The largest and busiest harbor on the Great Lakes is also the world’s most inland seaport. Well over 1,000 lake and ocean vessels call on the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior WI each year, moving 40 to 45 million tons of cargo. The harbor entry canals and breakwaters at Duluth and Superior along with more than 17 miles of dredged channels inside the harbor are maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers to keep traffic flowing safely. Entry lighthouses and dozens of buoys mark shipping channels. Each dock in the seaport is specialized for the type of cargo it handles. Bulk cargoes such as taconite pellets (iron ore), low-sulphur coal, grain, petroleum coke and bentonite clay are stockpiled and transshipped to US, Canadian and overseas ports. Limestone, cement, salt, and other products arrive here for distribution throughout the Midwest. Liquid, refrigerated, and general cargoes are handled at the Seaway Port Terminal. Multiple rail and highway connections make cargo distribution economical.
The aerial lift bridge, the symbol of Duluth, is an equal opportunity worker, raising as promptly for a 25 foot pleasure sailboat as it does for a huge commercial 1000 foot Laker. Originally built in 1905 Duluth’s most famous landmark rises dozens of times daily during peak shipping season. The first bridge, a type of span known variously as an aerial transfer, ferry, or transporter bridge, had a gondola with a capacity of 60 short tons and could carry 350 people plus wagons, streetcars, or automobiles. A trip across the canal took about one minute, and the ferry car moved across once every five minutes during busy times of the day. Needless to say it didn’t take too long for progress to make this bridge obsolete. Reconstruction began in 1929. In order to ensure that tall ships could still pass under the bridge, the top span had to be raised to accommodate the new deck when raised. The support columns on either side were also modified so that they could hold new counterweights to balance the weight of the lifting portion. The new bridge first lifted for a vessel on March 29, 1930. We had to cross the bridge to get to Lakehead Boat Basin Campground, conveniently located within walking distance of downtown.
We visited the Great Lakes Aquarium, a hands-on discovery center which encourages people to explore animals and ecosystems found in the Great Lakes and beyond; experience the geologic forces that shaped Lake Superior; watch as divers feed fish in a massive, two-story tank; raise and lower locks on a scale model of the Great Lakes; pilot a virtual ore boat under the Aerial Life Bridge and pet young sturgeon and freshwater stingrays.
We sailed around Duluth harbor and into Lake Superior on a Vista Fleet Sightseeing cruise. From the deck of the ship we saw the beautiful Central High School building, now a museum and administration building. Built in 1892 according to the plans of the architects Palmer and Hall, Duluth Central was considered "The Finest High School in the World." Built because of inadequate space in the old Washington Building, Central was famed not only for its grand clock tower, which could be seen for miles, but also for its wide halls, sweeping stairways with iron banisters, large chandeliers, and beautiful statuary. Many renovations took place in the next fifty or so years - until 1970. It was then that due to age and safety conditions the Duluth School Board decided it would have to build a new school to replace Central. They brought forth two bond issues, the second one was accepted and building was begun. In 1971 Duluth had a new school on top of the hill.
We walked the Lakewalk from Fitger’s to Leif Erikson Park. This beautiful park, along the shores of Lake Superior off London Road, is the site of a full-scale replica of a wooden Viking ship reminiscent of the type used by Norse sailors hundreds of years ago. A spectacular extension of Leif Erikson Park, Duluth's Rose Garden offers a beautiful arrangement of more than 3,000 rose bushes and other floral delights. There's also a fountain, a marble gazebo, an herb garden and plenty of benches overlooking the lake.
While walking around downtown, docked in the harbor was a Great Lakes cruise ship, the Yorktown. Passengers were boarding and the ship sailed that evening for Detroit MI. Renovated in 2009, the Yorktown was built in Florida in 1988 specifically for coastal cruising. 257 feet long, 43 feet wide, with a draft of 8 feet, the Yorktown is able to maneuver in secluded waterways and visit small ports that are inaccessible to larger vessels. And Yorktown’s American registry makes it possible to operate domestic itineraries unavailable to foreign-flag ships. In addition to a large sun deck, the Yorktown boasts a spacious lounge for social gatherings and lectures as well as quiet space for private conversation. Both the lounge and dining room are surrounded by large picture windows that afford unobstructed views of the passing scenery. The ship's cuisine, served in a dining room large enough to accommodate all guests at once, emphasizes American regional culinary traditions and specialties.
The federal government contracted to have Split Rock Light Station built in 1909. With its fog signal building and lighthouse, the keepers at Split Rock warned ships away from the rocky and treacherous North Shore. Commissioned in 1910 and decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1969 because of improvements in shipboard technology, the Split Rock light shone for 59 years over western Lake Superior. In 1971 the federal government deeded the light station to the state of Minnesota to be operated as a public historic site. In 1976 the Minnesota Historical Society assumed operation of the site. The Split Rock Lighthouse model made from Legos was built by Roy T Cook of Minneapolis in 2010. Roy is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota. And he is also a Master Lego Builder. This 1/10-scale model of the Split Rock Lighthouse required more than 20,000 individual pieces and more than 50 hours of work.
Gooseberry Falls State Park is just north of Two Harbors, MN. In 1933 the area was set aside as a preserve intended to provide the public with a park in the newly-discovered tourist area. Over the next eight years the Civilian Conservation Corps built a number of beautiful structures. The CCC boys were unmarried 18-24 year old men who enrolled for a period of 6-24 months. They earned $30 a month but only kept $5. The rest was sent to their parents to support their families.
The Two Harbors Light Station is the oldest operating light station in Minnesota, the light first lit March 15, 1892. Now operated by the Lake County Historical Society, the Lighthouse is listed as a privately owned navigational aide. Although the Coast Guard still operated the automated light signal at the end of the breakwater they no longer contribute to the maintenance of the lighthouse. The light, a 1971 aero-beacon, in the Lantern Gallery operates 24/7 and is maintained by a group of local men that rescued the beacon from a Coast Guard warehouse in Duluth. On the grounds of the lighthouse is the pilothouse of the Frontenac. On November 22, 1979, a cold and blustery day on Lake Superior, winds were gusting to more than 30 knots. While the Frontenac approached the loading dock at Silver Bay, a snow squall suddenly blotted out the landmarks and buoys. Blinded by the snow during a critical maneuver, the big ship ran onto Pellet Island Reef. She was floated free of the Reef two days after the accident, but the damage to the hull brought her career to an end. She was scrapped in 1985 and the pilothouse was brought to Two Harbors.
Our last day in Duluth was sunny but very windy. The Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center reported that a ship would be arriving in Duluth harbor at or about 4:30 PM. We wanted to see up close one of those big lakers go through the canal. We watched the ship approach the harbor then stop. It was too rough and windy. It was reported that the Laurentien would come in around 10 or 11 PM, much too late for us. And apparently she did because as we were leaving Duluth the next morning we watched her sail out.
While in Duluth we of course ate at Grandma’s, a Duluth landmark. And we sampled beer at Fitger’s Brewery, managed to avoid the popular Portland Malt Shop, but did eat at two of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives recommended restaurants-Northern Waters Smokehouse and the Duluth Grill. All yummy!