Adelie Bergstrom is off this week, so she asked me to fill in to answer a question that comes from the News Tribune newsroom: Why does Duluth have two Wadena streets?
Roadway names are a challenge for those of us who research Duluth’s history, especially when we dig back beyond 1900.
You see, modern Duluth is a collection of 1850s townships and suburbs developed primarily in the 1880s and early 1890s, most annexed by 1896. Their roadways were platted and named without following a comprehensive plan.
Many of the communities first named their roadways for trees, the Great Lakes, Native American tribes, U.S. states and Minnesota municipalities. Consequently, there was a great deal of duplication leading to many road name changes, most in the 1890s.
Much of this duplication was eliminated when names were changed to conform with Duluth’s road numbering system. For example, Oneota and Endion townships both named avenues after U.S. states, and the streets of Park Point and Rice’s Point were named for tree species. All follow the numeric system today.
So, the short answer: Duluth has two Wadena streets — one in Woodland and one in West Duluth, because both were platted before they became part of Duluth, and the duplication was apparently overlooked in the 1890s.
Woodland’s Wadena Street, just a block and a half long between St. Paul and Allendale avenues, is named for a Minnesota city, as are most of the neighborhood’s other roads. (The city and county of Wadena were named to honor a late 19th century chief of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.)
West Duluth’s Wadena Street, named for the county, runs between Mike Colalillo Medal of Honor Park and 54th Avenue West. Another two-block segment of the street sits between 57th and 59th avenues west.
The duplication was ignored until 1914, when Mayor William Prince suggested that the West Duluth roadway should be renamed to avoid confusion.
The West Duluth Commercial Club objected, fearing the change would hurt businesses along Wadena Street. Many local homeowners also didn’t like the idea, some claiming West Duluth essentially had “dibs” on the name.
But were they right?
Woodland was platted in 1890, and Duluth annexed it in 1891. While West Duluth was platted in 1888, it wasn’t annexed by Duluth until 1894.
So, both neighborhoods could argue they had the name first: West Duluth’s Wadena was christened earliest, but Woodland’s Wadena officially became a Duluth street three years before West Duluth’s.
In the end, the commercial club found “such a divided sentiment that it was unwilling to make a recommendation,” the News Tribune reported. The mayor dropped the issue, and today Duluth still has two Wadena streets.
Newspaper coverage of the Wadena issue exposed other road name duplications. In 1914 Duluth had two Walnut streets, two Grandview avenues, two Robinson streets and two Park avenues, conflicts that have since been resolved.
The newspaper also mentioned that West Duluth residents were even more conflicted about Third Street, which becomes Grand Avenue at 34th Avenue West (and changes to Commonwealth Avenue as it enters Gary-New Duluth; much of it is also Minnesota Highway 23 if you are keeping score).
West Duluthians felt the contiguous roadway should have one name — but again couldn’t agree on a change, so nothing happened.
The city didn’t give neighborhoods a choice when it came to Superior Street, stretches of which east of Eighth Avenue East were once Bench Street, Birch Street, Cambridge Street and Grand Avenue East. Its far western segment, originally part of Oneota Township, was first called Halifax Street.
There are many more examples of street name changes that make historic research difficult. Mesaba Avenue? Until 1894 it was known as Piedmont Avenue East. Before 1891 Superior Street east of Eighth Avenue East to 21st Avenue East followed the path of today’s London Road.
And, of course, today many roads share the same name, distinguished by “street,” “avenue,” “road,” etc. This is less of a burden to historians than it is for pizza delivery and Uber or Lyft drivers.
Tony Dierckins is the publisher of Duluth’s Zenith City Press and the author of a dozen books tracing Duluth’s history; discover more Duluth history at zenithcity.com. What do you wonder? Have an idea for a story? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NorthlandiaDNT.