Perhaps no individual in the history of Duluth had such a dramatic influence on the port's infant development than Jay Cooke, a Philadelphia financier. Cooke's reign at the Head-of-the-Lakes was brief, but all-encompassing for commercial development.
One of Cooke's earliest achievements was bringing the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad from St. Paul to Duluth. The L.S. & M. had been chartered by the state in 1857, but it wasn't until after Cooke visited the area in 1866 that construction on the "paper" railroad began. The L.S. & M. was completed from St. Paul into Duluth in August 1870 with its terminus on the Lake Superior shoreline about six blocks to the right.
Cooke also financed construction of grain elevators at both ends of the railroad, beginning in 1869. Duluth's Elevator "A", the first of its kind in the Twin Ports, stood immediately adjacent to the railroad's terminus.
Cooke's influence was felt elsewhere in the community as he financed the city's first church and personally backed its first bank. Finding himself overextended at an inopportune time, however, Cooke's financial empire began to crumble when his own banks failed causing the Panic of 1873.
Perhaps Jay Cooke's greatest legacy to Duluth was his vision for the large natural harbor inside Minnesota Point. His financial backing, energy, and enthusiasm so revitalized the existing Minnesota Canal and Harbor Improvement Company that the Duluth Ship Canal was dug through the Minnesota Point in 1871 and dredging of harbor channels began soon afterward. It was construction of the Duluth Ship Canal with extensive subsequent federal improvements which so dramatically assured the eventual commercial success of Duluth-Superior Harbor as a world port.
This statue in Jay Cooke Plaza shows him in a relaxed manner holding his characteristic low crowned, broad brimmed gray hat and overlooking Lake Superior and the ship canal - a vision fulfilled - and a vision better understood in the late 1980's. Duluth citizens have forged the Downtown Waterfront Plan and Development Strategy and are dedicated to its success.
This informational marker is presented as a gift from St. Mary's Medical Center in celebration of its Centennial Year, 1888 - 1988
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