Green space can be easily found along the North Shore in a variety of forms. The many hiking trails, state forests, lodges and cabin properties welcome those searching for a slice of nature. One piece of green space that brings people together and marks a note of pride in its community is Thomas Owen City Park.
Located in Two Harbors, Thomas Owen City Park sits near the center of the city as an icon of history and a gathering place for the present. The park was donated to the city in 1934 by resident and superintendent of the D & IR (Duluth and Iron Range) Railroad, Thomas Owen. A featured piece of the park is the bandshell built in 1937. It was a project of President Roosevelt’s “Work Progress Administration” (WPA) program. It sits at the back of the park as an anchor of the property. It is large and deep, boasting the unique option of a removable protective stage cover during the harsh winter months.
The bandshell is a busy place during the summer months, serving as host for the Two Harbors City Band concert series. The band is celebrating their 125th anniversary this year and in 1964 the bandshell was named in memorial of former band director Paul Gauche. In 2019, a group of past and current band members realized the nearly 80-year structure was showing its age, so they formed a committee, calling themselves Friends of the Bandshell. The groups mission is to replace the bandshell with a new performing arts center, including an indoor and outdoor stage. The hope is to revitalize the area and create a “Town Square” concept. Architectural concepts have been drawn and funds are being raised to make this transformative performing arts center a reality. However, due to the pandemic and other unforeseen obstacles, the group is on a hiatus. Their progress can be followed on Friends of the Bandshell Facebook page.
The city park, which sits on a full block along Waterfront Drive (3rd and 2nd Avenues), shares the space with a couple pieces of Two Harbors history. The first is a WWI cannon, a gift to the city from the American Legion in 1929. You can also see a memorial commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first iron ore shipment from Two Harbors port in 1884.
The space also provides several benches to welcome visitors and outdoor public restrooms are on site. In addition to the City Band performances, the park and bandshell host many public events throughout the year. There is a lighting of the city Christmas tree, art festivals and dance recitals. A full schedule of events can be found online at: lovinlakecounty.com.
Other cities along the North Shore are also home to unique architecture and statues that are the pride of their community, such as the aerial lift bridge in Duluth and Rocky Taconite in Silver Bay. Two Harbors is home to the famous Pierre the Voyageur (also known as Pantless Pierre). He is registered in the Smithsonian Historical Records and even has his own Facebook page. The 20-foot-tall statue, made of fiberglass and mesh, was constructed in 1960 by Two Harbors resident Stanley Nelson, owner of Voyager Motel. At that time the motel also had a museum, and the roadside attraction was created to encourage travelers to stop in. Pierre’s head moved from side to side and would talk to guests as they entered the property. Locals still recall their first encounter as children, being in awe of his red eyes, which appeared to glow, and the mysterious voice saying hello. The inspiration for the statue came from the legacy of French voyageurs navigating the North Shore waterways in canoes. They are known for their long tunics and knee-high buckskin boots, which gives Pierre the illusion he may not be wearing pants. He also has a beard, which is reflective of the voyageurs, and he holds a canoe paddle.
After the museum closed in the 1970s, Pierre fell into disrepair—he no longer spoke to visitors and was nearly destroyed when a portion of the motel was demolished. However, in 2008 he was given a makeover and eventually moved to his current home, the Earthwood Inn. He now welcomes travelers when entering Two Harbors at the end of the expressway of Highway 61. There’s an easy exit, allowing you to park and take a picture with the prominent piece of history. Be sure to share your photos on his unofficial Facebook page: Pierre the Pantless Voyaguer.