On a business trip last year to a place north of Duluth, Minnesota, we arrived late at night so we stayed in Duluth and then we would head north to our destination. Not much time to do much before heading north was a bummer because every place has a story and Duluth is no different and no less interesting even if it is not a household name for the vast majority of folks.
The next morning, we were planning to leave 10ish and with the time difference I knew I had a couple of hours to spare. I learned that Wisconsin, a state I had never been to, was just across the bridge from Duluth. Not one to waste an opportunity to add one more state to the list, I informed by co-workers that I would be getting up early and driving to the town across the water: Superior, Wisconsin (aptly named as it sits on the shores of Lake Superior…). It sits on the westernmost tip of this huge (sorry, popular word these days) lake in pretty much the northwestern corner of Wisconsin. Upon announcing that I was doing this, a co-worker said she would come – that’s the spirit!
So, we needed kind of something to go see in Superior or something to do other than drive in and drive out. So, in this world of smartphones, that was an easy thing to solve: find a coffeeshop. We lucked upon one right on the same road fed by the bridge (I-535) in a turn-of-the-century (two century switches ago: 1890) stone building labeled City Hall. The building may or may no longer serve as city hall but it is impressive enough to be one. Anyway, the coffeeshop was the Red Mug Coffeehouse and Bakery on the corner of Hammond and Broadway in the basement of the building.
I opted for coffee and a danish and enjoyed looking around this coffeehouse which seems to play live music at some point since it was set up for that. The Technics record player was a bit of vintage quite appropriate to the place. My co-worker and I used the opportunity to catch up on projects we are working on and just relax which was a good start to the day.
Of course, I likely missed some good places to have seen (a church, a park, an old district, etc.) but that was all the time I had. And despite the original intent of the “lake crossing,” the short hop made me wonder about the industrial and maritime past that drove the establishment of towns like Superior in this part of the U.S. These parts of the U.S. were first explored by the French actually as part of the fur trade empire. This then led to Jesuits coming to make new Christians out of the local tribes. Eventually Hudson Bay Company and others also established trade with the local tribes. Much later, these “city-ports” became the outlets for manufacturing and natural resources from the north and midwestern U.S. onto waterways that could get the goods elsewhere by sea or train). In fact, I read that the twin ports of Duluth and Superior were the most important ports in the Great Lakes for a while.
If time and money were not an issue, I think I’d enjoy driving around the Great Lakes and explore this part of the American past that help build the nation with its industrial output.