Early History of Duluth’s Emerson School

Duluth’s Emerson School, named for poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, served the Central Hillside, or Observation Hill, neighborhood as an elementary school at 1030 West Third Street for over 90 years, from 1892 to 1982. In the early years, the neighborhood around Emerson was largely made up of immigrant families, predominantly Italian-Americans—hence the nickname “Little Italy” for the area around Eleventh Avenue West and Third Street.

The construction process began at the December 6, 1890 meeting of the Duluth School Board, when the board ordered staff to advertise for bids for excavation and construction of the foundation for Emerson School. The school system was also in the midst of building Central High School, so it was a busy time. The need for more school buildings was evident in a statistic that was discussed at the same meeting: the number of children enrolled in Duluth public schools at the end of that November was 3,349, an increase of about 600 over the previous November.

At a board meeting on January 20, 1891, proposed designs for Emerson were submitted by three architects. The board took them under consideration, and at their meeting the next week they announced their acceptance of the plan proposed by architect Adolph F. Rudolph. Rudolph was well known by the board. He had been commissioned to design Endion School in 1889. Later, he would produce drawings for Lowell School in Duluth Heights and in 1901 the Duluth Public Library at 101 West Second Street.

Floor plan

From the Annual Report of the Duluth Public Schools 1890-91

Rudolph’s plan for Emerson was modeled on the Endion plan, with some changes that would make it “architecturally unpretentious, so far as ornamentation goes.” According to the January 28, 1891 Duluth Evening Herald:

The school will cover an area of 8,200 square feet, the four faces of the building being 100 feet long. The slope of the site is such that four extra rooms are planned for the basement, making sixteen rooms in all. The materials to be used are Cleveland gray stone and brick. The cost is estimated at $35,000.

Emerson, according to the school board, would be ready to open to students in January of 1892 and would relieve the crowded situations in both Jackson School (5th Avenue West and Third Street) and Adams School (17th Avenue West and Superior Street). Continue reading

Duluth’s July 4th 100 Years Ago

Duluthians seemingly didn’t have much to celebrate in July of 1919. World War I had just ended, but it had taken the lives of hundreds of Duluth soldiers, either in battle or from the Spanish influenza. And the flu pandemic of 1918 had killed many Duluth citizens, although incidents of the illness were waning in July of 1919—Lakeview Hospital, the city’s influenza hospital at 522 Lake Avenue South, would close July 30 due to a lack of patients. Finally, 453 people in Northeastern Minnesota died in the massive forest fire on October 12, 1918 that burned thousands of acres in Minnesota and virtually destroyed Cloquet and other towns.

But Duluthians must have felt those horrible events were behind them and perhaps that the future looked brighter. The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, ending fighting on the western front. According to the Duluth newspapers, thousands of people thronged into downtown Duluth all day, and a parade was organized at 8:00 p.m. that marched from downtown to the National Guard Armory on London Road, where a program with speeches and music was held. Months later, on June 28, 1919, when the war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Duluth’s celebration was quieter, with most churches holding services to give thanks for the signing of the treaty.

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Duluth Public Library Cornerstone

Construction of the new Duluth Public Library building at 101 West Second Street began in April of 1901. At the time, the library was housed on the second floor of the Temple Opera Block, 201-205 East Superior Street.

The building went up pretty quickly and by the summer of 1901 the city was ready to lay the cornerstone on top of the first level wall on the northeast corner of the building (that’s the east side fronting on Second Street). The laying of the cornerstone was delayed so it could be held during that year’s Fourth of July celebration.

Duluth’s celebration began with a huge parade. The Duluth Evening Herald of June 29, 1901, predicted the size of the parade:

This will be the greatest ever seen in Duluth and thousands of people will be in line. There will be five bands, the greatest aggregation of music ever seen in Duluth at one time. The labor unions, fraternal societies, school children and in fact all of the people of the city have entered into the plans for the parade with good spirit and its success is certain.

Unfortunately, the Fourth in Duluth that year was rainy and cold.


The laying of the cornerstone, July 4, 1901. From Minnesota Reflections.

Because of the weather, many of the planned events–horse races, some games, and fireworks–had to be cancelled or postponed. But the parade went on, starting at 10:00 a.m. at First Street and Third Avenue East and led by a group of forty police officers who were followed by numerous military bands and drum and bugle corps. Made up of six sections, the parade was some twenty blocks long, and according to the next day’s Duluth News Tribune, thousands of spectators lined the parade route. Continue reading

Duluth’s Madam Butterfly

Rena Vivian Smith was a Duluthian with an incredible singing talent. She sang regularly while attending school in Duluth, and after high school traveled to Europe where she


Rena Vivian Smith as Madam Butterfly, Cosmopolitan Magazine, February 1907

studied voice and began singing professionally. While in Italy she auditioned for opera composer Giacomo Puccini and he hired her to sing in the American premiere of Madam Butterfly.

Rena Smith was born in Oklahoma Territory around 1880. At that time, the Oklahoma Territory was controlled by five Native American tribes, but during the 1880s “boomers” were forcing the opening of the region to white settlement. Smith later said she spoke the Choctaw language fluently.

Smith and her mother Elizabeth apparently moved to Duluth around 1896, after Henry B. Smith, the father, had died. Elizabeth was a sister of John Sutphin. Born in New Jersey, Sutphin came to Duluth around 1868 and founded a meat-packing plant. He became the mayor of the village of Duluth in 1886 and then mayor of the city of Duluth in 1887, when Duluth regained its city charter. He remained in the job until 1890. In the 1900 U.S. Census, Elizabeth is listed as the widow of Henry B. Smith. It’s presumed that he died before they moved to Duluth, and that his death may have been the reason for his wife and daughter to move in temporarily with the Stuphins.

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Actress Barbara Hale in Duluth

Movie actress Barbara Hale visited Duluth in October of 1946 for the world premiere of her newest film, Lady Luck. Hale, who was 24 years old at the time, had begun her movie career in 1943 and by the time of her Duluth visit had appeared in 14 films, six in major roles, and all but one produced by RKO Pictures.

Barbara Hale blog

Barbara Hale

Accompanying her on the trip was her husband, Bill Williams. They had just been married on June 22 of that year and said the trip to Duluth was something of a honeymoon. Williams was also under contract with RKO and had started his movie career in 1944.

The couple arrived in town at the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway Depot at 200 South 5th Avenue West on the morning of October 23, 1946. Their afternoon was busy with a press conference in Hotel Duluth, interviews by representatives of local high school newspapers, and a theater party.

Lady Luck premiered on Thursday night, Oct. 24, at the Granada Theater at 107 East Superior Street. The film tells the story of Mary Audrey, played by Hale, who strongly opposes gambling because of her father’s addiction to it. She meets a gambler named Larry Scott, played by Robert Young, and they fall in love and decide to marry. Larry promises to Mary that he’s giving up the betting life. Unfortunately, they choose Las Vegas for their wedding, and Larry soon gets involved in gambling again. Also in the cast are Frank Morgan (best known for playing the title character in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and James Gleason.


From Duluth Herald October 23, 1946

Hale and Williams appeared at the Granada premiere that night, and then made appearances at the theater before every showing of the film through that Sunday, October 27. Over that period, the Granada was showing the movie five times a day—at 1:21 p.m., 3:21 p.m., 5:21 p.m., 7:21 p.m., and 9:21 p.m. The charge for admission was 50 cents up to 5:00 p.m. and 60 cents after 5:00, including tax. At one of the Friday night showings, the two actors were given certificates of ambassadorship from the Duchy of Duluth, presented by the 1946 Duchess of Duluth, Shirley Elden. The Duchess of Duluth was an annual title awarded in the late 1940s and 1950s. The winner was selected from nominees by a panel of judges and announced at the Fall Festival in the Armory on London Road. Elden was the first Duchess of Duluth.

In the following decade, Hale would appear in more than twenty films, most notably in: The Boy with the Green Hair (1948), with Pat O’Brien and Robert Ryan; Jolson Sings Again (1949), which had a script written by Duluth native Sidney Buchman; The Jackpot (1950), with co-star James Stewart; Lorna Doone (1951), in which she plays the title character; and A Lion in the Streets (1953), with co-star James Cagney.

Hale is best remembered, however, for her portrayal of Della Street in the CBS television series Perry Mason, which ran from 1957 to 1966. Street was the confidential secretary and invaluable assistant to attorney Mason, played by Raymond Burr. Hale appeared in most of the 271 episodes of the show. Hale would win an Emmy in 1959 for best supporting actress in a dramatic series.

Hale and Williams would have three children and remain married until his death in 1992. One son, William Katt, would also become an actor. She died in California on January 26, 2017, at the age of 94.


Duluth War Casualties Database

The Duluth War Casualties Database was recently completed by the Reference staff and volunteers at the Duluth Public Library. The database indexes military personnel from Duluth and the area immediately around Duluth who were killed or captured in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.


Duluth Herald, July 13, 1945

The database began as a card file kept by Reference staff during World War II and the Korean War. In the 1990s, staff entered the cards into a database, and in 2015-2018, library volunteers searched the newspapers on microfilm for more information on those wars and on World War I and the Vietnam War, and added that information to the database. Each entry includes information such as name, branch of the service, rank, local address, description of incidents, and, most importantly, citations to articles about the person in the Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Herald. The article citations are important because, especially in World War I and World War II, an article may not have appeared in the local papers until weeks or even months after the incident.

The database can be searched by first name and last name. A typical entry looks like this:

Johnson, Alvin L     Flight Officer     U.S. Air Corps         Incident: Died of injuries received in action over France (DNT 09-08-44 p.5); posthumously awarded Purple Heart (DNT 12-29-44 p.1)       Notes: Body returned for reburial in Park Hill Cem (DNT 11-09-48 p.12) (DNT 12-05-48 p.10) (DH 12-04-48 p.2); name on plaque at East High School (DNT 09-26-45 p.7)         Address: 4619 Gladstone St           Town: Duluth

Copies of articles can be located on the newspaper microfilm on the top floor of the Duluth Public Library.

The War Casualties Database can be found on the Duluth Public Library web site under “Research” and “Genealogy,” or you can follow this link:


Duluth’s Only Female Military Casualty of World War I

Over 115,000 Americans died in World War I. Slightly more than half of those were deaths from disease. Hundreds of Duluth men were casualties of the war, but only one Duluth military woman gave her life—U.S. Army nurse Lydia Whiteside.*


LydiaWhiteside, findagrave.comon

Lydia V. Whiteside was born on November 3, 1884, in Severn Bridge, a small community in the Muskoka District of Ontario. She was the seventh child of Richard and Ellen Whiteside. Richard was born in Ireland in 1843 and the family moved to Ontario when he was a child. On October 11, 1871, he married Ellen Dyer, a native of Innisfil, Ontario.

Richard was involved in the lumber business in Ontario, and around 1887 he moved to Minnesota, first establishing a homestead on Fall Lake, just a few miles south of Ely. His brother, Robert, who was involved in lumbering and later in iron ore mining, was one of the founders of the town of Ely and was probably there at the time. Later, Richard would move the family into the town of Ely to a house on Harvey Street. In about 1901, they would move to Duluth.

Upon moving to Duluth, Lydia was a student, presumably at the Villa Sancta Scholastica Academy or the Duluth Normal School, which opened in September of 1902. By 1908 she had moved to Minneapolis and was a student nurse at the Asbury Methodist Hospital, which had a nursing training program. On May 24, 1911, she and 13 other women received their nursing certificates from the hospital. She then returned to Duluth and worked as a nurse, living with her family who were now residing at 4409 London Road. Continue reading

JFK’s Three Visits to Duluth

President John F. Kennedy visited Duluth three times, both before and while he was President. All three visits were in the autumn.

September 26, 1959

Kennedy first came to Duluth on September 26, 1959, for a visit of just one day. He was then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, serving in his second term. On this trip he was accompanied by Mrs. Kennedy. The main purpose of the Duluth trip was to visit Superior prior to the Wisconsin presidential primary. Kennedy hadn’t yet

Kennedy library

Sen. John F. Kennedy, from JFL Museum and Library

declared himself a candidate for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, and he was traveling the country trying to gauge the support he might have should he decide to run.

The Duluth/Superior visit was the last stop on a three-day tour of Wisconsin. He arrived at the Duluth International Airport at 3:45 p.m. on September 26, where he was greeted by about 100 supporters. He took part in a press conference and a television interview in Duluth, and then toured the harbor on his way to Superior. That evening in Superior he spoke at Superior Central High School, focusing on the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which he said he had supported when he was in the House of Representatives.

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Billy Sunday’s Duluth Tabernacle

Billy Sunday was a professional baseball player who became an evangelist in the early part of the twentieth century. He toured around the U.S., drawing big crowds wherever he preached. His style of preaching was very physical, befitting a former athlete—he would jump up on tables, chairs, or the podium; run back and forth across the stage; and even sometimes smash furniture to emphasize his point.

Billy Sunday preaching

Billy Sunday, from thegospelcoalition.org

It was big news for a community when Sunday brought his evangelical team to town. Early in 1918, he announced a six-week visit to Duluth starting that May. Sunday expected any community he visited, especially the churches in that community, to form a planning committee and take responsibility for some duties. One local responsibility was to raise money to cover expenses. It was determined that Duluth needed to raise $45,000. The largest portion of that money went to the building of a tabernacle.

Ever since Sunday’s large tent had collapsed under the weight of a snowstorm in 1906 in Colorado, he required the communities he visited to build a large, one-story building where he could hold his worship services. He called the building his tabernacle.

The city agreed to have Duluth’s tabernacle built on a site on the west side of Fourth Avenue West, between First and Second Streets, on a green space called Courthouse Square. That’s the present-day site of the Duluth City Hall, which was built eleven years later in 1929.


From the Duluth Herald May 2, 1918

The Duluth Herald at the time published a floor plan of the building, which would measure 224 feet by 183 feet and would be equipped with electric lighting, plumbing, and heating. It would have 4,500 seats for the public, 1,000 seats for the choir, and standing room for 1,500 to 2,000 more people. To make the tabernacle level, since it was being constructed on a slope, the First Street end, at 42 feet high, would be taller than the Second Street end, at 21 feet.

Ground for the tabernacle was broken on April 20, 1918, and workers immediately began laying timbers for the foundation. The building was completed in three weeks, on May 11. Billy Sunday arrived in Duluth on May 25, and the next day he preached three sermons in the tabernacle. A total of 18,000 people attended those first three sermons.

After Sunday left town in July, the tabernacle was purchased by a local contractor to be taken down. The contractor planned to use the lumber to build houses in West Duluth.

A 1926 Description of a Ride on Duluth’s Seventh Avenue West Incline Railway

In Volume I of his two-volume 1926 novel The Duke of Duluth, author Thomas Shastid, a Duluth physician, depicts a scene in which the main character, John Gridley Smith, who is visiting Duluth, is walking on West Superior Street and comes upon the entrance to the Incline Railway on Seventh Avenue West. On pages 74 to 80, Shastid describes the Incline and John’s ride up to the top:

Following his lonesome way, he came, after an interminable time, to a place on West Superior Street where a high fence was, composed of tall, slender pickets of red-painted iron. In the middle of the fence squatted


From Duluth Public Library Slide Collection

a little red house, with a closed door. Of a sudden, there came rushing down from upper space—it must have been an airship. A moment later John saw that it was really a funny little car coming down a steep track of wide-set iron rails.The car came to a stand almost against the fence at the left of the little red house, or station, and, a few moments later, the door of the station opened, and people began passing into the street. When they had all got out, John went into the station, and thence, by a sliding side-door, into the car. Continue reading

Duluthian Phillip Merritt and the Manhattan Project

Emblem (unofficial)

Unofficial emblem of the Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project, named for the Manhattan District (the U.S. Army’s designation for the project), ran from 1942 to 1946. It was a research and development project undertaken by the United States with the assistance of Canada and Great Britain with the goal of defeating Germany in the race to develop an atomic bomb. It led to the production of the first nuclear weapons during World War II. Bombs were tested in the desert of New Mexico in July of 1945 and then dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 respectively, leading to the surrender of Japan and the end of the war. Duluth native Phillip Merritt played a key role in the success of the project.

Phillip Merritt

Phillip Merritt —  image from the Geological Society of America

Phillip Leonidas Merritt was born in Duluth on February 8, 1906. His father was Alva L. Merritt, the son of Lucien F. Merritt, one of the eight Merritt brothers whose discovery of iron ore in the 1890s opened up mining on the Iron Range. His mother was Ruth Merritt, the daughter of Leonidas Merritt, the undisputed leader of the “Seven Iron Men.” Alva and Ruth were married in Duluth on November 12, 1895. Phillip grew up in a home at 4603 Oneota Street. He


Childhood home of Phillip Merritt

attended Denfeld High School for his freshman year and then attended a private school for the remainder of his high school years.  He began as a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1924 and completed an undergraduate degree in geology in 1928. Continue reading

Duluth’s bid to become headquarters of the U.N

In June 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization. They worked together to write the United Nations Charter, which the conference members approved on June 25, and on June 26, 1945, in a ceremony at the Veterans Building, all 50 representatives signed the Charter. Then, when the Charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries on October 24, 1945, the United Nations (then known as the United Nations Organization or UNO) officially came into existence. Continue reading

Riding Duluth’s Hills on Moving Sidewalks

The invention of moving walkways or sidewalks dates back to the late 1800s. An inventor named Albert Speer of New Jersey received the first patent for an “Endless-Traveling Sidewalk” in 1871. Speer planned to revolutionize transportation in New York City, but his idea was never adopted.


Scientific American, Jan. 16, 1892, p.1.

It wasn’t until the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago that one was built in the U.S. Continue reading

German Prisoners of War in Northeastern Minnesota

As World War II continued into 1943, some U.S. industries were experiencing shortages of workers. In Minnesota, the pinch was felt especially acutely in agriculture, food processing, and logging. Women and even children often stepped up to help with the labor shortage in agriculture and food processing. One notable local example was Life09274317-year-old Duluthian Shirley Armstrong, who appeared on the cover of the September 27, 1943, issue of Life magazine because she was working in corn fields near Fairmont, Minnesota. She and several other young women from Duluth were featured in an article about the Women’s Land Army.

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Alexander Miles

Users of early elevators were responsible for opening and closing the doors manually, and sometimes the doors were left open, creating a hazardous situation with the shaft exposed. As Andreas Bernard writes in his 2006 history of elevators:

. . .in the 1880s, manually operated or hinged doors. . .on each floor still frequently misled careless passengers wishing to enter the cab into opening them and falling into the shaft. (Andreas Barnard, Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator, p.31)

Duluthian Alexander Miles helped solve this problem by inventing an improved mechanism for opening and closing elevator doors when the car arrives at or departs the floor. This is just one accomplishment of this successful and creative businessman who lived in Duluth in the late 1800s and was thought at the time to be the wealthiest black man in the Midwest.

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Clinton F. Russell, 1895 – 1961, Blind Golf Champion

From the Duluth Public Library slide collection

Clinton Francis Russell was born in Duluth on October 8, 1895. His parents were Newell F. Russell and Isabelle J. Russell. Newell was born on a farm near Rush City, Minnesota, on July 16, 1869, and moved to the Duluth area in 1888. In that year, he founded, along with Henry Bridgeman, the Bridgeman-Russell Co. Isabelle came to Duluth from Michigan about 1890 and she and Newell were married in November of 1891. They had three children–Earl C., Clinton F., and Myrtle. They lived at several addresses in Duluth–309 Mesaba Avenue, 453 Mesaba Avenue (Munger Terrace), 5518 London Road, and 4440 London Road.

Clinton attended public elementary schools in Duluth and Duluth Central High School. In 1916, he began studies at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. At the outbreak of World War I, Clinton enlisted in the Army. Following the war, he returned to Syracuse to resume his studies. Clinton married Marion Ruth Jones, who went by Ruth, in Port Byron, New York, in 1920. They moved to Duluth and lived at 2132 East Fifth Street. Clinton worked at various jobs for the Bridgeman-Russell Co.

Clinton lost his sight around 1924 in an accident in which an automobile tire exploded in his face as he was repairing it. He didn’t play golf for several years after the accident, but tried it again when he was visiting relatives in California. He began playing at Ridgeview Country Club in Duluth and started taking lessons from the pro, Sammy Belfore. He began to count on his caddy teeing up the ball, adjusting his stance for direction, and lining up the club face. Some of his caddies at Ridgeview were Jim Koehler Sr., Dick Kohlbry, Bruce Schwartz, Jerry Weld, and Bob Hammerstrom.

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Millie Baker, 1887-1915, Opera Singer

Millie Baker in 1912 (Duluth News Tribune Sept. 1, 1912)

Amelia Baker was born in Minnesota in December, 1887. Her parents, either biological or foster parents (it’s not clear) were Alfred George Baker and Mary Ann Baker. Alfred was born in England in the 1840s. He immigrated to America around 1860 and fought in the Civil War on the Union side, serving in the 61st New York Infantry. He came to Duluth around 1880 and worked for years as a marine engineer. Mary Ann was born in Ireland about 1862. She came to America in 1874. She and Alfred lived in Duluth at 2209 Minnesota Avenue on Park Point.

Amelia, who became known as Millie, grew up in Duluth. She studied music under George L. Tyler, a local singer and voice teacher. As a child, Millie performed in many local programs and gained a reputation locally as a promising singer and actress. In March of 1904, she sang the contralto role of Frederic in a local production of Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon at the Lyceum Theater. Millie attended Central High School and is last listed in the 1904 Central yearbook with the class of 1907. She left Duluth in the fall of 1904 to study music in Chicago. By April of 1905, she was performing in New York, and in July she joined the Weber Musical Company; she later joined the Charles Frohman Company. On April 23, 1907, in New York, she was married to musician Alexander Oliver Lynch. On a visit to her parents in Duluth in August of 1908, she was interviewed by the Duluth News Tribune as Mrs. Oliver A. Lynch and asked about her stage career. According to the article, she was living quietly in New York where her husband was engaged in the advertising business. The writer quotes Millie: “Of course I love the stage…I hope to go back to it, although my husband is opposed to it.” She says, “Maybe I can do something to make dear old Duluth proud of me.” Continue reading