We learned last month that Howard Gnesen Road is, in fact, not named for Howard Gnesen.
The road, a continuation of Kenwood Avenue as it leaves Duluth heading north, in fact carries two separate names, we learned.
“Howard” is the Howard family, early Duluth settlers who operated sawmills and other industry in the Twin Ports.
This begs an obvious question.
Ronald asks: “I remember decades ago when a television reporter who was doing reports on the origin of place names in Duluth tried to find out who Howard Gnesen was but could not find out anything about his identity. You have done better by describing Howard Gnesen Road as labeled with two last names but without the hyphen. So, who was Gnesen?”
Ahhh, Ronald — I never said it was two last names!
For Gnesen and its namesake township, that name is not a question of “who,” but “where.”
Various sources give various dates for Gnesen Township’s founding, but it was in the 1860s and 1870s that Polish settlers came to the area. The township was organized in 1879, according to Walter Van Brunt’s 1921 book, “Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota; Their Story and People.”
The township was named for the Polish city of Gniezno, which in turn takes its name from the Polish word for “nest” — gniazdo. “Gnesen” is the German spelling.
The Polish settlers who came to Gnesen built a log church in 1876 and called it St. Joseph’s, which anchored a small town center for decades. A new church building was completed in 1900 and has been remodeled and added to several times since.
While the church remains, most of the town center has disappeared — a casualty of fires in 1918 and 1922, the latter of which claimed the town’s schoolhouse, Heidi Bakk-Hansen wrote for Zenith City Online. During this time, many Gnesen residents also gave up a tough life of farming and moved to Duluth, she wrote.
Today, about 1,750 people call Gnesen Township home. I wonder how many of them are named Howard.
The mill site
Thanks to everyone who wrote in, shared pictures or got in touch on social media to tell me about an old sign declaring the site of the old Howard sawmill. I very much appreciate your feedback (and sleuthing!), and I’ve learned a lot from you over the course of this column.
I didn’t mention the sign in last month’s column about the mill because, as far as I can tell, the sign isn’t accurate.
We haven’t been able to pinpoint the mill’s exact location, more than 100 years ago now. The best description of location I could find came from Van Brunt’s 1921 book, which offered a township, section and range location (“section 25, T. 51, R. 14”) placing it farther north along Eagle Lake Road, between Riley and Tischer roads.
The old sign gives us a general idea of where the sawmill once stood, but not an exact site.
Be well and stay safe, friends.
Adelie Bergstrom is a freelance columnist and a former News Tribune reporter. What do you wonder? Send in your questions! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.