Clark House Hotel

The Clark House Hotel. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

West 100 Block of Superior Street | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1870 | Lost: 1881

As Duluth’s first building boom began in 1869 in anticipation of Jay Cooke’s Great Northern Railroad, George Sargent — Cooke’s agent in Duluth — directed the construction of the Clark House, a large, three-story hotel with a mansard roof, cupola, and a 150-foot veranda across the front. The building faced Superior Street but had a large wing protruding from the rear of the building that stretched toward First Street; its central core measured 50 by 100 feet, the wing 40 by 110 feet. When it opened in July of 1870, the Clark House was Duluth’s second hotel: the much more simply designed Bay View House had sprung up in 1869. (While the 1856 Jefferson House did serve as a hotel and boarding house, it was built as a family home.) The Clark House’s name referenced the E. W. Clark brokerage firm in Philadelphia, where Cooke began his career.

Under the direction of its first proprietor, Dr. Quincy Adams Scott of Pittsburgh, the Clark House became the site of Duluth’s important social events, as it was the only building in town with facilities to handle large gatherings. An annual ball given by the Duluth firemen of the volunteer department was held at the Clark House beginning in 1872. Soon after the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railway reached Duluth in August of 1870, members of the Minnesota State Legislature took the train to Duluth to conduct a meeting in the Clark House and to take part in a huge celebration thrown by Duluthians.

When Eastern and European capitalists came to Duluth to do business, they stayed at the Clark House. (Some historians have reported that Jay Cooke himself once stayed at the Clark House, and have offered a photograph of several bearded men at the Clark House as proof; but Cooke visited Duluth just once, in 1868.)

Scott had left the Clark House by 1880, and Thomas Cullyford took over the Hotel’s management. On November 16, 1881, a fire began in the boiler room of the Clark House and quickly spread to all parts of the wooden structure. The hotel was completely destroyed in what was at that time the biggest fire the town had ever witnessed. The loss was estimated at $50,000, over $1 million in today’s dollars.

While the volunteer fire department (then made up of the town’s businessman and other professionals) fought valiantly, the best they could do was to keep the fire from spreading to other buildings. They also managed to retrieve a great deal of furniture before the building was consumed (much of it already damaged beyond repair), and the Duluth Daily News reported that “the large stock of liquors was saved and is stored at different places about town.” The Clark House was replaced a year later when the Metropolitan Block was built on the site; that building still stands, although it has seen several renovations.