First Church of Christ, Scientist

First Church of Christ, Scientist ca. 1915, photographer unknown. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

902 East First Street | Architect: Frederick German | Built: 1913 | Extant

Christian Scientists in Duluth began reading together in 1886, officially organizing four years later with twenty-three charter members including A. M. Morrison, John W. Fee, John W. Davis, Robert Rankin, and John G. Owen, who served as the church’s First Reader. They established a Christian Science Dispensary and Reading Room in office 307 of the Pastoret-Stenson Block, across the hall from Davis’s apartment. Meanwhile, Susan T. Stowell practiced mind healing from her home at at 119 East First Street. The Christian Science church, technically a Protestant religion, has no ordained clergy but instead authorized practitioners; the group has traditionally shunned western medicine, preferring to treat ailments through prayer.

In 1898 the congregation built a modest wooden church at 924 East Superior Street. Five years later they moved the church to a lot at Ninth Avenue East and First Street, positioned not along the street or avenue but along the alley between Superior and First streets, leaving room along First Street for a more significant structure they planned to build in the future. Ground was broken for that project six years later, but the basement wasn’t complete until 1911 and the cornerstone not laid until October, 1912. Ironically, the church was built directly across the street from the 1902 St. Luke’s Hospital.

Designed by Frederick German, the building was finally completed in November 1913. When viewed from above, the Classical Revival building takes the form of a Greek cross, with a dome at its center. Faced in cream-colored brick, the two-story building originally featured a classical entrance portico along its primary First Street façade, topped with a pediment supported by two fluted columns (all of which have since been removed), along with large dentils beneath the eaves. A later renovation added four fluted pilasters to the front façade, but ultimately stripped the building of much of its original architectural character.

At the building’s dedication service, attended by over 250 people, Owen read a congratulatory telegram from Church of Christ Scientist founder Mary Baker Eddie: “May our God make this church the fold of flocks and those that plant the vineyard eat the fruit thereof. Here let his promise be verified: Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

Soon after the new church opened, the Duluth Drama League purchased the 1898 building for use as its first “Little Theatre,” whose name was later changed to the Duluth Playhouse. Catholics purchased the building in 1922, split it in half, dragged it across a frozen Lake Superior, and reassembled it on Minnesota Point at 2002 Minnesota Avenue and rededicated it as Our Lady of Mercy Church, Avenue. It still stands there today. The 1913 building served Duluth’s Christian Scientists until 1997, when the congregation—now called First Church Christ Scientist—moved to a new building at 1731 North Forty-third Avenue East. Karpeles Manuscript Museum purchased the former church on First Street in 1999 and remains in the building today.