Duluth’s Lakewalk That Wasn’t

The comments on the recent post about wine rooms as breeding places of vice in Duluth a century ago delved into the history of prostitution in Canal Park. If only someone had come up with the idea for the Lakewalk back then …

Oh, wait. Someone did.

From the Duluth News Tribune, Jan. 31, 1909:

That Duluth needs more park acreage and more accessible playgrounds and breathing spots for the people at the convenient walking distance from the centers of trade and business activity cannot be gainsaid. Since this is now true, how much more will it be true ten and twenty years hence, when Duluth has taken its place as a transportation, commercial and residence city among those that are regarded as the cities of the first class? A speaker who is an authority on civic improvement at a recent meeting in Duluth advocated the consideration not only of present needs but the needs of future generations in public buildings and parks. He stated this as being not only the privilege but the duty of those who are living and taking part in the affairs of today.

A project for a lakefront park and driveway for Duluth has been given form, and the plan has been endorsed and approved by so many to whom it has been submitted that it is here outlined for the consideration of all the people. It is proposed to have the city acquire the property on the lakefront from the Duluth Ship Canal to the unimproved city park at Ninth Avenue East. This would be partly property submerged and partly dry land between St. Croix Avenue and the lake and between the Duluth & Iron Range Road and the lake. The plan would be to have the government fix a harbor line where one does not now exist, to construct a concrete seawall to mark the outer limits of the park and driveway and by a filling-in process to make solid ground where now there is water, then go ahead with the beautification of the grounds with walks and driveways, with trees and shrubbery, fountains and flower beds and all things that go to make up an ideal public park.

The location of this lakefront property for park purposes is ideal. Moreover, it is the only place that any one can think of near the downtown portion of the city that is available. It has been pointed out as a happy coincidence that the only available place and site for such an improvement is the most desirable that could possibly be obtained. The plans as suggested provide for a driveway through the park, which would connect at Ninth Avenue East with London Road, leading out to Lakeside and Lester Park and connecting by means of Fifteenth Avenue East with the boulevard. What is now St. Croix Avenue would still be the street and driveway under the new conditions. It would be then to Duluth in the same relation as Michigan Avenue in Chicago is to that city and Chicago’s lakefront park. Lake Avenue and the west side of St. Croix Avenue will undoubtedly be built up with big wholesale and jobbing houses. The existence of a beautiful park across the street would have a tendency toward inducing the owners of buildings on St. Croix Avenue to make their buildings attractive to conform with the general plan. The Duluth Aerial Bridge, which will never cease to be an object of wonderment and admiration to residents of the city as well as visitors, being at the end of the driveway, would be an attractive feature. No less so would be the feature of obtaining easy and pleasant access to a splendid point of view of the wonderful Duluth Ship Canal, with its constant procession of majestic ships during the navigation season.

Chicago has made a beautiful lakefront out of what was a waste of water. The renowned Riverside Drive of New York is in effect a similar project. The plan is not visionary. In fact, it is intensely practical, so far as it applies to lakefront improvement in Duluth. The harbor line, beyond which the government assumes control, was fixed at 300 feet from the east side of St. Croix Avenue about a year ago on petition of the property owners there. Where no harbor line has been established the government assumes control to the shoreline. No harbor line has been established up the lakeshore eastward from St. Croix Avenue.

The lakefront property east from St. Croix Avenue is owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad and leased to the Iron Range Road. Reaching clear around from the canal pier to what would be Ninth Avenue East extended into the lake, the harbor line for the building of the seawall could be fixed at any distance desired from the present shoreline. If the city owned the shore frontage clear around from the government pier to Ninth Avenue East, it would not be out of the question to have the harbor line made a direct line, the shortest distance across which would be about 5,000 feet. The plan as outlined in the illustration, having the harbor line following the present shoreline from 300 to 500 feet distant, would give a seawall nearly 6,000 feet or over a mile long. The establishment of a harbor line where desired by the property owners is obtained by a petition to the war department through the engineer in charge at the local station.

The depth of water on the lake side of St. Croix Avenue, 300 feet from the east line of the street, is about seven feet. The depth of water up the east shore at Ninth Avenue East is some greater, running to over 20 feet at 300 feet out from the shoreline. As an engineering feat, the construction of the park and driveway would not be difficult. It is contended that there is plenty of material for filling in purposes obtainable about the city in excavations for cellars and basements, in street sweepings and rocks and dumpage of various kinds. It was by this means that the Chicago lakefront park was raised above the level of the lake. It might take several years to do it, but all big public improvements necessarily take time for their ultimate completion, and the important thing is the setting in motion of the machinery or, as it is in this case, creating the agitation which will lead up to action to acquire the needed lake frontage.

It has been said that the Duluth & Iron Range Road desires the whole of the property on the lake side of St. Croix Avenue for freight and passenger depots, depot shed and yard purposes, but this has been denied by officials of the company. But Minnesota Point property north of the canal is coming into favor for locations for the growing commercial houses of Duluth, and the best informed make the prediction that it will be all occupied with substantial buildings or obtained by some railroad if the city does not go ahead and acquire what, it is agreed, is needed for lakefront park purposes.

Big enterprises are more quickly completed today than they were in a time when men who are now in middle life can remember. Even though it takes many years to give Duluth a completed lakefront park and driveway, that fact that the city has underway such a commendable public enterprise would give the city wonderful prestige, and the project would be talked about and would carry the name and fame of Duluth to all parts of the United States and to foreign countries.

In connection with the suggestion for the creation of a lakefront park for Duluth, it has been suggested that no other place could be found which would be more appropriate for the location of the statue of Gresolon du Lhut, which it is proposed to obtain for Duluth, than at a point overlooking the lake, from the waters of which the discoverer and his voyageurs first sighted the shores on which the city bearing his name now stands.

The chief advocate of the lakefront park idea in its application to Duluth is G. W. Preston, advertising manager of the News Tribune. He has created sentiment in favor of the plan quietly, and now there are many who advocate that an organized effort be made to bring about tangible results along the lines suggested in the illustration and in the description.

1 Comment


about 5 years ago

Another good find.  The two pieces together, set next to today, suggest such a fascinating, deep history.  Thank you, PDD.

Leave a Comment

Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here

Read previous post:
This Week in LakeVoice

On Thursday, LakeVoice will release its first ever photo issue. For this issue, LakeVoice staff will go out into the...