About Downtown Greater Council

History of Duluth

Earliest Inhabitants

Members of the Sioux and Ojibway tribes were the original occupants of the area, but in the 1600s, French explorers discovered what the Native Americans knew all along - the area was brimming with fur-bearing animals. Soon Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut arrived in an attempt to make peace between the Ojibway and Sioux in hopes of securing trading and trapping rights. His efforts earned him the opportunity to be the city’s namesake: du Lhut!

Rising to the Top

By the latter half of the 19th century, Duluth was rising to its zenith. The city boasted the only U.S. port accessing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, making it easy for the rest of the nation to tap into the area’s rich lumber, ample wheat and expansive ore mining opportunities. The arrival of the railroad was the puzzle piece that brought this zenith into full view, transporting people, products and prosperity.

In 1869, Duluth was the fastest growing city in the United States, and it was on track to becoming the largest city in the Midwest. Unfortunately, in 1873, a stock market crash made it seem like the city would simply disappear from view altogether.

Yet, this “zenith city of the unsalted seas,” so coined by the city’s first newspaper, would get another chance. By the turn of the century, population neared 100,000 thanks to the marriage of rich natural resources and viable transportation. Duluth was home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation - some say the world.

Boomtown Rebirth

The National Park Service designated a large portion of downtown buildings as a National Historic Register District. The buildings represent significant commercial adaptation of architectural styles popular during the district’s period of significance (1872-1929), including Romanesque, the Revival Styles and vernacular commercial modes.

The historic designation gives property owners the opportunity to tap into federal preservation tax credits if they are looking to rehabilitate their structure. Duluth has three additional historical districts and numerous individual listings that appear on the National Register such as the Aerial Lift Bridge, Hartley Building and Irving School.

A three-mile climate controlled Skywalk makes maneuvering the downtown easy and even allows pedestrians to stroll to Canal Park safely protected from the bustling interstate. In Canal Park, once-tired warehouses are filled with a serendipitous array of shops, pubs and restaurants. Here, you can step onto the three-mile Lakewalk, which offers a chance to walk, run or bike alongside the breathtaking Lake Superior scenery.

Future Improvements in Historic Downtown

Studies on the downtown commercial district have helped city leaders find direction in their plans for civic improvements. Parking, safety, accessibility and downtown housing opportunities are the hot topics being addressed.