Descendant dips toe in Duluth’s past | Duluth News Tribune


Edward Martin recreates the 1927 photograph of his grandfather George W. Martin at the Skyline Parkway memorial to Duluth Mayor Samuel Snively. Steve Kuchera /


The white, wide-brimmed fedora was found at Target by his wife. The dark sport coat was just hanging in his closet, what he wears when he has to dress up.

Ordinary duds, but extraordinary the moment Edward Martin put them on last week to climb carefully atop a fieldstone memorial along Skyline Parkway, just west of Spirit Mountain. He pushed his toes to the edge of a small reflecting pond there — just like his grandfather, dressed similarly, had done 91 years ago for a photo etched into Duluth history and about to become part of a roadside historical marker.

“I never met my grandpa. This is perhaps the closest way I could get to him, to do something he did. He stood here. Now I stood here,” Martin said after recreating the old picture. “This is a place of real peace. It is. It’s a reflection. I feel it when I come here, this enormous gift that my grandfather gave.”

Martin’s grandfather was George W. Martin, who made his fortune in Duluth felling trees and running the Martin Timber Co. Martin Road is named for him. He and his wife Olive Martin donated the 21 acres west of Spirit Mountain where the memorial was built in 1927. It’s just a few paces from the famous fieldstone Stewart Creek Bridge, built the same year to carry parkway traffic over the ravine, its sawtooth railings among Duluth’s architectural gems.

The memorial, not much larger than a bus stop and with a bubbling, boulder-framed waterfall at its heart, was created as a tribute to Duluth’s longest-serving mayor, Samuel Snively, “Duluth’s grand old dad,” as his gravestone at Sunrise Memorial Cemetery immortalizes him. Snively served from 1921 to 1937 and often is credited for founding Skyline Parkway, the brainchild of William K. Rogers, Duluth’s first parks board president. Snively used his own money to build what’s now Seven Bridges Road at the eastern end of the hilltop scenic drive that attracts and thrills visitors and Duluthians alike to this day.

Horribly, over the years, however, the memorial to Snively was neglected. It was forgotten, was allowed to become overgrown, and then was lost in woods and underbrush that slowly but most definitely swallowed it up.

Only a bit of its bluestone retaining wall caught sunlight the summer day in 2003 when Doug Stevens and others from the Skyline Planning and Preservation Alliance rolled past. They somehow noticed it, though, and were instantly intrigued.

“It was all woods,” Stevens recalled last week. “We didn’t know what was here.”

They were quick to find out and thrilled by what they found. About Martin. About the memorial to Snively. And about F. Rodney Paine, Duluth’s parks superintendent under Snively from 1926 to 1937, whose collection of photographic negatives housed at the library at the University of Minnesota Duluth contained the image, made in 1927, of George W. Martin toeing the memorial’s pond.

The memorial and nearby Stewart Creek bridge, both heavily damaged in the 2012 flood, were restored by 2014 with $800,000 from the federal Scenic Byways program and $300,000 in state aid and bridge bonding money.

On Monday, an interpretative sign is to be dedicated at the memorial, a well-deserved and long-overdue re-tribute to Snively — and to George and Olive Martin who “were so impressed with Snively’s work on the city parks and Skyline Parkway that they wanted to memorialize his accomplishments,” as the marker reads.

Much of the marker features that historic photo of George W. Martin, the image recreated last week by his lookalike grandson, a retired nurse and classical musician whose birth in 1949 came nearly two decades after his grandfather’s death.

“It’s a family thing for me, nostalgia, just the fact that nearly a century later I’m standing in the same spot dressed the same. I do have feelings,” Martin said. “I always wanted to meet him.”

In a way he did last week. Connected with him certainly. The same way Duluth now can reconnect with a piece of its past, newly rediscovered just west of Spirit Mountain.

If you go:

What: The dedication of a new historical marker the memorial to Mayor Samuel Snively

When: 3 p.m. Monday

Where: The memorial is on Skyline Parkway west of Spirit Mountain

Who: The public is invited to attend; the event is hosted by the Duluth Preservation Alliance

Parking: The Magney Snively parking lot is just west of the memorial on the other side of the Stewart Creek Bridge