Duluth's granitoid roads inspired memorial park

There are a lot of hidden gems in the city of Duluth. One of these hidden gems is the Granitoid Memorial Park.

The park is located between Seventh Street and Eighth Street in a little triangle made by East Clover Street, Irving Place and East Seventh Street. Granitoid Park is dedicated to the streets around this area that model the first concrete roads in Minnesota.

Whether you’re just walking by or stopping to read the markers, it feels as though you are stepping back into the past at Granitoid Park. With roads that have been standing since 1910, making it 102 years through Duluth winters and traffic, it’s no wonder people say they don’t make things like they used to.

In 1908 a group of residents in Duluth petitioned the city to pave two streets in this neighborhood, according to a book by Charlene Roise entitled "Hess, Roise and Co." A year later, East Sixth Street was installed using the granitoid technique, and by 1910, East Seventh Street was installed, along with several other roads in the neighborhood.

The plaque at the memorial describes how the granitoid roads were made in five steps:

Step one: The road had to be excavated.

Step two: Macadam foundation was laid, which consists of crushed rock cinders or gravel, compressed to form a smooth, hard surface.

Step three: The concrete curbs were poured.

Step four: A five-inch-thick base of concrete was laid.

Step five: The wearing surface was added. This was a mixture of cement and crushed granite, but on the roads in Duluth, gabbro was used instead of granite. Gabbro is similar to granite in that it has a hard black stone that is commonly found in Duluth.

Before the last layer hardened, it was scored, and the surface was brushed so that it was not too smooth or slippery and could provide footholds for the horses’ shoes.

On August 28, 1909, the Duluth Evening Herald reported that property owners in the area were happy with the new granitoid roads. They also stated that the contractors, J. A. Johnson and Co. of Duluth, said the roads will “bear up well” under the harsh climate of Duluth.

Johnson was right. The roads stayed stable for more than 90 years before the wear and tear of Duluth weather, and it was the invention of automobiles that started to deteriorate the roads.

“After the Model T took over for horse and buggy, there was no need for the roughness,” said Carolyn Sundquist, member of the Duluth Preservation Alliance.

In 1959 the historical part of Duluth was recognized by the St. Louis County Historical Society, the Minnesota Historical Society, the Duluth Chamber of Commerce, the city of Duluth and the Portland Cement Association, according to "Hess, Roise and Co." The park then became Granitoid Memorial Park where the marker stands today.

On the 70th anniversary of the roads being paved, another marker was added to the park. At this time, the roads were the second oldest concrete pavement in America, with the oldest being roads in Ohio that were laid in 1892.

The local preservationists mentioned earlier also pushed to keep the streets after deterioration set in and successfully kept part of the original roads intact. The two-block piece of granitoid is still sitting on East Seventh Street between 26th Avenue East and Wallace Avenue, according to Zenith City Online.

This is also where you can find an oval brass marker, which Sundquist said has been there since the streets were made. When the city redid Wallace Avenue, the marker was moved closer to the park.

The roads have been there since the initial lay in 1910. Other pieces of the road had to be taken off because of the deterioration and were then put in place at the memorial.

According to Sundquist, the Duluth Preservation Alliance helped the city get a grant to pay extra costs to make new granitoid. The new granitoid now lies in the streets surrounding the park. Pieces were also taken from these roads and are now sitting in the park.

“There was a bit of a controversy,” Sundquist said. “The neighbors wanted the streets redone.” Yet, the Duluth Preservation Alliance pushed to keep them intact, which Sundquist calls “natural traffic calming.”

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