Kitchi Gammi Club

The Kitchi Gammi Club, photographed by Duluth’s Percy Gallagher shortly after it opened in 1913. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

The fire, of course, also destroyed the home of the Kitchi Gammi Club. The organization took up temporary residence in a grand two-and-a-half story residence at 203 West Second Street (the lot of the Little House was later occupied by the first Duluth Clinic.) The club leased the home from Mrs. Elizabeth Little, widow of Daniel of Little, Simmons & Co, grain and lumber traders, who also had offices in Grand Opera House. By 1892 the Little home had become too little for the club, and it moved in the brand new Howe Building (later renamed the Glencoe Building) at 228 First Street. The club took over the entire second and third floors of the three-story, brick-and sandstone Romanesque Revival building. The space included a café, a library, and twenty-two sleeping rooms, each with a private bathroom. The top floor included a 28-foot high stained-glass ceiling.

Important Kitchi Gammi Club members who came to Duluth during the club’s era within the Howe Building include William J. Olcott, superintendent of John D. Rockefeller’s Consolidated Iron Mines (which later became U. S. Steel); Julius Barnes, a grain broker and president of the Duluth Boat Club, would later serve as President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Ward Ames, Barnes’ business partner who along with Barnes built Duluth’s Y.W.C.A., Y.M.C.A., and the Ames-Barnes Building; Archibald Chisholm, banker, mining executive, and namesake of Chisholm, Minnesota; Chester Congdon, iron mining attorney, mine speculator, land developer, and builder of the Glensheen estate; H. L. Dresser, chief engineer of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway; prominent Duluth architect Frederick German, A. M. Marshall, president of Marshall Hardware; Captain Joseph Sellwood, iron minor and ship builder; A. B. Wolvin, who ran the largest steamship company on the Great Lakes, and attorney Jeb Washburn, who along with his wife were heavily involved in education in the city and throughout the state. He is the namesake of Washburn Elementary and UMD’s Washburn Hall.

Washburn was also at the center of some ugliness involving Kitchi Gammi Club president Luther Mendenhall in the 1890s. Mrs. Mendenhall did not appreciate the amount of time Mr. Mendenhall spent with Kate Hardy, mistress of the Hardy School on Woodland Avenue, a girls preparatory school financed by Mendenhall and others. When Mrs. Mendenhall sued for divorce, she hired Washburn as her attorney. At the time, divorce was subject to trial by an all-male jury and newspapers ran the testimony in the next day’s newspaper under hyperbolic headlines. During the trial, a caretaker at the Hardy School testified that he had seen Mendenhall and Hardy in “compromising” positions at the school.

Even with this damaging testimony, Mendenhall emerged the winner, and he and Hardy went on to marry. But in 1899 the caretaker—then living in Minneapolis and dying of stomach ailments—contacted Mendenhall’s attorney. The caretaker recanted his testimony on his deathbed, claiming that Washburn had kept him in cash and a state of drunkenness throughout the entire trial to secure the handyman’s testimony. Mendenhall later purchased the abandoned school, had it dismantled, and used rocks from its stone edifice to help construct three houses, one in which Mendenhall and Hardy lived out their lives.

Despite the prominence of its members—83 of which would have Great Lakes steamers and ore boats named in their honor between 1883 and 1933—by 1910 the club was losing its popularity, and membership was dropping. Guilford Hartley had visited many similar clubs in his travels throughout the country and considered the architecture of the clubhouses along with the impressive membership rosters in other cities. He decided it was time the Kitchi Gammi Club kept in step with similar institutions and build a grand facility all its own, which would also help attract new members. He took the reigns of the Kitchi Gammi Club’s new building committee.

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