Draining Zenith City
Duluth, MN

Brewery Creek

Brewery Creek Tunnel

Although this stream runs near Chester, Brewery Creek has a different personality, and takes a different path down the hill. It begins in Duluth Heights and, along with Buckingham Creek, it drains a former wetlands and shallow lake in what is now the retail development above Arlington Avenue along Central Entrance.

Brewery Creek has been forced underground behind the Marshall School and travels first through concrete, then through brick and stone, to Lake Superior. Brewery Creek is so named because it flowed to—and supplied the water for—the 1857 Luce Brewery above 1st Street near 7th Avenue East, predecessor to Fink’s Lake Superior Brewery, which eventually became Fitger’s Brewery.

Brewery Creek Waterfall, somewhere above Duluth. Lit with candles and a small LED panel. To me, it looked like a pipe pouring molten metal.
Brewery Creek Waterfall, somewhere above Duluth. Lit with candles and a small LED panel. To me, it looked like a pipe pouring molten metal.

Unlike early Chester Creek, the upper portions of Brewery Creek were very close to residences. Duluthians began to enclose this creek in 1893 with a 300-foot tunnel between 1st and Superior Streets at 6th Avenue East. However, as the area above the crossing became more populated, the stream became a veritable open sewer for the East Hillside. Lament over its abuse became the regular subject of editorials.

To discourage the practice, and to stimulate development in that area, the city decided to enclose Brewery Creek within a stone tunnel between East 6th Street and 7th Street in late 1904. Nobody would want to think of drinking beer made from that stream, but they needn’t have worried; the brewery moved to Superior Street and began drawing its water from Lake Superior in the early 1880s.

In 1905 the project was turned from a culvert strictly used for freshwater into a one combined with sewage. The city found that if it did so, it could transfer some of the cost of the underground construction and the dynamite blasting entailed with it to the property owners. Even today, generally, property owners pay for their own sewer connections and cities pay for culverts for creeks and storm runoff.

A strange sight: Part of the drain here seems to have had a skylight of glass, which has since been filled over. However, the collapsing ceiling began to create natural skylights of its own.
A strange sight: Part of the drain here seems to have had a skylight of glass, which has since been filled over. However, the collapsing ceiling began to create natural skylights of its own.

Most homeowners could not pay for specialists to dynamite holes for their sanitary piping like the city could.

In fact, to build many of its sewers, Duluth hired actual iron miners from the Mesabi Range to deploy explosive charges for tunnel construction.

The Zenith City’s rapid expansion through the 1920s demanded the enclosure of more of the creek. In 1913, the area between East 6th and East 8th Streets were revisited, adding another block of tunnels and enlarging the 1904 project. The lower portions of the drain were built largely out of brick in the early 1920s, part of which may be viewed today in the alley between East 4th and 3rd Streets, in the parking lot for the Whole Foods Co-Op.

Where the drain changes shape from round concrete to arched brick.
Where the drain changes shape from round concrete to arched brick.

Duluthians may recall seeing Brewery Creek a little too closely in 1972, when three inches of rain fell in about two hours, causing massive flooding across Duluth. That day, the invisible became visible when the culvert, which crosses 6th Avenue East around Tenth Street, exploded from the pressure of the water. Before long, the force of the water began to wash out the streets, houses, and businesses along Sixth Avenue.

President Nixon declared the flood a federal disaster as Duluthians counted damages exceeding $22 million.

Brewery Creek also made a mess of things during the 2012 flood, when clogged culverts forced the creek to the surface in several location, damaging businesses and homes and, during the storm, pouring over the wall of I-35 above the Fitger’s complex like a waterfall onto the highway below.

References »

  • The Budgeteer 25 Sept. 1974. Web.
  • Engineering-contracting 39 (1913): 47. Web.
  • In The Tunnels. WDIO, 2013. Film.
  • Various. (1904-1974). Duluth News Tribune.
  • Various. (1880-1888). Duluth Daily News.