A residential neighborhood in present-day, the west side of Proctor once hosted the early beginnings of the vibrant Village of Proctorknott. Altogether spanning 15 blocks and within a short walk from the railway backyards, the original townsite of Proctor likely holds the richest history in the City today.

Whether imaginable or not, Proctor started as a dense wilderness strewn with rocks and laced with wetlands. But Beriah Magoffin III, the son of a wealthy and political Kentucky family, visited the area as a 14-year-old in 1857 and saw great potential for the region, leading him to purchase large tracts of land in the Northland as an adult. When the DM&N sought flat land to host its massive maintenance yards in 1891, land atop the St. Louis River Valley was swiftly identified, and upon Magoffin’s sale of the land, the hilltop wilderness was drastically altered.

White City
“White City” Dwellers // Courtesy of the Proctor Area Historical Society

Almost overnight, hardy rail workers fled to the site of the future DM&N rail yard, collectively pitching hundreds of white canvas tents, which inspired the community’s first unofficial name:  White City. This tent town, most likely pitched where the original townsite was formally designated (the west side of Proctor today), was the host site of mostly Norwegian and Swedish immigrant workers who moved to work on the DM&N Railway. These men (and women) were a hardy stock, clearing track right-of-ways and laying 36 miles of rail in the Proctor yards alone, sometimes paying the ultimate price in the process.

After the DM&N Railway officially opened for use in 1893, many of the immigrant workers continued their careers in the rail backyards, and a more permanent community began growing where tents once dotted the surrounding area. Magoffin, who still owned much of this land, heard of this bright opportunity and moved with his family to Minnesota to usher the burgeoning community into a reasonable return on investment. Fortunately for Magoffin, his plan to guide the group of workers into an established community, complete with parceled lots, paid off. In 1894, the Village of Proctorknott was incorporated with newly platted parcels at the townsite, soon followed by a formal separation from Oneota Township in 1895.

The town’s namesake, John Proctor Knott, at the time was a former Kentucky governor and a sitting member of Congress who famously spoke on the development of Midwestern rail lines with his satirical speech, The Untold Delights of Duluth; in addition to the fame received from multiple publications of this speech, he was also a close family friend of the Magoffins. These ties to the Northland and the Magoffin family, plus his widespread fame, led Magoffin to name the village in his honor.

Upon its inception, the Village of Proctorknott progressed slowly from its beginnings as a tent town, sporting dirt streets and rough and tumble residents, stray dogs running about, goats eating grass in the heart of town, and chickens roaming the streets. But growing inside out from the townsite, development quickly spread. Along what is now 2nd Street, businesses selling clothing, groceries, jewelry, candy, and ice, as well as establishments providing bank services, hair cuts, lodging, and fine dining, were in place by the 1920s. Poker halls boasted gaming sessions that lasted all week. Churches and schools began to emerge. As development became more strategic in time, these uses were moved to other areas of the village in favor of supporting residential needs. Nevertheless, it is difficult to ignore the gravitas of Proctor’s beginnings, rooted deep in the Proctor’s rail-side west neighborhood.

Although it’s difficult to tell today, the west side of Proctor held the early settlements and beginnings of the Proctor community in the early 1890s. Still reminiscent of its first layout and form, this neighborhood offers an important perspective into imagining the development which laid a base for the present community – 125 years later.