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Duluth historian, author Maryanne Norton dead at 84

Maryanne Norton

If the question was about Duluth history, Maryanne Norton probably had the answer.

"If you walked into the library and you said, 'I live at 2831 E. Third St. ... and would like to know the history,' chances are she either had it on the top of her head or she'd start going through some research," said Dennis Lamkin, treasurer of the Duluth Preservation Alliance.

Norton, an author and researcher who for the past three decades turned her passion for history and preservation into telling Duluth's story, died on Tuesday morning of a brain aneurysm, said her son, John Norton. She was 84.

A native of Minneapolis, Norton graduated from the University of Minnesota with a master's degree in library science, her son said. She moved from Wausau, Wis., to Duluth with her husband, Daniel Patrick Norton, in 1988. The family has a cabin on Hungry Jack Lake off the Gunflint Trail, John Norton said, and the couple decided to retire in Duluth.

But Maryanne Norton, who had volunteered at the library and participated in preservation efforts in Wausau, picked up where she left off. She soon was volunteering in the reference section at the Duluth Public Library, her son said.

She was "smiling from ear to ear" on Monday, fellow historian and author Tony Dierckins said, when he handed her a copy of the latest book he co-authored, on Duluth's beer history.

Dierckins, publisher of Zenith City Press, met Norton when he was working on his first book, a compilation of historic Duluth postcards he named "Zenith." Later, they co-authored a book about former landmarks called "Lost Duluth."

She also co-authored "Images of America: Duluth, Minnesota" with Sheldon Aubut, Dierckins noted.

But whether her name was on the cover or not, Norton was involved in every book Zenith City put out, Dierckins said.

"Maryanne gave me an endless fount of stories that just keeps pouring out and pouring out," he said. "I would not be doing what I'm doing, I would not be who I am without Maryanne."

Norton also had been an author and co-author on historic-preservation subjects in Wausau, John Norton said.

Norton's passion for preservation began in Wausau, John Norton said, when she became involved in a successful campaign to preserve that city's Milwaukee Road Depot.

In Duluth, she was active with the Duluth Preservation Alliance in efforts to preserve such structures as the old St. Louis County Jail, the Pastoret Terrace building and the Armory. Norton provided the research and generally let others take the more public role, said Carolyn Sundquist, another local preservationist.

"She did not like confrontation, so Maryanne was not at the forefront of being a flag-waver," Sundquist said.

Norton would spend "hours and hours and hours" doing research for other people, Lamkin said.

"She was a gracious woman," he said. "She had grace and dignity always."

Norton and Pat Maus, longtime archivist for the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center, were the go-to sources when it came to the history of local architecture, he said.

"Between the two they were the goddesses of architectural history in the city of Duluth," Lamkin said. "They just had all the research."

Dierckins said Norton had battled illness in recent years but appeared in good health on Monday.

Said John Norton, "She went to bed Monday night happy, and just never woke up."

Maryanne Norton is survived by her husband and her son.

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