The Zenith City – Duluth, Minnesota

The temperatures in the Mid-West are unusually high for this time of year the local residents say and we have to agree. We did not expect to have such warm days this far north in June. It was forecast to be so oppressively hot west of us that we decided to stay longer in Duluth before we headed to North Dakota.

One of the ways to combat the heat is to be near Lake Superior’s shoreline. The breezes off the water can lower temperatures by as much as 20 degrees. Since Duluth is a port city, it is much cooler than other cities just few miles inland. We spent one of our final days in Minnesota exploring the city of Duluth.

Enger Park

Enger Park is just off the Skyline Parkway Scenic Drive, a 28 mile route with views of Lake Superior. Located on top of Grand Mountain, now called Enger Hill, this park offers spectacular views of the lake, the twin ports of Duluth and Superior, the canal leading into the harbor, and the city of Duluth.

Enger Park exists due to the generosity of Bert Enger, a Norwegian immigrant who achieved success in the furniture business. In 1920, he gave $50,000 to the city so that they could purchase 350 acres for a public golf course and park. He was very philanthropic and supported many projects in town. Upon his death, he left money in his will to build a lookout station, Enger Tower, and to develop the park and golf course. The city honored his wishes. Completed in 1939, Enger Tower is an 80 ft. tall, 5-story stone observation tower. This tower was dedicated on June 15,1939 by the Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway.

The tower is open to the public and has windows on each level that offer splendid views. At the top, you can walk around the tower for a 360 degree panoramic view of Duluth and the Twin Ports.

The park itself is lovely and there were many families picnicking and enjoying the cool shade. This is a favorite spot for weddings. In fact there was one taking place at the pavilion that has a stunning view of the city.

Within the park, there is a Japanese Garden with an American-Japanese Peace Bell, a gift from Ohara, Duluth’s sister city. This relationship began at the end of WWII when the U. S. S. Duluth decide to bring back a large bronze bell that was going to be destroyed to the U. S. The bell was placed in Duluth’s City Hall in 1949. Two years later a group of educators from Tokya spotted it and recognized it as being the temple bell from Ohara. The people of Ohara requested that the bell be returned to them and Duluth obliged. In 1989, Ohara requested that Duluth and Ohara become sister cities. Four years later the City of Ohara sent an exact replica of the bell to the City of Duluth and it was placed in Enger Park surrounded by a beautifully designed Japanese Garden.

The newest part of the Japanese Garden is a Zen Garden. We got to talk to Irina Haller, a volunteer who comes every Sunday to tend it. She is a native of Russia but has lived in Duluth for many years. She is very knowledgeable about Japanese gardens and has been to Japan nine times to study them. She learned how to tend them and to rake different patterns in the stones. She said that she is constantly having to educate people about the garden. She often finds snow angels in the garden when she arrives or toys that children have left behind. She calmly removes the items and rakes a beautiful traditional pattern in its place. It was such a pleasure to meet her and to learn more about Japanese gardens and Japanese culture from her.

Before leaving Enger Hill, we witnessed the first of three freighters as it left the Twin Ports. We were so excited because it is rare to have three ships pass through the canal in one day. It was amazing to watch the Paul R. Tregurtha, a 1013 ft. long cargo ship, navigate under the Aerial Lift Bridge, pass through the canal, and exit out onto Lake Superior. This cargo ship carries iron ore and it is the largest ship on the Great Lakes. To find out when ships will be arriving or departing as well as information about the vessel and its cargo, you can go to harborlookout.com. Be aware that times change frequently so you need to check the site often for the most up-to-date information. We wanted to take a closer look at these ships so we drove down to Canal Park.

Canal Park

Canal Park used to be an old warehouse district but now it has lots of restaurants, shops, and hotels. In addition, there is a 4.2 mile lake walk (it’s being renovated now and is currently closed to the public), a Maritime Museum, and an Aquarium. The main attractions, however, are the Aerial Lift Bridge and the Duluth Ship Canal.

The Duluth Ship Canal is a man-made canal that connects Lake Superior to the Twin Ports. Constructed in 1871, it has two 1,720 ft. long concrete breakwaters set 300 ft. apart. The passage is 245 ft. wide, 28 ft. deep, and a quarter of a mile long. Two lighthouses mark the location of the breakwater: the Duluth Harbor North Pier Light and the Duluth South Breakwater Outer Light. There is a third lighthouse, the Duluth South Breakwater Inner Light, that marks the other end of the canal near the Aerial Lift Bridge.(Yay, more lighthouses!)

Built in 1910, the Duluth Harbor North Pier Light is white with a black lantern. It is a 36 ft. tall and has a fifth order Fresnel lens with a range of about 13 miles. Since you can walk along both sides of the concrete piers, you can actually get to the lighthouse although it is not open to the public. According to an article in the Star Tribune dated May 14, 2021, the U. S. General Services Administration has stated that this lighthouse building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is no longer needed so it is eligible to be transferred at no cost to another public agency or non-profit organization. If it is not transferred, it will be sold.

On the other side of the channel is the Duluth South Breakwater Outer Light. First lit in 1901, it is 34 ft. tall and had a fourth order Fresnel lens that had a 15 mile range. Its creamy brick house and tower with a red roof make it a very attractive light. This one is also on the National Register of Historic Places for “being characteristic of early-20th-century harbor breakwater lights built around the Great Lakes.”

The Duluth South Breakwater Inner Light constructed in 1889 is not as picturesque as the other two lights nearby. It is a skeleton tower made of steel and cast iron. At a height of 68 ft., this light’s range is 17 miles and it is nearest to the port. Interestingly, two Duluth residents bought this lighthouse in 2008.

Aerial Lift Bridge

The most iconic landmark in Duluth is the Aerial Lift Bridge. The original bridge here was built in 1905 but it was converted to a vertical-lift bridge in 1929. Here are some interesting facts that we learned about the current bridge. The bridge’s span is about 390 ft. and it is raised on the hour and half hour to allow larger ships and sailboats to pass under it. It is raised more the 5,000 times a year and it takes about 3 minutes to lift it to its full height. It can lift to either 120 ft. or 135 ft. above the water. The bridge weighs 1,000 tons and it has two 500 ton counterweights that help to lift the middle deck. When a large vessel is entering the port, it will start to lift when the ship is 1.5 miles away. There are 12 cameras on the bridge and they record all the activity. If you want to watch a ship pass through the canal, you can view it on the harborlookout.com map.

While we were at Canal Park, we saw the Drawsko and the Algoma Mariner enter the port. There are two types of bulk cargo ships that ply the waters of the Great Lakes: the “salties” and the “lakers.” The “salties” are smaller ships even though they can be over 700 feet long. They are able to pass through the Saint Lawrence Seaway and out to the Atlantic Ocean. The “lakers” are larger ships and they must stay on the Great Lakes. Both types look gigantic when you are standing on the concrete piers along the canal. We were amazed by the enormous size of these cargo ships and by the speed at which they traveled through the canal.

Duluth usually has very moderate temperatures in the summer. The locals told us that Lake Superior is their air conditioner. In fact, many do not have air conditioned homes. The cool breezes off the lake, the views from Enger Park, the Canal with its lighthouses and Aerial Bridge, and the impressive ocean going ships made for a remarkable and memorable day.

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