Those unfamiliar with the history of Morgan Park are often taken aback the first time they encounter its concrete houses. At the turn of the 20th century, U.S. Steel decided to build a steel mill in the vicinity of Duluth to save on transportation costs (its ore came from Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range). After Minnesota threatened to tax iron ore that crossed the state line—unless the plant was located in the state—a site near Gary-New Duluth was chosen.
U.S.S. built Morgan Park (named for U.S. Steel founder J.P. Morgan; it was originally to be named “Model City”) to provide nearby housing for its employees. Construction began in 1913 and by 1915 the plant was producing steel. At the time, Morgan Park had the most modern school, hospital, and community facilities in the nation. The steel plant shut down in the 1970s, but Morgan Park remains a thriving community.
All the company’s buildings were made chiefly of concrete block produced at the company’s own cement plant because the material needed little maintenance. The somewhat harsh look of concrete was softened by gables, eaves, and rooflines that concealed the appearance of monotonous regularity.
The heart of the community was the Good Fellowship Club, a workers’ association dedicated to serving sick or needy fellow employees. The club was housed in a large, multi-use building that included a gymnasium with a running track, an auditorium, an indoor swimming pool, and a bowling alley. It was torn down in 1981 when a more fuel-efficient building was built to replace it.
During its early years, Morgan Park’s residents were company management and skilled laborers of Scandinavian descent. Unskilled laborers, many of whom were Serbian or African American, were housed in lesser facilities in Gary and New Duluth.