Before Canal Park, Enger Tower or the Glensheen Mansion earned their spots on Duluth’s map, Skyline Parkway was the city’s grandest attraction.
Standing 500 feet above Lake Superior and stretching 25 miles across Duluth, this impressive road has withstood the test of time since construction began on the first stretch in 1889. On July 31, Skyline Parkway will reach its 125th anniversary and Duluth is invited to celebrate at Chester Bowl, the site where the first few miles of the parkway began in the 1890s.
“We call it ‘Duluth’s first tourist attraction.’ It was here 13 years before the Aerial Lift Bridge,” said Doug Stevens, a member of the Duluth Preservation Alliance and Skyline Parkway historian. “They were writing history about Skyline Parkway before the Aerial was even built.”
The idea for Skyline Parkway was presented to the Duluth City Council in 1888 by William Rogers, the city’s first park board president. Under his leadership, the first 5-mile stretch of the parkway was completed, running between present day Chester Bowl and Lincoln Park. At the time, people often participated in Tally-ho parties, in which they would ride their carriages along the parkway for an entire day. It was on a Tally-ho re-enactment in 2004 that the Skyline Parkway Preservation Alliance came across the overgrown and long-neglected monument to Mayor Samuel Snively on the west side of the parkway.
“We cleared away the brush and discovered a rock wall. I did some research at the parks department and found out what it was. It was called Snively Park,” Stevens said. “No one would have ever known if we hadn’t done that carriage ride.”
Snively Park was built in 1927 in honor of Mayor Snively who was instrumental in a large part of Skyline Parkway’s expansion. According to documentarian Mark Ryan, Snively’s first promise as mayor was to make Duluth the most beautiful city in the Northwest, and he planned to do so through the park system that William Rogers had begun. Snively aided in the addition of 22 miles to the parkway. Perhaps his most well-known addition is that of Seven Bridges Road, for which Snively donated 60 acres of his own land to build. Upon the road’s completion, he gave it to the city of Duluth to be part of Skyline Parkway. By the end of Snively’s four mayoral terms, the parkway was drawing attention from the entire country.
“(Skyline Parkway) was a very insightful project. One that probably not many civic leaders would pursue,” said Bill Majewski, a former Duluth city planner. “It took a long time to do it, but those who worked on it believed in the value of it.”
Although the city has grown and changed, Skyline Parkway remains a defining landmark to many. However, Stevens said that the parkway isn’t treated with the respect that it used to be, and that he hopes people will start to take more ownership of the parkway, as it has been passed down for over a century.
“We were given, by all the pioneers who built this parkway and our parks, the green space for us to enjoy yet today,” Stevens said. “They had the foresight to save it, and I think that is the biggest accomplishment of the parkway and the park system.”
To commemorate Skyline Parkway’s 125 years, Stevens has coordinated a celebration on Sunday, July 31, from 1-3 p.m. at Chester Bowl. Those in attendance are encouraged to pack a picnic lunch, cake and ice cream will be provided. Aside from musical performances, there will be guest speakers at the event to discuss the history of Skyline Parkway, as well as the future of it.
“We have to keep telling these stories, otherwise it’s going to get lost,” said Stevens. “We have to talk about Rogers and Snively. People need to know the history.”
Written by Ryley Graham as published in the Duluth Budgeteer