Point of Rocks is Duluth’s ‘urban wilderness’

On a chilly October afternoon, a massive, black outcrop hovers over the world driving by.

“Is this a rock or a bunch of rocks?” asked Paul Lundgren while observing the cars passing below him. “I don’t know. But I can tell you that what we are standing on right now is definitely Point of Rocks.”

Below Lundgren, president of the website Perfect Duluth Day, West Superior Street and I-35 bend around the jutting rock he stood upon. Being a longtime history buff from the west end of Duluth, Lundgren knew what Point of Rocks used to be and what it isn’t today.

“Here’s your cultural divide,” Lundgren said.

Point of Rocks used to be the “bone of contention” among Duluthians, for it once symbolized the division between east and west and cut the city in two, according to a 1926 Duluth Herald article.

Overall decreasing as the city expanded, Point of Rocks endured many changes in the late 1800s all throughout the 19th century. Initiating the removal of rock from Point of Rocks were citizens fearful of hazardous falling rock and businessmen wanting the downtown district more accessible from the west.

“Pieces are constantly falling on the sidewalk and, though not very large, yet would be apt to kill a person if it fell on him. The place is actually dangerous,” read the Duluth Daily News from April 7, 1892.

Not long after, the blasting began: 200 pounds of dynamite broke up more than 2,000 feet of solid rock. Rock removal for roadways stretched from where the base of Mesaba Avenue meets West Superior Street at 8th Avenue West to 14th Avenue West.

The city of Duluth devised many plans to have the entire Point of Rocks removed. But, due to the large amount of money needed to demolish the massive outcrop, the city would instead tackle sections of the rock wherever needed.

“This is just a stubborn rock that wouldn’t budge,” Lundgren said. “It stood in the center of progress, and try as they might to blast it down and carve it out, they couldn’t. By the time this freeway (I-35) went in, there was no reason to bother anymore.”

The latest removal occurred on Sept. 13, 1998. The Duluth News Tribune article reported that Point of Rocks would undergo a blast once again to remove dangerous, unstable rock.

Although most efforts concerning Point of Rocks were about blasting it away, some efforts made by community members were about beautifying the rock.

At the time when Mount Rushmore was near completion in 1939, the famous sculptor of that monument, Gutzon Borglum, visited Duluth on Oct. 13. That day, Borglum examined Point of Rocks to decide if a sculpture could be made of the city’s founder, Sieur Greysolon Du Lhut, according to a Duluth Herald article from the following day.

However, an Oct. 28, 1939, article from the Duluth News Tribune informed Duluthians that Borglum found Point of Rocks unsuited for a monument due to the rocks resilience and the city’s harsh climate change.

“I suggested they make a sculpture of Elvis,” said Jim Heffernan, a semi-retired journalist and lifelong Duluth resident.

As Heffernan recalled Elvis being in Duluth just a few months prior to his death, he also expressed his earliest memories of Point of Rocks.

“I was born in 1939, and I remember taking the bus with my mother past Point of Rocks,” Heffernan said. “I can’t begin to tell you how huge it loomed in the eyes of Duluthians 50 years ago. It was really regarded as the land of demarcation.”

Now, Heffernan interprets Point of Rocks as a faded landmark. Over time, the line that once defined socioeconomics in Duluth became ambiguous and allowed the city to be together as one.

“I would say that it’s healthy for Duluth,” Heffernan said. “In more modern times, Duluthians don’t think in terms of East and West as much as they once did.”

Moving away from the cultural divide, Point of Rocks can now be looked a lot differently than it once was.

“A 120 years ago the whole focus was ‘how can we mow down all of these trees?’ and ‘how can this be the new Chicago?’” Lundgren said. “Only when we failed at destroying Duluth did we re-envision it as something else.”

Today, Point of Rocks is utilized as one of the city’s many aims at branding itself as an “urban wilderness.”

Currently, a section of the Superior Hiking Trail goes through Point of Rocks, and the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS) new mountain biking trail, the Duluth Traverse, will pass through the historic site upon its completion.

Many rock climbers utilize Point of Rock for its easy, accessible climbs. It’s a great place for beginners to practice before making their way up the North Shore to Palisade Head.

“I don’t think the average person in Duluth thinks of Point of Rocks as anything anymore, or even knows that it’s called Point of Rocks,” Lundgren said. “Today, it’s a living reminder of the wilderness of Duluth.”

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