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Duluth’s Pine Knot Cabin on Minnesota Point – Everything you wanted to know about its removal, history, etc.


Photo by William Mittendorff

A Perfect Duluth Day post titled “Park Point Cabin abducted!” recently reported that the Pine Knot Cabin on Minnesota Point has been removed. An older post, “Park Point Park cabin?” previously sparked a discussion of the cabin’s history.

The “abduction” raised a lot of questions, a lot of speculation and a bit of panic, so hopefully this post will straighten all that out.

I spoke with Steve Wilson, regional Scientific and Natural Area specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to find out why the cabin was removed and what the deal is with the DNR’s SNAs. The questions and answers are below. If there’s more you want to know, ask away in the comments. I’ll try to supply the answer, or perhaps Mr. Wilson will be watching and chime in directly.

First, some background on the Pine Knot cabin:

This part of Minnesota Point was known as Peabody’s Landing in the early 1900s, and there were numerous cabins there. The name Peabody’s Landing comes from the ferry service run by Charlotte and John Harry Peabody, who lived on the point. Most of the cabins were owned by people from Superior, and the Peabody’s ferry crossed the harbor to transport them.

Pine Knot is said to have been built in 1900 by Superior Mayor Charles O’Hehir and sold to the Pollock family in 1927. It is not known for certain if the structure that was removed in 2010 dates all the way back to the turn of the century; some believe the original Pine Knot was destroyed by fire and replaced.

Ed Pollock, great-grandson of the Pollocks who acquired the cabin, commented on PDD in July. “Please do what you can to save Pine Knot,” he wrote. “It was never added onto during the years we owned it. I have a picture of my dad’s family sitting 4 feet from the front porch with their feet in the bay. You see, the bay was dredged during the depression and that is why all the front yard there. Pine Knot used to be just a few feet from the bay.”

The Pollock family donated the cabin to the city in 1999.

What parts of Minnesota Point are part of the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources Scientific & Natural Areas program?

It’s basically the 18-acre area northeast of the Sky Harbor Airport. It does not include the area of the historic Minnesota Point Lighthouse. The border isn’t easy to describe, but perhaps the map below will help. The areas inside the red line are part of the SNA. The lower left corner shows part of the airport runway.

How long has this part of Minnesota Point been part of the DNR’s SNA program?

Since April of 2002.

Why was the cabin removed, and why did it happen now?

“We’ve actually been working on it since before (the DNR) owned it,” Wilson said. The land was donated by Superior Water, Light and Power Co., a subsidiary of Allete, to the Minnesota Land Trust in 1998, which placed a conservation easement on it and transferred it to the Minnesota DNR.

“Scientific & Natural Areas are there to protect the best of Minnesota’s remaining natural heritage and features, like rare plants and animals (specifically the old-growth forest on Minnesota Point), significant geological features (like the portion of the Minnesota Point sandbar within the SNA) and so on and so forth,” Wilson said. “A building smack-dab in the middle of one of the most unique old-growth pine forests in the state is just not consistent with the reason we are protecting and managing the area.”

Wilson said there were efforts to preserve the building before the decision was made to demolish it. In 1999 a former Duluth city planner, Jill Fisher, proposed moving the cabin and its outhouse to the Park Point Recreation Area parking lot and converting it into an interpretive center. The DNR even offered the city $5,000 to move the cabin at the time, but the cost of running a new interpretive center was not appealing to the City Council, and the idea was cast aside.

In recent years, Steve Sola and Matt Kampf, owners of the Duluth Harbor Inner South Breakwater Lighthouse, were also interested in moving the cabin, but Wilson said that plan never developed.

“If (the cabin) had been shown to be a historically significant structure I think we could have found another option than demolishing and recycling it,” Wilson said. Its lineage is very murky, and we could never find any definitive evidence that it extended back to the original Peabody Landing community around the turn of the century.”

Wilson said moving the cabin probably would have required floating it across the bay, which would have been problematic. And there was no money available to maintain the cabin, which was deteriorating.

“The building just wasn’t that sound,” he said. “It was a ramshackle thing that had been constructed in pieces, so it didn’t hold together very well. It didn’t have a regular foundation.”

Wilson also had an ongoing battle with kids breaking into the cabin.

“They’d cut off our lock and put their lock on it,” he said. “So I’d have to cut their lock off and put our lock on it, and that happened several times. So we had a liability issue with it.”

It appears the equipment that was involved in the demolition and removal may have damaged soil in the area. How was this project handled?

Watters & Sons Excavating of Duluth was the contractor that carried out the project on Nov. 30. Wilson conducted the final site inspection on Dec. 7.

“They came in on an old road, and there was some minor soil disturbance on the road,” Wilson said. “It looked like when they left the site they swung wide on the trail and exposed some soil on what already had been an exposed bank from when the road/trail was originally put in.”

Wilson said the contractors did a good job minimizing the damage, but it could have went better.

“If I had it to do over again,” he said, “I would probably specify that the largest machine have been one to two feet narrower than what they used.”

Wilson said the damage looks worse than it is.

“I would counsel people to be patient,” he said. “After one season of pine needles falling on top of the site it’s going to look more like it did before we removed the cabin. After several years, when a little of the grass that was growing there before comes back I’m fairly certain it will look remarkably like it did before … just absent the building.”

Because the layer of pine needles was removed, Wilson said the DNR will be monitoring the exposed soil to prevent non-native invasive species from popping up.

“There was some tansy growing right next to that cabin that is on our list to go out and remove — and that becomes more urgent now that we’ve got exposed soil next to it.

Are people still allowed to walk dogs and ride bicycles on the trail?

Yes.

Typically people are not allowed to bring pets or bicycle on trails within SNAs, but the DNR has not been enforcing those rules on Minnesota Point and has no plans to start.

“Our intent always has been to allow those pre-existing uses,” Wilson said. He notes, however, that those uses were not specified in the DNR commissioner’s designation order and therefore were not technically grandfathered in, though that was supposed to be the case. So walking pets or biking on the trail is technically illegal, but the DNR is not enforcing it.

“The only reason we haven’t made those uses legal is we have to hold a public hearing,” he said. “It simply hasn’t been a high priority, but it’s on my list of things to do.”

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22 Comment(s)

  1. Reasonable questions with reasonable answers are a real breath of fresh air. Of course, it’s not as “fun” as illogical accusations or paranoid conspiracy theories.

    TimK | Dec 8, 2010 | New Comment
  2. Thanks, Paul!

    bluenewt | Dec 8, 2010 | New Comment
  3. What other illegal things is Big Government going to allow us to do on the Big Government’s new land grab on Park Point?

    That’s the slippery slope. They make common reasonable activities illegal, but say “we won’t really enforce them.” They do this so people don’t complain while they strip us of our rights. Soon they turn around and arrest us for breaking the very law, they said they wouldn’t enforce.

    Put it in writing Big Government! Only a fool would trust Big Government’s words. Who’s going to be the first to test whether or not the law will be enforced?

    Anti Something | Dec 8, 2010 | New Comment
  4. Nice job Paul. A little straight forward journalism is sure refreshing. Thanks for taking the time to hunt down some real answers.

    W.T.F | Dec 8, 2010 | New Comment
  5. Thank you, W.T.F.

    As for Anti Something: This isn’t a “new land grab.” As is clearly stated, the land was donated over a decade ago. It is not “new” or a “grab.”

    Also, nothing was made illegal. Due to an oversight, walking pets and bicycling were not legalized as intended. “Big government” has promised to “put that in writing” for you, but it is also recognizing that organizing a public meeting and advertising that meeting cost money, and some might consider that a waste of big government money, since “the first to test whether or not the law will be enforced” tested it looooong ago. People have been riding bikes and walking dogs out there pretty much every day since the land changed hands. I’ve done both numerous times. Zero tickets.

    Paul Lundgren | Dec 8, 2010 | New Comment
  6. Maybe it’s time for a variation of the Troll Zone. Rant and Rave Zone?

    Timk | Dec 8, 2010 | New Comment
  7. Here’s some bonus history, courtesy of Tony Dierckins at X-Communication. The photo below is William Sargent’s summer home on Minnesota Point. The photo is undated, but it’s probably no older than 1915. William was the son of George Sargent.

    From the forthcoming X-Comm book Lost Duluth:

    George Sargent was born in Boston in 1852. After he married Mary Perin he served as a Union Army general in the Civil War and was later appointed federal surveyor for Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Sargent left Iowa for Duluth in 1869 to work as Jay Cooke’s financial agent. Sargent is credited as being the prime driving force behind Duluth’s early commercial success. Sargent opened Duluth’s first bank on Superior Street, oversaw the construction of Duluth’s first official hotels, Clark House and Bay View House, and for building St Paul’s Episcopal Church, the town’s first church. General Sargent died in 1875 in Germany where he had gone for his health. Sargent Creek, between Gary-New Duluth and Fond du Lac, is named for him.

    Paul Lundgren | Dec 8, 2010 | New Comment
  8. “Reasonable questions with reasonable answers are a real breath of fresh air.”

    TimK- I couldn’t agree more. The honest answers given by Mr. Wilson were refreshing.

    Rae | Dec 9, 2010 | New Comment
  9. Paul, any idea how this will affect the MN Point Light House and Bouy Depot ruins? Does this put them in jeopardy at all? Thanks!

    Tony D. | Dec 9, 2010 | New Comment
  10. The lighthouse is, I would estimate, about a half mile outside the border of the SNA. The bouy depot is even farther away from the SNA.

    No affect at all.

    Paul Lundgren | Dec 9, 2010 | New Comment
  11. I have a question about the map, specifically the boundaries on the SE section. What’s the purpose of the sectioned off rectangle inside the boundary and the tine on the end?

    huitz | Dec 9, 2010 | New Comment
  12. About four summers ago, the cabin was unlocked for some reason. So I went inside and there were a few old shirts hanging in a closet, as if someone was still using the cabin. It was odd.

    vicarious | Dec 9, 2010 | New Comment
  13. There was an article in the DNT today about Pine Knot, more than a week after the cabin was removed and several days after the news broke on PDD, and the the DNT piece seemed so… superficial compared to Paul’s post here and other related posts/comments. More and more I wonder why I even subscribe to the paper at all. I get better national and international news from listening to MPR and quite often better local news here on PDD.

    So my point is, thank you Paul (and others) for the Q&A and historical research.

    Sonya | Dec 9, 2010 | New Comment
  14. It’s a little sad when the local daily relies on a local blog-site for it’s features.

    On the other hand, it’s a little awesome when a local blog-site influences the local daily.

    Sad…awesome. I’m a little torn.

    vicarious | Dec 9, 2010 | New Comment
  15. This story never says where President Eisenhower’s speechwriter’s Minnesota cabin was, but I have my theories:

    Papers shed light on Eisenhower’s
    farewell address

    By John Milburn
    Associated Press

    Newly discovered documents from a cabin owned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s speechwriter are shedding more light on the evolution of the former general’s historic farewell address nearly 50 years ago, and his fears that America’s burgeoning military prowess was driving its foreign policy.

    The documents, portions of which appeared on the Eisenhower Presidential Library’s research website before their public unveiling today, are expected to shed more light on the origins of the term “military-industrial complex” — phrasing used by Eisenhower in the speech to warn against unbridled military development. The phrase began as “war-based” industrial complex before becoming “military” in later drafts.

    Grant Moos, son of Eisenhower aide Malcolm Moos, discovered the papers — covered with pinecones, dirt and other debris — in a cabin in Minnesota.

    “We are just so fortunate that these papers were discovered,” said Karl Weissenbach, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene. “We were finally able to fill in the gaps of the address. For a number of years it was apparent that there were gaps.”

    The papers show how Eisenhower and his staff spent two years preparing for his goodbye to the nation and why he decided to include his concern about how America’s military building had come to dictate foreign policy in the speech. One document features a typewritten note from Eisenhower lamenting that when he joined the military in 1911, there were 84,000 Army soldiers — a number that ballooned roughly ten-fold by 1960.

    spy1 | Dec 10, 2010 | New Comment
  16. Great read.

    Shawn | Dec 10, 2010 | New Comment
  17. In response to Huitz’s question of why the border of the SNA is so convoluted, I once again turned to Steve Wilson of the Minnesota DNR, who responded with:

    “The boundary includes all the land Superior Water, Light and Power donated for the SNA. They withheld a swath between the two SNA parcels because their pumping station and utility lines are located there.

    “The bite taken out of one side of the SNA, hole in the middle, and “tine at the end” were never owned by the utility. They were, and still are, city of Duluth land under the control of the Duluth Airport Authority.

    “The land on either end of the SNA is also city land. Unless the city transferred ownership of those parcels to the DNR or allowed us to purchase a conservation easement on them, they can’t be part of the state scientific and natural area.

    “Duluth does have its own Natural Areas Program, though, and that might be an option for the citizens of Duluth to consider.”

    Paul Lundgren | Dec 10, 2010 | New Comment
  18. I stumbled on this. Sorry to hear it is finally gone. I camped there with my wife’s family for the last time in 1999. (She is a Pollock relative.) What a great piece of history lost.

    Chad | Dec 20, 2010 | New Comment
  19. Although, I don’t recall it being “donated” to the city. I would have to have Eddy refresh me on that. My understanding was that the state wouldn’t renew the lease on it. And, although I realize a decade can destroy a building easily, it was never “ramshackled” as I remember it.

    Chad | Dec 20, 2010 | New Comment
  20. I just stumbled across this blog and the Saga of the Pine Knot Cabin.

    I grew up on Park Point in the 1960s. Many of the ‘Point’ kids went down to the area past the airport regularly — by boat, ice boat, bicycle, or walking. There were several cabins down there, and we often carefully unlocked one of them to use the fireplace to warm up a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew that we had purchased at Clem’s Bayside Market. My brother and I even spent a cold, rainy night camping down there once. We moved into a cabin but it had a leaky roof so we were sure glad to have that warm beef stew.

    I’ve asked many people what happened to all of the cabins, and the best answer they gave is that there was some sort of fire.

    I come back to Duluth every summer, and the absolute first thing I do is hike all the way to the Superior Entry. I’ve always been amazed that the Pine Knot was still standing. I guess this summer’s hike will be a little different, but still, there isn’t anywhere else in the world as unique as Park Point.

    Jill Swanquist Waters | Feb 9, 2011 | New Comment
  21. Not historically significant? The last relic of what was once a small “community” of summer cabins on the point? Belonged to the mayor of Superior? Sounds significant to me. At some future date, this will be recognized as a mistake.

    Brian Finstad | May 19, 2011 | New Comment
  22. Update:

    The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has made a change to the permitted uses at the Park Point Scientific and Natural Area, according to a news release.

    At Minnesota Point Pine Forest in Duluth, dogs on leashes will be allowed, which is consistent with city ordinance and well-established public use of the mixed ownership area. Other proposals to allow boat access, swimming and berry picking, will be dropped due to lack of support.

    Paul Lundgren | Aug 19, 2014 | New Comment

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