Menden Hill

Lots 22/24/26/28/30 Block 8.
Clague & Prindle’s Addition.
North half of NorthEast quarter
4th Principal Meridian Extension
T 50 N, R 14 W, Section 21.
46.806367,  -92.111426.

August 7, 2013

This property is named “Menden Hill” in honor of Martin Luther Mendenhall, an important founder of the City of Duluth.  He was born in Concord, Chester County, Pennsylvania on August 7, 1836–exactly 177 years ago today.  The Mendenhall family had been in America since Benjamin arrived from England on June 15, 1703.  Luther’s parents were the English Quaker leaders Isaac Mendenhall (b. 29 Sep 1806 in Pennsbury, Pennsylvania) and Dinah Hannum (b. 15 Oct 1807 in Concord) who were married May 12, 1831.

Isaac was the treasurer of the Chester County Anti-Slavery Society since its founding in 1838 and personally conducted a station of the famous Underground Railway from his home.  Luther’s birthplace on Route 52, nine miles Southwest of West Chester (a Philadelphia suburb), is now called Mendenhall, PA.  It has a large Inn and retail mall, both named for the Mendenhalls.

When the Civil War broke out, Mr. Mendenhall was studying the law at the University of Michigan.  He asked permission to interrupt his studies and joined the Civil War in 1861.  He served as ordnance Quartermaster for the 30th Pennsylvania Infantry and participated with his men in famous battles, including Gettysburg, until he mustered out in 1864.  Luther returned to university and eventually completed both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  He was called to the bar in Pennsylvania in 1866 and, on February 7, 1867 in Philadelphia, married Ellen “Ella” Randall Watson (b. 19 Mar 1843 in St. Louis MO, although she often reported that it was 1846).  She was the daughter of wealthy Philadelphians Dr. E.T. Watson and Rachel E. Randall from St. Louis.

In 1868, Luther became the secretary of the Western Land Company, formed by Jay Cooke and other wealthy investors from Philadephia.  They were interested in lands at Duluth, Minnesota.  George R. Stuntz had established his trading post in 1852, and then Robert E. Jefferson built a little castle, designed as a hotel, about 500 feet North of the canal.  But Duluth really started up when the Treaty of La Pointe was signed with local natives in September, 1854 and ratified in March, 1855.  Joshua B. Culver opened the first General Store there.  A financial panic in 1857 nearly ended the project, but hearty investors and prospectors stayed.

When Luther checked out Duluth in 1868, it was a settlement of just seven white families.  He was to come to Duluth as Western Land Company’s agent to oversee the building of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad (LS&MRR).  He came to stay in 1869 with his bride and his year-old son, Isaac Watson Mendenhall (b.13 Apr 1868 in Concord, d. 1 Apr 1946 in Duluth).  His second son was Aaron Austin Mendenhall (b. 23 May 1870 in Duluth, d. 22 Sep 1957 in Duluth).

In 1873, there was a financial panic that caught the city’s main investor, Jay Cooke, in a period of investment when he had over-extended himself.  Cooke was ruined and this destroyed many of the plans and goals of Duluthians, leaving the city deeply in debt: nearly bankrupt.  At this point, the “president” of the city refused to serve and Luther Mendenhall was appointed as the vice-president.  In this situation, with no president and with the town fathers acting outside of many of the usual rules, Luther was able to work out a bond buy-back scheme that brought Duluth out of its financial straits.  This established Mendenhall as a great pragmatic mind in the local business world.

That same year, Luther became a director of the Duluth Blast Furnace on Rice’s Point.  He formed real estate partnerships and was instrumental in encouraging several other businesses.  Nine years later, in 1882, he became the president of the Duluth National Bank.  In 1887, he became president of the Duluth Union Bank until 1898.  He was a founding trustee of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Duluth, a director of the re-organized Duluth Chamber of Commerce in 1886, a member of the Gorman-Culver Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Duluth, and of the Omicron Chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.  He also served as president of the Park System, the Kitchi Gammi Club, and several other public service organizations.

Luther was a passenger on the first trip of the Incline Railway up Seventh Avenue West to Duluth Heights on October 2, 1891.  But the Baring banking house of London England had failed in November 1890, just as the Baring brothers were about to close a mining deal that would have benefited Duluth immensely.  This was the forerunner of another financial panic in 1893 that led to more hard times, failing businesses, the collapse of the Bell and Eyster Bank, and the dissolution of the Chamber of Commerce.  Duluth was no stranger to adversity.

Luther became the receiver for the street car system when it went under in 1898 and remained at its head until it was sold to Canadian interests.  He was a founding director of the Associated Charities of Duluth in 1909 and often gave money and support privately to people in need, in his Quaker way, without fuss or acknowledgement.  “Mr. Mendenhall came to Duluth forty-four years ago, and coincident with his arrival came progress,” stated the Duluth Herald in 1912 on his official retirement from business.  At the celebration of his retirement, the following was stated by local historian James Bardon:

“The years 1867 to 1880 embraced the real formative period, the true pioneer period of Duluth.  In all these years it was conceded that Mr. Mendenhall, lawyer and businessman combined, was the best-equipped all-round man in the community; efficient in managing his large trusts; cool in judgement; wise in decision; slow to act; yet always progressive … It is safe to say that no man lives today, or has ever lived, who has done more than he for the upbuilding of this city and surrounding country.”

Among other businesses he attracted to Duluth, he was part of group that recruited “Miss Kate Hardy” (Katherine Belle Hardy, b. 18 Jun 1854) from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  She was the daughter of Isaac and Mary (Cutting) Hardy of Chicago.  She ran a women’s preparatory school that had a very good reputation.  He worked with her to establish a fine preparatory school for Duluth.  Unfortunately for his legacy, he became enamored of Miss Hardy.  His wife Ella resented this transfer of his affections and sued for divorce in October of 1895.

The trial began November 25, 1895 and featured salacious testimony that made daily headlines in Duluth and Minneapolis newspapers.  Ella’s attorney, Jed Washburn, used cash and liquor to bribe a witness–Thomas Paget, a handyman at the school–to lie about having seen Mendenhall and Hardy together.  Paget admitted this on his death bed in 1899.  In spite of the lies, Mendenhall won the decision on December 22, 1895 and immediately filed suit for libel against most of his wife’s “witnesses.”

He sued his wife for divorce on the grounds of abandonment the next year and courted Miss Hardy properly, marrying her on October 6, 1898 in her home town of Chicago.  They moved into 1412 Superior Street, currently a parking lot.  The scandal had been too much for Duluth society, though, and the school had failed.  It was demolished and three houses were built at the site, one (2000 Woodland Avenue) with many of the school’s original stones.

Ella died January 21, 1917 and was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Duluth.  Luther continued going in to his office every day, well into his 93rd year, and until two weeks before his death.  He and Kate stayed together at Woodland Avenue until Mendenhall died on September 26, 1929 and was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Duluth.  Kate then stayed on Woodland Avenue until September 20, 1941, when she died and had a Christian Science service (on Tuesday, September 23) at the Crawford Chapel.

Luther Mendenhall is hardly mentioned when discussing the history of the Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas, but he was instrumental in establishing this beautiful city and his memory is honored by the naming of this property as Menden Hill.