Likely the most significant structure lost to history in Proctor was the Proctor Depot. Well-utilized by the community and set at the natural center of the then-village, this building was not only valued during its tenure as an actual depot, but had great potential for its future.
The story of the Proctor Depot begins in 1893, when the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway was extended through the soon-to-be Village of Proctorknott. Here, within the campus of the DM&N’s main shops, a small depot was built at the intersection that today is the railroad crossing on Second Street in Proctor.
While crude in its initial form, this first depot left much to be desired even after a decade. And in the early 1900s, W. A. McGonagle, general manger of the DM&N, announced that the Railroad would do all in its power to beautify the Village of Proctorknott. As a part of these efforts, an enhanced depot was explicitly listed as a centerpiece of Olcott’s village beautification campaign.
In 1906, preparations to follow-up on McGonagle’s promise were set into action, and the building of a combined depot and superintendent’s office was announced. A February 1906 article published in the Duluth Evening Herald read, “Along with other improvements which are being made at Proctor by Duluth, Missabe & Northern road is a new depot, which is to be erected soon. The contract has not been let yet nor such details completed, but the new structure is assured and the people of the busy little railroad town are elated.”
Later that year, a new three-story Proctor Depot was completed at the price of $10,000. Atop a multi-use basement, the ground floor of the building and its rail-side platform served as a waiting area for rail passengers, who would ride the DM&N line to its connections in Duluth and Iron Range cities for fares as low as five cents. The second floor served as the DM&N administrative offices. In tandem with overall landscaping and enhancements to other Railroad shops, these enhanced depot facilities were dedicated to the Village and its residents.
Numerous years of use as a combined depot and DM&N offices followed the Proctor Depot’s construction, serving notably as an important link between Downtown Duluth and Proctor in an era when cars were not prevalent. In addition, one of Proctor’s most infamous events occurred on the Depot’s doorstep on May 15, 1929, when two masked robbers sought out the DM&N’s payroll when it was being transferred on-foot from the First Nat’l Bank to the Depot; in the process, the men shot and fatally wounded 47-year-old DM&N Railway Detective Bruce Palmer and made off with about $6,800 after fleeing the site by car.
Of course, use of the Depot waned in its traditional use as car ownership became more prevalent and roadways were enhanced. This shift was especially evident in 1942, when the Depot building was physically scaled back by demolition of its top floor, leaving a much less prominent structure in its wake. Rail passenger lines were closed down altogether in the late 1960s, leaving the Depot without its initial use. And while the community found ways to utilize the space (Carl “Cud” Peterson — a boxer who fought under the name Jack O’Brien — trained and taught children how to box in the basement), the building needed to find a more formal use.
In 1969, seeking use for the Depot building, a group of Proctor business owners suggested to the head of the DM&IR, Donald Shank, that Proctor needed a railroad museum and that it should be located in the Depot. The Depot saw an untimely end that year, when the DM&IR tore down the historic structure. Following the Proctor Depot’s demolition, it was announced that a railroad museum called the Lake Superior Museum of Transportation (now called the Lake Superior Railroad Museum) would be housed in the Duluth Union Depot; efforts to establish this museum were in part led by Donald Shank.
Although absent from the Proctor community today, the Proctor Depot still casts its shadow on the still undeveloped site where it once stood. Nonetheless, the glory, nostalgia, and controversy of the vanished structure is still remembered by many members in the Proctor community.