Parks & Recreation

Skyline Parkway History


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

The twenty-eight-mile roadway known as Skyline Parkway sits almost five hundred feet above Lake Superior and stretches along a ridge which was—thousands of years ago—the beach of Glacial Lake Duluth. The road once reached from Occidental Boulevard (Seven Bridges Road) along Amity Creek near the Lester River all the way into Jay Cooke State Park. It can still be accessed at Occidental and East Superior Street, but now terminates in the west where it intersects with Becks Road near Gary-New Duluth.

The parkway was first imagined by William K. Rogers, president of Duluth’s first park board, and was presented to the Duluth City Council in Skyline Parkway: “An absolutely perfect road, graded & macadamized 1888. By 1900 it was only five miles long. During the 1920s, Mayor Sam Snively—dedicated to making Duluth “the most beautiful city in the Northwest”—saw to it that the roadway was extended. The mayor had already built Seven Bridges Road with private funds. By 1927 the parkway ran to Jay Cooke State Park and in 1929 it was named Skyline Parkway. (Before that, the road had been named Carriage Drive, Rogers Boulevard,  and Terrace Parkway.) In 1935 Snively began work to connect Skyline to Seven Bridges Road, a task that would not be completed until 1939, two years after he left office.

Today, much of the parkway is interrupted by larger thoroughfares that took priority over a leisure route. Starting at Spirit Mountain and heading west, the road remains unpaved. One of its original stone bridges can be seen along this stretch, which features a stunning view from Bardon’s Peak.

Perhaps the highest praise for the parkway came from Chicago Landscape Engineer Olaf Benson, who said, “I have seen nothing approaching it in this country, or in foreign lands in all my experience, for the purpose for which it is wanted—an absolutely perfect road, graded and macadamized by nature up nearly five hundred feet above the level of the lake overlooking the city and commanding a view in every direction of its superb surrounds, that Duluth may well be proud of, and should not fail to show every visitor. The city, I think, should recognize that it holds such a gift of nature in trust—to develop it in every appropriate way.” When automobiles replaced horses, Skyline was still a popular excursion route. Enterprising individuals used large touring cars and buses (like the one at right, operating out of Chester Park) to take groups of locals and tourists along the roadway.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, when the parkway was still in its infancy, people commonly took part in what they called “Tally-ho” parties, day-long excursions along the parkway with stops for picnicking. The postcards on this page show just how large these coaching parties could be; the image at lower left was captured at Gem Lakes, known today as Twin Ponds.

For a more complete history of Seven Bridges Road, see Mark Ryan’s website on the history of Skyline Parkway & Seven Bridge’s Road:

Skyline Map


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