Classic photos of Lake Superior Zoo and Kingsbury Creek

This photo of an elk is dated 1926.

Duluth’s municipal zoo opened in 1923 after the city council gave a small piece of land to print-shop owner Bert Onsgard and hired him as zookeeper. He was paid $1 per year for tending to a white-tailed deer and a few native birds. The zoo would eventually expand to cover 16 acres of land surrounding Kingsbury Creek in Fairmount Park, and hold hundreds of animals from around the world.

In the mid-1980s the Duluth Zoo became the Lake Superior Zoo, and attained accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The accreditation was lost in 2006, but regained in 2011 after the city turned operations over to the nonprofit Lake Superior Zoological Society.

All of the images here are from the Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections at UMD’s Kathryn A. Martin Library.

Kingsbury Creek flowing through the zoo grounds circa 1927.

South end of the zoo and Grand Avenue circa 1927.

This image of buffalo at the zoo is dated 1927.

Zookeeper Bert Onsgard with a pair of chimpanzees circa 1927.

Caged polar bear at the zoo; image dated 1927.

Bessie the Asian elephant arrived at the Duluth Zoo in 1929.

Most of the Duluth Zoo’s buildings were constructed in 1927, including the primate house, aviary and pheasant house. Photo circa 1930 by Kurt B. Florman.

This 1930 photo shows a seal on the edge of Kingsbury Creek at the zoo.

Interior of the main zoo building circa 1930.

Kingsbury Creek flows through the zoo into the St. Louis River. This image is dated 1930.

Panorama of the zoo grounds and Grand Avenue circa 1939.

Duluth Zoo grounds circa 1939, with Bessie the elephant visible at upper left. Photo by Louis Perry Gallagher, Sr.

The Duluth Zoo’s main building features murals by Arne Edgar Nybak. This photo is circa 1939.

Aerial view of the Duluth Zoo, shot June 9, 1973. Photo by Elizabeth Goodsell.


Paul Lundgren

about 4 years ago

Wendy Holman notes on Facebook that this photo of her mother, Lillian Hedman, at the Lake Superior Zoo in the late 1920s is "proof there were giraffes in early days."

Laurie Mattson

about 7 months ago

Hi! Nice photos and story. But the stucco bathrooms are on Indian Point, not at the zoo. My grandma was the proprietor there in the mid 1950s and early '60s, and I remember using those bathrooms. They're still there, and painted a dark green now

Paul Lundgren

about 7 months ago

Thanks for pointing that out, Laurie, I have pulled that photo out of the post now. 

To clarify, however, the building is now being used at Indian Point Campground as the office and store, although it was once restrooms. There is a different building at the campground for restrooms now. And both buildings are painted brown with green trim.

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