Thursday, August 4, 2011

A farewell to Goosetown...

By Jim Heffernan

I drove up the winding new road to the low-slung middle school they’re building on Duluth’s western hillside, near where the ore-train tracks morph onto the massive ore docks, and realized: Goosetown is no more.

Up the grade at the end of such West End streets as Wellington, Restormel, Vernon, and others, where Goostown once was, there now will be an imposing middle school, the name of which I don’t know. Goosetown Middle School has a ring to it, though, don’t you think? Their teams could be the Ganders.

I lived about a mile east of Goosetown when I was growing up and didn’t get there much, the great divide of Lincoln Park with its Miller Creek serving as a line of demarcation between my part of the West End and their part of the West End, which included Goosetown.

We had Goat Hill (to be saved for another time), but they had Goosetown, called that – I’m not sure intended as a compliment – because it was an enclave of Polish immigrants and their immediate descendants who, we were told in our part of the West End, kept geese agriculturally.

Duluth used to be more ethnically defined than it is today, if it is at all today. Polish in Goosetown, Italians in Little Italy, my Swedish mother was brought up on Goat Hill, although I don’t know if they were all Swedes. It was named, I think, because it is so steep that only mountain goats could live there – mountain goats and Swedes (at least a few).

The workers constructing the new middle school up in Goosetown are not eager to have the public visit yet – the building looks about two thirds done – and post their objections on a large “do not enter” sign at the entrance to the property, but the gate was open so I drove up there anyway, on a new blacktop roadway that winds along the terrain like a mountain road.

This was all new terrain to me, having only visited the heart of Goosetown once as a child when a relative was engaged to marry a Goosetown woman, but it didn’t work out. She did not keep geese, so that wasn’t the problem.

So for me, driving up there is not so much a nostalgic visit as one of curiosity. The panoramic view of the St. Louis River estuary and harbor is breathtaking, with the Blatnik and Bong bridges seeming to be just blocks apart. It will be a beautiful place for middle schoolers to attend classes, but they won’t appreciate the view until they are much older.

And I expect that in their geography or history classes they won’t be told they are in the heart of a place formerly known as Goosetown, where once geese were kept, for whatever reasons geese are kept, by people said to be originally from Poland and their children, born in America. The future students won’t be told because so few people, including their teachers, know about what went before the school on that property.

That’s why I wrote this. Pass it on.

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