The discovery of iron ore on the Mesabi Range in 1890 turned Duluth into an international shipping port, and the U.S. Steel plant here added to the development of western Duluth. The steel plant eventually led to shipbuilding right here where our marina stands today.
Before World War I, Captain Alexander McDougall built ‘whaleback’ barges and steamers in Duluth and Superior that were used for bulk cargo and passenger travel on the Great Lakes. These steel vessels were forerunners of the current freighters on the great lake.
The port, the steel plant, and factories also brought an increasing number of foreign workers who settled the western parts of the city. The western riverfront was the location of two major company towns, Morgan Park and Riverside. Morgan Park was a village developed in 1913 for workers at U.S. Steel.
In 1917, the neighborhood of Riverside was developed along the riverfront between Morgan Park and West Duluth. It provided housing for workers at the McDougall-Duluth Company shipyards. At the time, World War I created a demand for ships, and Riverside grew to more than 1,000 people and had its own theater, clubhouse, and boathouse.
McDougall sold the shipyards to Julius Barnes, who renamed it Barnes-Duluth Shipbuilding. The shipyard stayed active between the world wars with non-government contracts while many other yards closed. It served the war effort again during World War II. It was one of the few in the country that produced nearly fully outfitted ships. Barnes sold it to Walter Butler in 1943 and it closed in 1945. The yard was located at the end of Spring Street, right where Spirit Lake Marina is today.
Our location on the St. Louis River Estuary is one with the unique history of large-scale wartime manufacturing that subsided to recreation on the leisurely river. Today there are only two buildings left standing from the original shipyard campus of over two dozen buildings.
In 2014, commercial boat building started at the marina for the first time in 70 years. We are proud to partner with Symphony Boat Company who has rekindled this site’s past, effectively joining the site’s two contrasting histories of industrial production and outdoor recreation.