In 1896 in Cleveland, Ohio, a tug boat was being built for the Duluth & Iron Range Railway. Now, 125 years later, that tug, the Edna G, is one of the most iconic and beloved tug boats of Lake Superior. From towing ore carriers in and out of the harbor to being used for tours—and now undergoing a restoration project—this summer marks a celebration of her past and future on the waters of the Big Lake.
The all-steel Edna G was built to assist ore carriers into and out of Agate Bay in Two Harbors, a job she held until her last tow in December of 1981. Named for Edna Greatsinger, the daughter of the Duluth & Iron Range Railway’s president, the Edna G not only towed ships but also assisted in icebreaking and helped rescue ships from storms. Like many of her time, she was called to service in World War I, and spent two years on the East Coast hauling coal barges. Apart from those two years, however, the Edna G has remained in Two Harbors, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. She officially retired from service in 1981 and was open for tours to the public until 2015, when needed maintenance brought tours to an end. Concerns began to grow about the structural integrity of the tug, including corrosion to the steel hull.
Kathy Glenn is the chairperson of Friends of the Edna G, a nonprofit organization that was formed to preserve and promote the Edna G for future generations.
“The Friends of the Edna G started in 2018 as a response to a letter in the local paper about the poor condition that the tug was in,” Kathy Glenn said. “A group of us held a meeting in the library to discuss what to do about it. The outcome of the meeting was the formation of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit group. Since then, we have worked at promoting the tug and informing people about her condition and history.”
When the organization was formed, it was initially thought that the Edna G was in much worse condition than it was. The Friends of the Edna G had a marine surveyor do an inspection, and the inspection showed that, while there was certainly work to be done, she was not at imminent risk of sinking as had originally been feared.
“We are limited on what we can do physically to the tug since we don’t own it,” Glenn said. “The Edna G is owned by the City of Two Harbors. We have a contract in the summer with the city to give tours of the tug. We do decorate her for Christmas every year and do some cleaning and general light maintenance.”
In addition to the Friends of the Edna G, the Edna G Commission, appointed by the city council, also assists in maintenance and needed work for the tug. Glenn said that the Commission is having electrical work done, and is getting the wood around the pilot house repaired. The Friends of the Edna G hopes to get more involved in her restoration, including having an inspection done by an expert in historical boats who can assess the Edna G with new eyes and give recommendations for next steps.
With the dedication of community members, the future of the Edna G is looking upward, and a celebration for the tug’s 125th anniversary will be held in Two Harbors August 28-29.
“The reason for the Edna G 125th Anniversary Celebration is the tug is an icon of the city of Two Harbors. Her work bringing the ore boats into the harbor was partly responsible for the city’s financial growth. We like to say that it’s ‘the tug that helped build America’ since about half of Minnesota’s iron ore in the late 1800s and first half of the 20th century was shipped out of Two Harbors to the steel mills out east. Almost anything made of steel was made in America during that time period,” Glenn said.
The 125th anniversary celebration will feature artists, crafters, information about the Edna G’s history, and tours. The event will also have an art contest and a writing contest, with both contests open to all age groups. There will also be music from local bands, including the Northwoods Band, the Fish Heads, Steve Solkla, THUGs, Eddie Ojard, and D.J. Bill Rabold.
Those interested in learning more about Friends of the Edna G can visit their Facebook page or their website: friendsofednag.org.