We’ve been working on updates to our Boundary Waters canoe trip routes on our website for a number of years. It’s a
time consuming task and I have the tendency to want things to be perfect. What’s that saying, “Striving for perfection is the greatest stopper there is?” Well, I’ve decided to just get something down for each BWCAW route whether or not it’s perfect. I can always go back and edit the canoe trip routes at a later date, right?
The most recent BWCA route to be updated is the Rose Lake canoe trip via Duncan Lake and the Stairway Portage. Each Boundary Waters trip has a map, route description, short story and a brief history. Matt has been working on the map portion of the trip and then I go in and put photos in as I can find them.
I’ve shared the brief history portion below and if you’re interested in the full route description then check out the website.
Imagine sitting on the shores of a wilderness lake and hearing the sound of a train whistle in the distance. When the Gunflint Trail area was opened up for settlement in the 1800’s people began their journey inland from the shores of Lake Superior. They found towering pines, lakes teeming with fish and geological features that piqued their interest. Some who ventured here saw the beauty, solitude and peacefulness and decided to settle here. Others saw the tall trees and imagined making profits by harvesting and selling the lumber. And yet other folks saw the rocks and thought there might be gold or other minerals to mine and sell. But before any logging or mining could be done there needed to be a way to transport materials off of the Gunflint Trail and railroads were the answer.
The history of railroads on the Gunflint Trail is a little confusing because there were a number of them built by different companies for different reasons. Information about the railroads is somewhat sparse but this is what I have pieced together from a number of different sources.
Russell Alger and M.S. Smith both from Michigan decided to build a railroad in 1898 and name it the Duluth and Northern Minnesota, also known as the Alger-Smith line because it was owned by the logging firm of Alger, Smith and Company. The plan was to harvest timber and bring it from the Arrowhead Region to the Duluth area near the mouth of the Knife River.
The details are fuzzy but the line originally ended at Hornby. I believe Alger-Smith completed their logging and sold the line to the General Logging Company of Cloquet who dismantled the railroad and stored the steel at Hornby.
In 1926 the General Logging Company of Cloquet decided to build a spur trail from Hornby(the end of the Duluth and Northern Minnesota) to Cascade Lake. This spur was known as the General Logging Line and by 1929 it extended to Brule and Rose Lakes. The logging didn’t last long for a number of reasons including the Brule Lake Fire of 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression, the dropping of the lumber market and the poor quality of the pine. The company pulled up the steel lines between 1939 and 1941 ending the era of the railroad on the Gunflint Trail.