortly after Prohibition.
Photo courtesy of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County.
At a glance, nothing peculiar stands out about Minnesota on a map. It’s when you take a longer look that you’ll notice it. Along the northern border there is a small piece of land that looks like it should be part of Manitoba, Canada marked as territory of Minnesota, and the United States. However, this piece of land is not physically connected to the United States at all, it is surrounded by Canada on three sides, and Lake of the Woods on the other. Visitors either have to travel by boat across Lake of the Woods, or cross the Canadian border at Warroad, then cross back into the United States once they reach The Angle.
The mapping oddity that gave this 123-square-mile chunk of land to the United States happened when land negotiators were deciding where the USA/Canada border should be set. The Mitchell Map was used during negotiations — it mistakenly showed that the Mississippi River originated in Lake of the Woods. Understandably, the United States wanted to make sure the headwaters of the Mississippi River remained in the United States, so the border was set at the very northwestern tip of Lake of the Woods, ran due south to the 49th parallel, and then continued west. Because of this, the Northwest Angle became part of Minnesota.
Since 1980, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon has attracted mushers from around the world. Beginning in Duluth and running 400 miles along the north shore of Lake Superior to the Canadian border, the Beargrease is one of the longest, most grueling race routes outside of Alaska. With the 30th running of the marathon starting later this month, many people are asking “Who is John Beargrease” and “Why does he have a sled dog race named after him?”
John Beargrease’s story began in a wigwam on the outskirts of the first settlement along the north shore of Lake Superior – Beaver Bay. The son of an Anishinabe Chief, Beargrease grew up fishing, hunting, and trapping along the north shore with his father and two brothers. When he was in his teens he worked on commercial fishing boats that sailed up and down the coastline. By the time he was in his twenties, a few more small settlements had sprung up along the north shore, including Agate Bay (now Two Harbors), Castle Danger, Pork Bay, Grand Marais, and Grand Portage. Since the train only went as far as Agate Bay, people along the shore had a hard time sending and receiving mail. Since this was often the only form of communication with the outside world. Letters and packages from family and friends were extremely important. Since Beargrease and his brothers made regular trips up and down the shore trapping and trading, they began to grab the mail in Agate Bay for the residents along the shore and deliver it as they checked their traps or traded with other residents. By 1879, the brothers were making trips for the mail and delivering it all the way to Grand Marais once or twice per week.
One of the earliest victims of the big blow on Lake Superior on November of 1905 was the steamer Lafayette and her barge, the Manila. After passing through Soo, the Lafayette was caught west of Devil’s Island when the great storm started churning the lake into an uproar. After fighting the storm for several hours and traveling at half-speed, Captain Dell Wright was hoping to see the lighthouse on Devils’ Island to regain his bearings. Captain Wright’s years of experience gave him only a rough idea of his ship’s location, and he had an important decision to make.
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.
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.
If it weren’t for a sign announcing that you’ve arrived in Little Marais, you may just speed through this little resort town on your way north on Highway 61. Scandinavian fishermen settled in the sleepy town during the late 1880s, but by the 1920s tourists began motoring their way up the north shore – looking for accommodations as they went. Small resorts and gas stations popped up along the route.
Originally built as a rustic log store, the Little Marais Store was a popular stop for basic provisions. It was transformed twice after that; first into a grocery store and gas station with small rooms for travelers looking for a good nights sleep, and later into a lovely white clapboard inn with an elegant dining room and housekeeping cabins along the lake shore. It was renamed the Little Marais Lodge and Store.
The white clapboard building with its charming green shutters soon became a popular destination for couples on their honeymoon. The refined structure stood out among the rustic accommodations that populated the North Shore at that time. Inside, antique lamps cast a warm glow in each room and historic maps hung on the walls. An abundance of windows, white paneled walls, and cool lake breezes gave the lodge a light, airy feel. The gabled roof added gentle sophistication of the exterior.
Shortly after midnight on November 28, 1905 the Crescent City dropped anchor in 90-feet of water on Lake Superior. A nor’easter began to blow and the 406-foot steamer was digging in to ride it out several miles from port in Duluth.
Three hours later, a great gust of wind struck the ship’s starboard bow, pulling the anchors free from the lake bottom. Capitan Frank Rice ordered full speed ahead with the rudder hard to port, but the 60 to 70 MPH winds kept the ship from making any headway. After about an hour, Capitan Rice spotted a point of rocky bluff through the driving snow. It was alarmingly close and the Crescent City was drifting, dragging her anchors, straight for it. Rice calculated that the outcropping was going to impale his ship, so he rang the engine room for full reverse. The Crescent City slid past the rocky point and crashed into a low bluff, the ship lurched broadside, and a giant wave rolled over the entire ship. The entire crew was drenched with freezing water, but luckily none were carried overboard. Wave after wave crashed into the Crescent City and the steel hull soon broke amidships.
If you travel north on Highway 64 through central Minnesota, you will likely pass through Akeley. It’s is a small town of about 400 residents and nearly as many lakes. Nowadays, it’s hard to believe this sleepy community was once a lumber boom town.
Around the turn of the last century, the first logging camp went up on the east side of the Crow Wing River railroad bridge, between the Seventh and Eighth Crow Wing Lakes. In 1902, lumber baron Thomas Barlow Walker (yep, the guy that founded the Walker Art Center) built a sawmill along the southern shore of Eleventh Crow Wing Lake, which at the time was the largest in the state. Development in the area skyrocketed – a fur trading post and hotel were built on the west side of the Crow Wing River railroad bridge. By 1907 there were over 4,000 lumberjacks harvesting acre after acre of poplar, aspen, and pine forest. The Red River Sawmill ran night and day, year ‘round, cutting and planing the logs to be loaded onto rail cars and sent south.
By the 1880s, Duluth pioneer Luther Mendenhall had become on of the city’s most prominent citizens. The Civil War veteran came to Duluth in 1869 as an agent for the Western Land Company. His objective was to help the frontier community grow into a thriving shipping port. In turn, the growth of the city would line the pockets of Mendenhall and his investors at the Western Land Company.
Mendenhall recognized that Duluth’s natural harbor gave it an advantage that other cities didn’t have. His background as a lawyer and businessman in Pennsylvania gave him creditability in the community, and quickly brought new opportunities to the people of Duluth. First, Mendenhall helped establish the first railroads in the area and was instrumental in starting one of Duluth’s first banks—The Duluth National Bank. Mendenhall served at the first president of the bank beginning in 1882. From there he worked to establish a streetcar system and newspaper. During this time, Mendenhall was also serving as president of the Duluth Park System and had been a longtime member of the Duluth Board of Education along with several other prominent Duluth businessmen and friends.