Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas
It's as far west as the salties can go. For those of you unfamiliar with
Great Lakes lingo, a salty is a saltwater ship, and you won't find one west
of Duluth-Superior. To those of us who live at the eastern end of the Great
Lakes, the western end may be relatively unknown. Every so often we'll explore
the shores of these five glacial souvenirs, and get acquainted.
Most lakes have fairly rounded contours. Lake Superior comes to a sharp
point at its western end, where Wisconsin snuggles cozily into the lower
curve of eastern Minnesota. That geography has shaped the history of two
towns; made then first rivals, and then partners.
Superior, Wisconsin, was the first. England's Hudson's Bay Company had an
outpost there as early as 1820, although an even earlier trading post at
nearby Fond du Lac, Minnesota, 67 years earlier, would one day become a
depot of the rival American Fur Company. Superior, formally settled in 1853,
under the tutelage of a bevy of eastern capitalists and politicians, a consortium
including Washington banker William Wilson Corcoran, Senator Stephen A.
Douglas and Congressman John C. Breckinridge, stepped out ahead. Momentum
increased when a military road to St. Paul, Minnesota, was constructed in
1856. Meanwhile, a rival had sprung up across the bay. Duluth, near Fond
du Lac, was also settled in 1853 but, with no friends in high places, had
only a population of eighty, seven years later. That changed when Philadelphia
financier Jay Cooke became interested in Duluth as a lake port for the shipment
of grain from nearby midwestern wheatfields to eastern markets. He was one
of the sponsors of a bill in Congress to make harbor improvements at Duluth.
And improvements were necessary. Minnesota Point, an eight-mile long spit
of sand, fifty feet in height, not only protected Duluth's harbor, but made
Superior closer to open water and therefore to shipping. When, in 1870,
the bill failed in Congress, Cooke founded the Minnesota Canal and Harbor
Improvement Company and began construction of a channel to sever Minnesota
Point, opening the Port of Duluth directly to Lake Superior. The town of
Superior, learning of the threat from their rival, sent representatives
to Leavenworth, Kansas, the nearest Federal presence, to obtain an injunction
against the project. The emissaries were successful and set off for home,
galloping across the landscape, injunction in hand. But they underestimated
the citizens of Duluth. Word of the legal prohibition raced ahead of them.
Every able-bodied man in Duluth grabbed a shovel or a pick, rushed out onto
the point, and completed the construction of the channel, hours before the
injunction was scheduled to take effect.
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.
© 1997 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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