U.S. Weather Bureau Station

Duluth’s U.S. Weather Bureau Station, photographed ca. 1935 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

631 W. Seventh St. | Architects: Harding & Upman | b. 1903 | Extant

The federal government began tracking temperatures and Lake Superior ice conditions as early as 1855. Fifteen years later Congress established a government weather service as an arm of the War Department. Its first Duluth office—one of just twenty-four in the nation—was in the Edmonds Building at the southwest corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street. It moved into the St, Louis Hotel in 1882 and in 1884 relocated to the Metropolitan Block. In 1890 the U. S. Weather Bureau was created as an agency of the Department of Agriculture. When Duluth’s first federal building was constructed in 1892, the Weather Bureau’s Duluth branch moved in.

Herbert W. Richardson took charge of Duluth’s Weather Bureau in 1898. The former newspaper reporter from Ohio joined the Signal Corps in 1886, attended meteorology school, and served in eight different cities before arriving in Duluth. Richardson’s obituary described him as “loyal, faithful, energetic, [and] accurate” with a “keen sense of humor.” He was indeed dedicated to his work, filing reports until the day of his death from pneumonia in 1931.

In 1904 Richardson, his wife Dorothy, and their son Jim moved into a brand new Weather Bureau Station built adjacent to the top of the Seventh Avenue West Incline Railway. Designed by Washington DC architects Clarence Lowell Harding and Frank Upman, who worked on many federal buildings, the Neoclassical building is essentially a two-story brick cube. The building’s original ornamentation was limited to a portico leading to the front porch crowned with a pediment and held up by Ionic columns and dentils beneath its tall cornice, designed for the safety of meteorologists accessing the wind vane and anemometer (which measures wind speed), which were mounted on the roof. The Weather Bureau was housed on the first floor while the Richardson family resided on the second.

The facility included several other structures for instruments and signals, including an elevated thermometer house originally accessed with a ladder. Other instruments included a barometer, a rain gauge, a sunshine recorder, and a nephoscope for observing the direction and velocity of clouds, and a seven-day barograph to automatically record barometric pressure. A windmill provided power to pump fresh water to the facility. The station’s fifty-foot storm warning tower displayed forecasts using flags and electric lanterns.

Frank Jermin stepped in for Richardson and reported Duluth’s weather until 1934, when Fred H. Weck took over the duties of Duluth’s Weather Forecaster. Weck left in 1941, the year after weather observations moved to the Williamson-Johnson Municipal Airport (now the Duluth International Airport), while Harry G. Carter took the reigns of the 1904 station, staying until the facility was officially closed in 1950. A paid observer continued to take weather readings downtown until 1959.

After the facility closed a special Meteorological Station was established on the former Weather Bureau Building grounds in order to compare conditions with the new airport facility. Before the year was out the station was moved two blocks west to a home at 705 West Ninth Street. That station closed in 1959. After 1950, the 1904 Weather Bureau Station became a private dwelling and was later converted into a duplex. The building underwent a four-year major renovation and addition that was completed in 2013, returning much of structure’s original charm.

Duluth’s U.S. Weather Bureau Station ca. 1910, photographer unknown. [Image: Duluth Public Library]