Forgotten, but not gone: the story behind Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum

Carly Schwieters
3 min readApr 30, 2019

Located in the water just off the shoreline in Duluth’s Canal park sits an odd concrete structure with the looks of a half-sunken building. Take a closer look and you’ll find that there are compartments inside.

This structure, called Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum or better known by names such as “the icebox” or “the cribs,” dates back to the early part of the 1900s.

Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum as it sits today in Canal Park. Photo courtesy of Carly Schwieters.

Many theories surround Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum, including one that speculates it was used as a gambling house during the prohibition era. Others suspect it is a tomb. After all, a “mausoleum” is a type of tomb.

But neither of these theories are correct. Built in 1919, Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum was actually used as a sand and gravel hopper.

According to Rob Hedburg, an administrative assistant for Visit Duluth who has done research on Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum, the structure is named after Harvey Whitney who, along with his brother, ran a sand and gravel business. The Harvey Brothers company hauled sand and gravel around different parts of Lake Superior.

“Back then there was a lot more ship traffic in Duluth,” said Hedburg. “Harvey built the hopper to try and relieve some of that shipping traffic.”

Hedburg went on to explain that there used to be an outer harbor that stretched out from today’s main canal to the Veterans Memorial along the Lakewalk. Ships that brought in sand and gravel were unloaded by a clamshell crane ran by a “scow,” which is a smaller kind of boat. The scow would then distribute the contents to the hopper where a conveyor belt would move the cargo into trucks and train cars.

“It’s a neat little part of Duluth’s history,” Hedburg added.

However, after just three years of use, Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum was abandoned in 1922 as most of the ships coming into Duluth were using the main canal. The outer harbor was being used less and less and kept getting damaged by the weather and infamous Lake Superior storms.

Despite the fact that Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum hasn’t been used for commercial purposes for over 90 years, it remains perched in the lake.

The ‘mausoleum’ doesn’t go completely unused today. During the summer, many people like to cool off by swimming out to the structure and jumping off of it into the water. Swimmers are urged to be careful as there have been serious injuries and even a death, as outlined in this article from the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Also, being that the structure has sat in the water for about 100 years now, there are worries that the entire structure may someday disappear. Back in early 2015, a pillar that sat in front of the main part of the abandoned hopper washed away. The Duluth News Tribune published an article about the missing pillar that includes before and after pictures.

According to the article, the hopper and the pillar were held in place by wooden timbers encased in concrete. Over time, that concrete has eroded, exposing the timbers underwater and leaving the structure vulnerable to the lake.

No matter what the fate of Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum may be, it has been an ever-present part of Canal Park’s rich history and a reminder of the short-lived business venture of Uncle Harvey himself.