Duluth Peterson Arena, located at 3501 Grand Ave. in Duluth, MN in Wheeler Park area of west Duluth opened in 1971 with one sheet of standard ice measuring at 190' x 85' primarily for the Duluth Denfeld Hunters hockey program. Wheeler Park land for arena was donated by Duluth pioneer Henry Wheeler, a pioneer of Oneota, who famously walked from St. Paul to the Head of the Lakes in 1856 to establish a sawmill, the first in what is now Duluth. He built a home for his family at 3407 Grand Avenue; the large field behind the Wheeler house was the site of the fifth St. Louis County Fair in 1876 and became the event’s home for the next thirty-five years. In 1896 new buildings and a race track were constructed for the fair, and the facility became known as the Wheeler Racetrack. After the St. Louis County Fair moved to Hibbing in 1911, Wheeler’s property continued to be used as a racetrack and whenever a large space was needed for events such as circuses and carnivals. In 1919 a historic field house was added to the property. In 1924 the city began proceedings to condemn Wheeler Racetrack and convert it to a playground. Duluth officially purchased the land in 1926, named it Henry W. Wheeler Field, and over the years developed it into a multi-use sports facility.
In 1971 Wheeler Field became the home of one of Duluth’s two new indoor hockey facilities; it was used by high schools as well as neighborhood park teams that belonged to the independent Duluth Area Hockey Association (DAHA). Prior to that, practices and games had all taken place at outdoor rinks within Duluth's historic outdoor rinks in neighborhood parks. Indoor games at the time, were held at the Duluth Curling Club.
The complex was named Peterson Arena for Ray Peterson, who had been the director of activities at Wheeler Field since 1941. In the early 1930's, Peterson created and coached some of Duluth’s earliest youth hockey teams. Ray was on-hand, and dropped the ceremonial puck on opening day of the building to much fanfare on March 7, 1971.
The arena, that stood alone as the only ice sheet in west Duluth for 33 years, was sadly gutted by fire on December 19, 2004 following an unfortunate and scary Zamboni propane tank explosion. About 30 people - including two broom-ball teams and a handful of fans - were inside the building when the explosion happened at about 9:40 p.m. A small blast was followed by a larger explosion, which knocked the doors of the boards that surround the ice surface onto the rink, the Duluth News Tribune reported. Player Ryan Ringsred, who was bandaged, picked small pieces of Plexiglas from the back of his neck. He was on the ice when the explosion occurred. "I was facing the boards when they blew up,'' Ringsred said, I was on the ice and the Zamboni blew up behind me. I was flat on the ice". Even his helmet was dented. "It's brand new,'' he said. It did its job, I guess". The building was evacuated and the players watched the fire from a small warming house about 30 yards away. By 10:15 p.m., the fire had engulfed the north side of the building and police cleared out the warming house when it looked like the fire might reach nearby power lines. Joe Buckley, the driver of the Zamboni, which resurfaces the ice, said he was sweeping up when the blast occurred.
The fire marked the end of Peterson Arena, which served as the only indoor ice rink in western Duluth from 1971 to 2004. It was replaced by the Duluth Heritage Sports Center at Clyde Park, which opened in 2008.
The City run park qualified for the Grand Avenue Parks Fund - part of the St. Louis River Corridor Initiative - and underwent improvements in 2017. Today the complex contains five softball fields, a bocce ball court, four tennis courts, baseball diamonds, picnic tables, an outdoor skating rink in the winter, including a skateboarding/BMX skate park that now occupies the former Peterson arena site.
Source in part: ZenithCity.com
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