Historic U.S. 61: North Shore Scenic Drive
North Shore Scenic Drive
Located: Between Duluth and Two Harbors on St. Louis/Lake County-Road 61.
Historic Context: Part of the original North Shore Scenic Highway constructed in the 1920's.
Length: 19.5 miles
Constructed: 1922-1923 (original grading), 1929 (paving of section in Lake County), 1951 (reconstruction of section in St Louis County).
Bypassed: 1965/1967, by construction of the Duluth-to-Two Harbors Expressway.
Also Part Of:
Status: Intact, some sections reconstructed, 0.25 miles realigned at Talmadge to make way for an underpass leading to the McQuade Small Craft Harbor.
Access: Public road, marked as County Road 61 (both St Louis and Lake Counties), official route of the North Shore Scenic Drive. Accessible at both ends directly from State Highway 61.
More U.S. 61 Articles
North >> Talmadge River Bridge
South >> Lester River Bridge
The North Shore Scenic Drive follows the original path of U.S. 61 between Duluth and Two Harbors. It provides a scenic alternative to the four-lane expressway completed further inland in the mid 1960's. The old road, now the official route of the "North Shore Scenic Drive", provides views of Lake Superior and passes through the small towns of Talmadge, French River, Palmers, Knife River, and Larsmont. Rounding out the features on this historic highway are two classic bridges and a 1930's era historic monument.
The road was originally constructed between 1922 and 1923 as a joint venture between the city of Duluth, St Louis County, and the Minnesota Highway Department. The right-of-way for the road as far north as the Lake County line had been acquired by Chester A. Congdon (of Glensheen Mansion fame), a local business leader and philanthropist. The city of Duluth constructed the portion of the road within the city limits, while St Louis County and the Highway Department graded the rest. 18 feet of concrete pavement were poured as far north as the Lake County line. The rest was left gravel until 1929, when the northern stretch was regraded and paved with 20 feet of concrete. A roadside development project in 1939 built a stone masonry monument marking the town site of Buchanan.
In 1951, the older 18 foot concrete section in St Louis County was reconstructed and widened to modern standards, with a few slight changes in alignment. All but two of the old bridges built in the 1920's were removed and replaced with culverts (the bridges over the Talmadge and French Rivers were widened).
The road remained in use as the route of U.S. 61 until the mid 1960's, when the four-lane expressway between Duluth and Two Harbors was constructed (it was fully completed in 1967). The road was then turned over to county jurisdiction.
Today, the road is in very good condition, and is marked to encourage tourist traffic. It retains much of its historic feel, remains mostly isolated from the expressway, and is lined with small resorts and inns. The many views of the rugged shore of Lake Superior, two beautiful historic bridges, and the old stone roadside monument make this a must drive.
Map - Try using street-view to see any part of the old road!
Photos - taken in April, 2010.
The first sign marking the junction with County Road 61 on Highway 61 northbound. Up ahead you can see a sign pointing the way to the Expressway to Two Harbors.
At the Talmadge River Bridge, one of two historic reinforced concrete bridge left on the old route. (See article for more info!)
Northbound at the French River Bridge, the other historic bridge on Old 61. (See article for more info!)
At the Buchanan Historic Marker. (See article for more info!)
County Road and North Shore Scenic Drive markers at the Lake County line just south of Knife River.
The old rail overpass bridge just south of Knife River was in the process of being replaced when I visited in April, 2010.
On Lake County Road 61 north of Knife River.
- MnDOT Construction Project Logs: Control Sections 6925, 6926, 3804
- Gardner, Denis P. "Wood+Concrete+Stone+Steel: Minnesota's Historic Bridges, 2008.