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Trolley Cars to the Rescue

Trolley Car
February 3, 2020

First normal school class is provided with an easy commute.

A history document, A Chronology of UMD Events, written by Clarence Anderson, a former UMD news service director, tells an early story. Before the first State Normal School at Duluth (Duluth Normal School) student set foot on campus, a new trolley car line was laid. The tracks went up the hill on 24th Avenue East from Superior Street to Fourth Street, allowing the future students access to campus.

home at 24th Ave East and First Street was built in 1911, just five blocks from Old Main. The trolley car tracks and overhead lines are clearly visible in the photo.

This home at 24th Ave East and First Street was built in 1911, just five blocks from Old Main. The trolley car tracks and overhead lines are clearly visible in the photo.

Getting the Students to Class

Anderson's document described the bareness of the neighborhood, "There were no paved streets or avenues in the vicinity... A boardwalk was laid over the muddy ground from the street car to the school." The students came from all over, including the large residential area in the western part of the city. It wouldn't be until 1906 when the first dormitory, Washburn Hall, would be built.

On a map an arrow points to the four-block stretch of trolley car line that was laid on 24th Avenue East in 1902. This section connected the existing Superior Street line and the Fourth Street line, specifically to serve the Duluth Normal School.

In the map above, an arrow points to the four-block stretch of trolley car line that was laid on 24th Avenue East in 1902. This section connected the existing Superior Street line and the Fourth Street line, specifically to serve the Duluth Normal School. 

The First Buildings

After finally securing financing from the legislature for a Duluth Normal School building, work began in 1900. Tragically, before it was completed, the building was destroyed by fire in February, 1901.

The state normal school board did not waver and their building committee began rebuilding, with the assistance from the City of Duluth for water supply, sewer, and gas mains. According to the Board of Education reports, the building had, "grounds graded, concrete floors laid in the basement,... the structure equipped with furniture, and the school was opened in a successful manner with a good attendance for occupancy on September 2, 1902."  

The First Class

It took Dr. E. W. Bohannon, the first Duluth Normal School president, more than a year to gather that inaugural class. Beginning enrollment was 91 young women and the faculty numbered 10 members.

First graduating class of the State Normal School at Duluth

The first seven graduates of the Duluth Normal School.

Transportation helped. In addition to the future teachers, elementary school children had to get to their "laboratory classrooms" at the Duluth Normal School. "There were few residences within walking distance, and many elementary school children came by horse-drawn bus or by horseback," wrote Anderson. "Occasionally a stray cow would be attracted to the new lawn, only to be rounded up and impounded at the rear of the building."

Some of students brought in credits from other schools, so in June 1903, the Duluth Normal School was able to see seven women graduate. The success of the first graduates and the new school is certainly due, in part, to those first four blocks of trolley car tracks and the Duluth Street Car Railway.

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The banner photo above shows one of the new trolley cars purchased in 1902 for the expanding street car system. The photo is included in the book Twin Ports by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Duluth-Superior by Aaron Isaacs. The upper center photo is in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society and is also included in the book Twin Ports by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Duluth-Superior by Aaron Isaacs. The lower center photo is from Map Detail of the "Map of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin showing lines of the Duluth Street Car Railway." 1911. Collection: Wisconsin Historical Society.  The quotes in the story came from A Chronology of UMD Events: 1895-1984, a document written by Clarence Anderson, University Relations Representative, and added by other UMD staff members. Both the Chronology and the bottom photo are used with the courtesy of the Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

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