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Book covers Duluth's 150-year history

“Duluth: An Urban Biography" was released on April 15.

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Tony Dierckins is an historical archaeologist who digs into the past, unearths facts from our yesteryears and displays them for the public online and in books.

He’s comfortable researching and writing about events long since past in decades most of us have never lived through. But while working on his latest book, “Duluth: An Urban Biography,” he found it difficult to approach the city’s most recent history.

“My biggest challenge was writing about the past 25 years, when I’ve been an engaged resident of Duluth,” Dierckins wrote in an email to the News Tribune. “We don’t have the perspective of time to filter out what are the important aspects to cover. I enlisted a lot of help from others to try to identify the truly elemental issues and events that will be important to Duluth’s story when people read it years from now.”

The 192-page, 10-chapter book was released on April 15 and covers the gamut — from the days before Duluth was born right up to 2020.

Dierckins' latest book itself was born from a series of city histories that are in the works.

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“I was approached by Minnesota Historical Society Press and asked to write it,” said Dierckins, publisher of Zenith City Press (zenithcity.com) and author of a dozen books about Duluth and the Northland region. “They are publishing a series of ‘urban biographies’ of Minnesota’s four largest cities: Duluth, Rochester, St. Paul, and Minneapolis. Duluth is the first in the series and it is appropriate it is released in 2020 — Duluth’s 150th anniversary of becoming a city.”

Dierckins also wrote a series of articles on the city of Duluth’s 150 years for the News Tribune. The eight articles were published earlier this year and compiled into our quarterly magazine DNT Extra, which is included in this edition.

When it came time to dive into all things Duluth, Dierckins quickly found he had more to learn from the city’s recent history than from its distant past.

“I learned a lot about Duluth's last 50 years, which I haven’t studied as intensely as its first 100,” Dierckins said. “But the most surprising thing was the names on the 1925 and 1926 rosters of the Duluth branch of the Ku Klux Klan. They included members of Duluth’s police force and fire department, local religious leaders, teachers and members of the school board, and county and city officials — including two county commissioners and two city commissioners (city councilors today) as well as a future mayor.”

Even how he approached the book differed from past projects.

“Most of my books are deep dives into specific topics: the aerial bridge, the parks, architecture, beer brewing,” Dierckins said. “This was the first ‘general’ history I've attempted, covering Duluth’s entire history in about half the space of my other books. So instead of covering one subject in an expansive book, I am covering as much as I can in as few words as possible.”

The book’s chapters include:

  • “At the Head of the Lakes (1850-1869)”

  • “Expansion and Prosperity (1888-1910)”

  • “Decline and Adaptation (1956-1974)”

  • “Embracing a New Identity (1996-2020)”

Does any particular chapter stand out to him?
“I don’t really have a favorite chapter (I find all of Duluth history fascinating) but I did get to have fun busting myths and writing about the city’s idiosyncrasies — the things that to me make Duluth DULUTH.”

Rick Lubbers has been in his role since 2014 and at the News Tribune since 2005. Previous stops include the Superior Telegram (1999-2005) and Budgeteer News (1997-1999). Prior to that, he worked at the St. Cloud Times and Annandale Advocate in Minnesota, and the Greenville Daily News and Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. He received his journalism degree at Central Michigan University.
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