Tucked away from the bustling traffic of Mesaba Avenue lies the remnants of a once predominant park. All that remains are concrete walkways zigzagging up the steep terrain, a children’s playground and a bell tower-like structure at the top of the hill.
A young couple with their five small children poses for pictures alongside the rolling grassy hill, adorned with the few remaining maple trees. The park is empty, but the feeling of nostalgia lingers in the air: A time when this park thrived with picnics, families and a sandstone castle looking down upon the lakefront. Welcome to Cascade Park.
“It’s not what it used to be,” said Maryanne Norton, a volunteer historian at the Duluth Public Library. Norton is a writer of two books documenting Duluth’s past, trying to capture what places like Cascade used to be like in their prime era.
“I walk through the park now, and it’s kind of sad,” Norton said.
Located at Sixth Street and First Avenue West, Cascade Park was known as Duluth’s “downtown” park and was purchased by the city in 1869 for the lump sum of $34,000, according to a 1936 parks and recreation budget. The 49-acre plot of land sat undeveloped until 1895 when the building of a sandstone wall and pavilion was put into place. The design of the park drew attraction from all in the neighborhood.
Standing at the top of the park, the King Arthur castle like a tower rose over the landscape, allowing Clark House Creek to run through the structure, giving it the name “Cascade.” A waterfall flowed down over the rough stones, offering lush green space and pond area for fellow Duluthians to kick back and enjoy the view.
In 1897, a storm severely damaged the tower, crippling the park’s image. Clark House Creek would be diverted around and later under the park. Weather continued to wreak havoc against the park, making the glorious space fall into disrepair over the years, according to the book “Lost Duluth” by Zenith City Press.
If structural damages weren’t enough, the park was resized in the years to come by the expansion of Mesaba Avenue in the 1950s. As the years passed by, the Central Hillside community rallied together to try to restore the once blossoming park.
In 1974, residents joined forces with the Model City Administration as well as Housing and Urban Development, organizations that help fund public works projects, to reshape the park, according to a Duluth Budgeteer News article from 1974. The tower was replaced with a similar design, along with new benches, lights and a small children’s playground.
Some neighbors feel that regardless of the changes that have been done, the four-acre park will never feel the same as the original 49 acres.
“When it was bigger, a person went up there more often, but now there is nothing really you can do up there,” said Shirley Rose, who has been living next to Cascade Park for more than 60 years and witnessed the downfall of the park. “I don’t think since Mesaba Avenue was put there that it can be put back to what it used to be. I don’t know what else a person can do.”
For Duluth resident Kyle Chisholm, bringing awareness to the park’s downfall has gone digital. Chisholm’s Facebook group “Restore Cascade Park” tries to bring attention back to the park’s condition.
“I always knew where it was all my years growing up here but never realized it was once a fantastic park,” Chisholm said. “Initially, I started the group on Facebook with the idea to try and get local support to restore the park for the sake of restoring Duluth’s history.”
Chisholm said the cosmetics of the park are the main reason many no longer use the park.
“A lot of the sitting areas that would promote people from coming to use the place are missing or falling apart,” Chisholm said. “You compare them to other parks in the city, and well, they’re not pretty.”
“Improving the quality of the park can also improve the quality and perception of the neighborhood itself,” he said. “It’ll get more people down there again instead of constantly stigmatizing it.”