Likely the most visible aspect of the Proctor community itself, Proctor’s downtown business district plays an important role in both the visual identity and economic vitality of the community. Although the business district is nestled along Highway 2 in Proctor today, it may come as a surprise that its history extends to a time even before a highway was constructed through town.

Downtown 2_PAHS
Image Detail, Proctor’s “Wild West” Main Street, 1920s // Courtesy of the Proctor Area Historical Society

The summer of 1906 is when Proctor’s 3rd Avenue showed first signs of life. In June and July of this year, independent storefronts – including Proctor Hotel, Bowen and Judge Liquor, Eastside Billiard Hall, and a general store – made their first appearances along the east side of Main Street between 1st and 4th Street; even back then, the rail yard dominated the west side of this road. In the next few years, these small establishments would inspire further growth, bringing Cash Restaurant, Moody’s Pool Hall, the Northern European Hotel, the Railroad Hotel, Central Hotel, a cigar factory, and others to the one-sided streetscape.

Further development of Main Street came throughout the next two decades, when hardware stores, barber shops, garages, bakeries, banks, lumber shops, theaters, general contractors, restaurants, and confectioneries populated the street. In addition, Proctor soon became the host of Farmers’ Day, where more than 200 farmers in the area came together; this gathering helped bill Proctorknott as the “produce shed for Duluth.”

Wombacher Hardware Store 1929_PAHS
Image Detail, Wombacher Hardware Store on Main Street 1929 // Courtesy of the Proctor Area Historical Society

Interestingly enough, the Main Street during this time was a far cry from the paved streets most are familiar with today. Instead, Proctor’s economic center was notably reminiscent of the wild west, with a dirt-packed road, wooden sidewalks, and wandering goats; at times, vagabonds passing through town would even pitch their tents along this main drag and sell trinkets to curious residents.

In 1926, U.S. Highway 2 was authorized and marked for construction, which left a corridor curving through Proctor and clipping the edge of the rail yards, which once extended to the corner of 3rd Avenue and 5th Street. Though Proctor’s stretch of U.S. 2 wasn’t paved right away, even the dirt highway changed the look and function of the village. And when the street was paved in 1939 and the Works Progress Administration installed concrete sidewalks throughout the community in 1940, considerable changes were underway.

Downtown Flood 1938_PAHS
Image Detail, Flooded Main Street 1938 // Courtesy of the Proctor Area Historical Society

One benefit of these changes was increased access to businesses along Main Street. Soon, “destination” businesses (i.e. hotels) disappeared from the streetscape and more storefronts featuring specialty goods and services started to appear along the stretch. Clothing stores, barber shops, cafes, and grocery stores were especially burgeoning businesses along Proctor’s Main Street through the next few decades.

The drawbacks of a highway running through the City became evident through time, however. As a symbol of the rise of automobiles, it became much easier for residents to expand their geographic footprints – and choose out-of-town businesses at which to spend their money. Proctor’s Main Street was especially affected by this shift, and some service-based tenants started closing their doors in the 1960s.

Main Street 1939_PAHS
Image Detail, Proctor’s Main Street 1939 // Courtesy of the Proctor Area Historical Society

A business resurgence occurred in the 1980s and ’90s through the City, especially bringing hardware stores, restaurants, and convenience stores – including many of Proctor’s existing businesses – along Main Street. Today, the one-sided street offers a continued challenge for developers facing development in the City, but the long history of commerce in the district offers strong roots for the success of Proctor’s future business class.

As the economic center and the visual representative of a railroad community, Proctor’s downtown business district plays a vital role in its existence. While its roots extend to a past of what some may call greater glory, the downtown district today fosters potential for a resurgence in the context of a sustaining future.