The text on the back of old-school Swinging Bridge postcards tends to read the same no matter what the image: “This unique Swing Bridge spans the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park, 4,000 acres of rugged picturesque beauty along the rapids of the St. Louis River, extending from Carlton, Minn., to Fond du Lac, a suburb of Duluth.”
This postcard, sent from Hibbing on Sept. 9, 1907, to Miss Hanna Backman of Ironwood, Mich., depicts, a “scene on the St. Louis River” in Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood, “where the Hudson Bay Co. established a trading post about the year 1640.”
The Hudson’s Bay Company in general, however, wasn’t founded until 1670, so, as usual, take postcard caption information for what it is worth.
My friend John and his wife Chieko left John’s son from his first marriage behind at Stone Farm. Stone Farm, Suffolk, is all I need to write as an address on the letters and postcards I send to him twice a year in the United Kingdom. The family home (occupied by John, Chieko, John Jr., and John’s mother) is older than the United States. When the bowing timbers used to frame the home were cut, the colonies were still colonies.
John spent a week in Duluth. He was to give lectures at the Alworth Institute about energy policy in the U.K. And of course, ostensibly, he was here to visit his friend, David. But John was a fisherman. You don’t cross the Atlantic to talk about U.K. dependence on natural gas to Minnesotans. You come to fish.
We visited Gooseberry, and John took romantic photos under the falls. We ate smoked fish and lobster — John ate at Red Lobster so many times because the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar was so favorable.
One time, way back in 1909, two pugilists who’d been exchanging “hard words” around Duluth, tried to evade the law by conducting a prizefight on a scow in the middle of the St. Louis River. This is the story of regional boxing champion Walter Whitehead’s last fight.
Charlie Nelson’s love of fishing started early. He spent much of his childhood catching fish near Cloquet, where his parents owned Big Lake Resort. After his parents sold the resort and bought a cabin on Island Lake north of Duluth, Nelson ramped up his quest for walleyes and spent countless hours in a fishing boat.
Through his 26 years of experience as a lieutenant colonel and an F-16 instructor pilot with the Minnesota Air National Guard, he developed a passion for teaching. Now retired, he has turned his knack for teaching and fishing into Charlie Nelson Guide and Charter Services. His website refers to him as “The Captain” whose passion for fishing is only surpassed by his love of flying.
Starting this week, Selective Focus is changing direction. Instead of variations on a weekly theme as before, we will be posting brief profiles of visual artists and happenings around the area. We start it off with a collaborative project between UMD students and elementary students.
From centuries-old bloody battles between Ojibwe and Dakota, to fist-fight riots at a resort in the late 1800s, through to modern-day habitat restoration, the history of the two islands is colorful and deep.
“Modern-day paddlers clearly feel this aura around Spirit Island just as they feel drawn to explore and enjoy Clough Island,” the story concludes. “Knowledge of both islands’ histories enriches any journey along the river. Cleaving its water with kayak or canoe, they paddle between two cultures, between the past and the future and between the heart of the forest at the river’s beginning and the vast expanse of the inland sea at its end.”
Duluth’s Parks and Recreation division is seeking public comment on 11 neighborhood parks mini-master plans, which cover improvements and additions to neighborhood parks within the St. Louis River Corridor. The included parks are Piedmont, Midtowne, Harrison, Merritt, Irving, Grassy Point, Keene Creek, Norton, Riverside, Smithville, Morgan, Blackmer, Fond du Lac and Historical.
The draft plans and comment form are available at duluthmn.gov. The plan will be presented to the Parks Commission on April 20; vote for approval will be at the May 11 meeting. Public comments are being accepted through April 20.
After several hours of splashing around, I pulled myself up to the dock. I held onto the edge and floated. My daughter said, “Your wedding ring is gone.”
What kind of kid notices that? I thought she was kidding. Then, I looked at my left hand. No ring.
I spent the next hour swimming with a scuba mask trying to pull off a miracle. The lake water looks like tea because of the tannins. Or maybe even darker like root beer. As I swam down, I could barely see. I hoped to see a little glint in the gravel. It never happened.
So, now I wear a replacement ring. The ring I put on twenty years ago sits at the bottom of the Whiteface Reservoir, a permanent part of the St. Louis River watershed. I sit like Gollum on the dock, sip my gin and tonic, gaze out over the water, and wonder about my precious. My precious.
When I was a kid, I didn’t notice things like rings on my dad’s hand. But I noticed his finger and where it pointed on the topo map. It was deer season in Plymouth, New Hampshire. I was in high school and an important part of the game plan to fill the freezer with venison.
“I’m going to sit here at the top of this drainage,” my dad said. “You walk down the road on this side of the ridge to here. Come over the ridge and walk up the drainage toward me. If you hear a shot, sit down for five minutes. Then, when you hear two shots, it means I found the deer and you can walk to me.” He said drainage so much during the huddle, I thought he was talking about nasal passages instead of a small mountain valley.
Somehow this seems both an apt and inapt way to close my editorship of this feature. There are plenty of sites to pore over images of our region’s abundant natural beauty, but few that foreground the real people who live, work, and play here. That was my fundamental ambition; to recognize the vast human capital here, to weekly call for snapshots, pictures of domestic ordinariness, matters not needlessly prettified. Reality, even when it’s harsh is sufficiently beautiful to me.
This 1950’s-era postcard depicts American Fur Company’s trading post at Fond du Lac, now a neighborhood of Duluth. German-born John Jacob Astor founded the company over 200 years ago — precisely April 8, 1808. His post on the St. Louis River sought to capitalize on Ojibwe fur trappers in the area, but the Ojibwe preferred to trade with the French and British, so the venture was a bust in the beginning. After the War of 1812, the United States passed a law excluding foreign traders from operating on U.S. territory, which freed the American Fur Company from its biggest competitors. By 1830, Astor’s company dominated the U.S. fur trade.
“Dear Ed and Edith,” begins the message on this postcard, mailed July 31, 1907. The penmenship gets funky in places, but the rest goes something like this: “Arrived here last night — fine trip up — leave in a few minutes for Minneapolis, where we remain until Saturday. Everything has been grand. Yes, even the weather. Trust you are full of ??? Lake like-?ess. We would be if we could get a ??? in it. Lovingly, ??? and ???”
This card traveled from Buffalo N.Y. to Mrs. W.J. Morrison of Lindsay, Ont. in 1906.
The Interstate Bridge opened in 1897. At the time it was pretty much the only way to get back and forth between Duluth and Superior — other than by boat or swimming, or going the long way around by land, or maybe jumping a train across the Grassy Point Railroad Bridge.
In 1906, the steamer Troy knocked the draw span of the Interstate Bridge into St. Louis Bay. Ferry service connected the cities for two years until repairs were completed.