Women's group shines light on tiny park's hidden history
Among the many parks that dot Duluth, tiny John Jacob Astor Park in Fond du Lac, on the far western edge of the city, isn't a popular one. "Ninety-nine percent of people don't know it exists," said lifelong New Duluth resident and historian Jerom...
Among the many parks that dot Duluth, tiny John Jacob Astor Park in Fond du Lac, on the far western edge of the city, isn't a popular one.
"Ninety-nine percent of people don't know it exists," said lifelong New Duluth resident and historian Jerome Blazevic.
But there probably isn't a more historically significant strip of grass in the city.
The small park -- 40 feet wide by 120 feet long -- marks the location of a former Ojibwe village, as well as a fur trading post first built on the spot in 1793. In 1816, Astor's American Fur Co. built a new trading post on the land of the present-day park. Its location on the St. Louis River helped connect trade to Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.
To highlight the park's history, 10 women -- all but one member of Duluth's Daughters of Liberty -- met Saturday morning at the park at 133rd Avenue West and West Second Street. The Daughters of Liberty is a chapter of the national Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR. To belong to the Daughters of the American Revolution, members must trace their ancestry back to someone who in some way took part in America's Revolutionary War.
After owning the park for 85 years in conjunction with the Greysolon du Lhut DAR chapter, the two groups gave the park to the city of Duluth this fall.
The former owners are asking that the city rename the park Historical Park, and certify it as a city historic landmark.
"We got to thinking, maybe, because of its historical value, it should become one of the parks the city should have and be proud of," said Mary Evans, past regent of the Daughters of Liberty.
In addition to the trading posts that once occupied the land, Indian lodges were located on nearby Nekuk Island during the fur trade era as well.
"More fur went through here than ever went through Grand Portage," Blazevic said.
In 1826, Michigan Gov. Lewis Cass and Thomas L. McKenney, representing the federal government, signed the first treaty in Minnesota with the Ojibwe, granting the right to "search for and carry away" minerals from the area.
And in 1834 Rev. Edmund F. Ely established a mission school there among the Indians.
All that stands at the park now are a flagpole, a stone bench placed there in 1932 by the Daughters of Liberty and Greysolon du Lhut chapter, and a plaque on a granite boulder from Jay Cooke State Park.