Parks & Recreation

Jay Cooke State Park History

Jay Cooke

From Zenith: A Postcard Perspective of Historic Duluth, copyright © 2005, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota103

Jay Cooke State Park, located just south of Duluth on the St. Louis River, covers a region from Fond du Lac to Carlton, Minnesota (it is actually within Carlton County), and plays host to 223,000 visitors each year. Spanning both sides of the St. Louis River, the park’s beauty has been enhanced by eons of seismic activity and erosion, which has exposed the slate bedrock, creating stunning rock formations.

The park is named for Philadelphia financier Jay Cooke, whose investments in the area pulled Duluth and surrounding communities out of a depression in the 1860s. The park contains some land that was once owned by Cooke and at one time included a cemetery used for residents of Thomson, a nearby lumber town. (The cemetery was abandoned when Cooke gave his land to the state of Minnesota.)

In 1915 the St. Louis Power Company donated 2,350 acres for the park (additional land was added later), but it wasn’t until 1933 that the park really took shape, thanks in no small part to the Civilian Conservation Corps, which set up camp and constructed picnic sites, worked on soil erosion prevention, and built the park’s famous Swinging Bridge. The camp closed in 1935.
The Swinging Bridge spans a particularly rocky and narrow portion of the river where rapids run rough. The bridge’s pilons are made of native stone, and steel cables support the wood-and-steel structure. It is one of just two suspension bridges in all of Minnesota’s state park system. First built in 1933, it was reconstructed in 1939, when the CCC returned and set up camp once more.
That same year the CCC built the park’s River Inn, one of the largest buildings in the state park system. Like the bridge, the Inn and its accompanying water tower, latrine, and other structures are all made of logs and stone in the Rustic Style tradition.
In 1945 the state purchased another large piece of land for the park and has since added even more property to the site over the years; its original 2,350 acres have grown to 8,818.


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