Jan. 6, 1981
The Olde Depot Inn in Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood, February 1979
The Olde Depot Inn: Woman finds niche keeping it a chapter of local history
By Jack D. Shipley, Duluth Herald (published Jan. 6, 1981)
When Clara Korkala bought the Olde Depot Inn six years ago, she inherited a chapter of history.
While "Olde" might be used for a trendy place trying to seem historical, Korkala’s down-home hospitality, lack of desire – and money – for changes, and the clutter of memorabilia give her "Olde" the ring of truth.
It is old, for one thing. The inn, 13308 W. Third St. in Fond du Lac, is one of the oldest buildings in Duluth, having been built in 1870. It was built as a depot for the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad at another site – no one remembers exactly where – and later moved to its present site, converted into a duplex and finally a restaurant sometime before 1929.
You’ll find no machine-distressed wood paneling or grainy reproductions of historical society photographs at the inn. The photos, like one of the Northern Pacific Veterans Association posed on the inn’s porch June 20, 1929, are real.
Korkala fits comfortably in the place, although, to tell the truth "it would have been nicer if I had married a nice millionaire. It would have been a lot easier," Korkala said.
"It’s been hard, but it’s rich with challenge and humor," she said of the six years of her life the inn has consumed. …..
Interior of the Olde Depot Inn, February 1979
Neighborhood youngsters make for a steady trade in colas, snacks and candy and, in turn, supply a background of pleasant laughter and chatter. Friday, a group left their cans and bags neatly piled in the center of a booth table. Sometimes, Korkala said, you have to get after them a little. Sometimes, like Friday, a couple of younger girls stop by to help out, looking for an odd job to do. …
The inn is a browser’s paradise of things the compel you to get up and look around, or look around before you sit. A cantankerous player piano is in one section, another piano occupies the main dining room. Score sheet covers, including "Long Way to Tipperary" and other favorites from World War I, are tacked above the player piano.
There’s a big photo of George Washington, a quote from Theodore Roosevelt about critics and a dozen or more old photographs of the Fond du Lac area, all precariously held in loose, aging wooden frames.
"I’ve tried to bring out the history of the area as much as I can, but I don’t have a lot of money to invest in that," Korkala said. …
Clara Korkala, owner of the Olde Depot Inn, at the restaurant in January 1981. (Bob King / Duluth Herald)
Near the kitchen is a collection of postcards, an old-time list of rules for employees which offers men two days off for courting if they attend church on Sunday, and homilies Korkala has hand-lettered and hung.
One is a list of rules that, among other things, admonishes Manager Number II and the staff to "be very careful who you serve our home-made strawberry jam to," since the clientele "may be an unmarked health inspector (Some lousy cook served mold instead of jam and spoiled it for the rest of us.) Even though 99% of the people prefer home-made products (the 1% is the health inspector), we must be very careful to obey the rules." …
"I pride myself in serving home-made bread, but was told I couldn’t serve home-made jam. It’s too bad, because I’m sure people would rather have home-made jam with home-made bread," Korkala said.
The food, though, carries that character. There’s pasties, including 15 variations of her own recipe, a goulash and spaghetti from a recipe supplied by Ciro Riccio, a tailor downtown.
On the way out, near the door, is a photo of John Smith, a Cass Lake Indian reputed to have been 141 years old when he died in the 1930s. Korkala said her father saw Smith in the early 1900s at a railway station.
"He was old then," she said. "But he could remember the war of 1812."
Along with the photo of Smith there is a poem dedicated to American Indians, just another part of the memorabilia at the Olde Depot Inn.
The Olde Depot Inn closed in 1985, according to a later article I found on the Fond du Lac neighborhood. Does anyone have stories to share about the inn?