Rail Roads: Economic Developments

Timber! While copper riches were not yet realized, the lumber industry’s potential was quickly and correctly recognized. In Duluth townsites lumber mills cropped up. Each of the townsites elected its own government officials. Some of the sites were so small that the entire population held an office- at times, men even held office in two or more towns!

Rail Road Rush After the Civil War, the Minnesota Legislature charted the Lake Superior and Mississippi River Railroad. From St. Paul to the Head of the Lakes a federal land grant of 960,000 acres of land was offered for the rail road. The railroad would connect the major transportation waterways of the Mississippi River and Lake Superior. Railroad promoters hoped to create towns along the route and transform Duluth into a major grain transshipment terminal.

1968- “The Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas.” Jay Cooke, the Philadelphia financier, financed the railroad in 1968- overnight the Lake Superior and Mississippi and settlements of Duluth became nationally prominent. Businessmen and politicians claimed that the railroad would send the region into utmost importance and Duluth would be “The Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas,” as journalist Thomas Foster extolled.

“The lifeless corpse of Duluth…touched by the wand of Jay Cooke, sprang full-armed from the tomb; Banning, Branch and James Smith Jr. [executives of the Lake Superior and Mississippi and promoters of an all Minnesota railroad] had won the good fight and henceforth the sun of prosperity gilded the lake, and your bluffs echoed and reechoed back the glad acclaim: ‘Minnesota has triumphed’!” -James J. Egan, state representative visiting Duluth in 1869.