Exploring Duluth’s History: Tischer Creek
Hidden Gem in Glensheen’s Backyard
By Kyle Chisholm
History Tour Program Coordinator
My latest adventure into Duluth’s history took me on a fantastic excursion to Glensheen’s Western Trail System. It hides in plain sight, and begins with a “bridge to nowhere”. You might know it…
The bridge I’m describing is located on the western side of the Glensheen estate overlooking Tischer Creek to one side and Lake Superior to the other. Countless Glensheen guests have taken pictures of it (myself included) and have perhaps wondered what purpose it serves… or served. For the Congdon family it provided access to a 2-mile trail system that followed Tischer Creek up from Lake Superior to Woodland Ave (see original map) – an area known today as Congdon Park and encompassing 38 acres of public land.
Designed and created by Charles W. Leavitt and A. U. Morell of New York, the same firm that landscaped the grounds of Glensheen during its construction, Congdon Park was donated to the City Duluth by the East End Land Company (which Chester Congdon owned) in 1905. The City then spent three years acquiring more land – ultimately establishing and naming the park in 1908. As part of the overall city park system, it featured quintessential elements of Duluth’s natural beauty: hillside creeks, forested riparian areas, and abundant wildlife. Only the lower section remained private property of the estate (colored gray on original map) and was accessed by the Congdon’s using the aforementioned bridge.
Across the bridge and to the left, meandered a trail that terminated at a rock dike overlooking Lake Superior – a favorite morning location for Chester. Turning right, the path followed the Tischer Creek, eventually passing through a tunnel under London Road, and continuing up the hill through the newly acquired public parkland.
Chester was quite proud of this rugged trail system, designed to be a gateway to the North Shore. It featured rustic bridges made from rock or wood, zig-zagging across the river, and staircases carved out of basalt. It was so important to him, that access to the trail system was made right inside the main gate of Glensheen. A staircase took guests down from the driveway, and led them into the wild. It was Chester’s intention to leave a lasting impression on the park’s guests, especially those visiting the area on business. That’s why many original photos and postcards of the estate are taken from the western side of Tischer Creek with the iconic stone bridge in clear view.
Interestingly, the bridge was such an amazing feature that it provided the inspiration for the iconic stone bridges on Seven Bridges Road and the Lester River Bridge (later paid for by Clara Congdon since the first section of Highway 61 out of Duluth, and its overall scenic purpose, was envisioned and started by Chester).
Besides impressing Chester Congdon’s business clients, there was another purpose to the trails. The trails provided access to the estate’s reservoir system. That’s right. The Congdon’s had a reservoir capable of holding 50 thousand gallons of creek water. Gravity supplied the pressure, pushing water down the hill to Glensheen’s gardens and the tile fountain in the Breakfast Room (a.k.a. The Green Room).
Unfortunately, a good portion of the western trail system between Glensheen and Superior Street is in disrepair due to erosion. Under the leadership of Glensheen Director Dan Hartman, Glensheen has begun restoring sections of the trail located on the estate. It’s his hope that restoration efforts will continue and the entire trail system will be connected someday. It will take some cooperation with private parties who now own sections of the trail, but it’s definitely achievable.
With permission from Glensheen, I walked as much of the remaining trail system as I could. It was quite an experience to sit out on Chester’s overlook and view the property from a new perspective. Sitting there, I wondered what Chester would contemplate when alone or what he would discuss with the guests he brought there. Continuing on, I passed through the tunnel under London Road -it’s concrete walkways still in place – and traversed solid rock staircases (sometimes choked with fallen trees, covered in moss, or isolated from erosion) along the creek. In that creek canyon, you’d never know you’re in the middle of Duluth. There is a distinct feeling of solitude and wilderness throughout the park. And, that was the exactly idea, which Chester probably envisioned with the park’s creation.
Tischer Creek is definitely a historic experience that Duluthians are fortunate to have.
Hopefully restoration will continue and deteriorating sections will be opened for walking once again. If that happens, be sure to bring a decent pair of hiking shoes and a walking stick and set our on your own walk through Duluth history.