Mysterious Ruins on Duluth Lakewalk

Spring Jog Leads to Lakewalk Discovery

By Kyle Chisholm – City Tour Program Coordinator

Spring is a great time of year in Duluth – sunshine… warm weather… folks emerging from their winter hibernation to celebrate the changing season. It’s great to see so many people out enjoying Duluth’s trails and parks! I’ve been enjoying my morning jogs over the past few weeks of spring-like weather and I frequently run along the Duluth Lakewalk. It’s a great location for a run because the scenery (i.e., Lake Superior) allows the mind to wander off-shore while the body works out the kinks. But on one particular morning a mysterious set of ruins caught pulled my attention away from the lake and spurred my interest. After running past the ruins so many times, I decided to figure out their story.

Duluth Lakewalk Pump House Ruins

Related: Exploring Duluth’s History: Cascade Park

My first step was contacting the Duluth Public Library, via the online “Ask A Library” option. I provided a description of the ruins, the approximate location, and asked if there were relevant documents there that could help me figure out what this building once was. Within a couple days, I received a reply from Roseann Agriesti from the reference department. She thought that the ruins might be an old water pump station and cited a Duluth atlas from 1890. I decided to head on down to the library and examine the atlas for myself.

The Atlas of the City of Duluth by F.B. Roe from 1890 contained information about a building labeled: city water works – pumping station but there seemed to be a discrepancy between the pumping station description and the ruins I was investigating. The atlas placed the structure completely on land. I wasn’t sure this was correct because the ruins on the Lakewalk are on land and in the water. A pump house partially in water makes sense so I decided to continue my research. Subsequent atlases made the situation even more confusing, though. C.P. Frank’s 1902 Real Estate Atlas of Duluth did not label the building at all, while a 1924 Board of Realtors Atlas listed the structure as the former pump house.

Board of Realtors Atlas 1924

The 1892 Rascher Insurance Map Atlas of Duluth proved most helpful. First of all, I learned the official name of the structure – Duluth Gas and Water Company’s Water Works. As it turns out, this was a private company that also owned the old aquifer on top of the rocks between 10 and 11 avenues west. Rascher’s map also offered the best proof that this building was, in fact, the ruins I saw every morning during my Lakewalk jogs. The map has a line indicating a 30-degree slope towards the lake and a detailed drawing of the old pump house clearly shows it below the bluff line. These details suggested that the Duluth Gas and Water Company’s Water Works was built into the hillside… just like the ruins today. With these key details from the Rascher Insurance Map, I was confident I had solved the mystery.

Related: Exploring Duluth’s History: Incline Pavilion

Duluth Lakewalk Pump House Ruins

More About Duluth Gas and Water Company’s Water Works

So how much water did this pump house provide the city? According to the insurance map, the facility had 3 pumps of various sizes. The largest pump produced five million gallons per day, the second three million, and the smallest one million. I figured out the identity of the old ruins and identified its significance to the city but few questions still lingered… why did some atlases call it the former pump house omit the structure in their maps altogether? At what point did it shut down?

I learned from a city webpage that Duluth took over the water supply – which had formerly been a private enterprise – in the 1890s to help regulate contaminates in city water. At that time, typhoid fever was a growing concern and the old water works was drawing Duluth’s water supply a bit too close to where Duluth’s contaminates were entering the lake… not a great system for controlling disease outbreak!

Plans were drawn up in the mid 1890s to build the Lakewood Pump House – at a location on Scenic Highway 61. The new pump house would be much farther from the city center and its pollutants and therefore provide a cleaner and safer water supply for the city. The Lakewood Pump House opened in 1897 and the problem was solved. The older and smaller Duluth Gas and Water Company’s Water Works facility must have been shut down at that point, which is why is was no longer labeled on the 1902 atlas.

Satisfied with my sleuthing, I decided to go for another run… who know’s what I’ll find next?!

Duluth Experience Border

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1 Comment

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Sandy April 15, 2017

Very interesting. So much to uncover


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