Did Riverside Hospital ever have a hospital?

This Month's "Ask the Historian"

Originally published December 2012

Do you have any info on the hospital in Riverside? I was told by my grandfather that the building (now a private house) was built with stolen materials from the McDougall shipyard when Riverside was being built. My grandfather worked there as a riveter for a short time as well as my great-grandfather who was a coppersmith there. My grandfather said that by the time anyone found out about the stolen materials it was too late to stop construction.
— Tim Howe

McDougall-Duluth (later Barnes-Duluth) shipyards at Riverside. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

We’re so glad you asked about this, Tim. It made us realize that our previous story about hospitals in West Duluth was short one health-care facility: The hospital in Riverside. And the story of the hospital can’t be told without telling the history of Riverside itself.

In 1900, after producing his last whaleback ore ship, Duluth’s famed shipbuilder Alexander McDougall sold his American Steel Barge facilities along the St. Louis River in Superior to the Superior Ship Building Company. He later set up shop on property he owned on Rice’s Point at 15th Avenue East, the site he originally wanted to build his shipyards (complaints about the potential noise of shipbuilding convinced him to operate out of Superior). As America entered the first world war, the Twin Ports shipbuilding industry blossomed, and McDougall renamed his company McDougall-Duluth Ship Builders, Inc.. He then moved his facilities back up the St. Louis River—but this time he stayed in Duluth, building an entire community at Riverside.

McDougall’s new shipyard went under construction at the foot of Spring Street along the St. Louis River on August 1, 1917, to build ships for the Allied war effort. It was among the few shipbuilders in the nation that built a nearly complete ship, from hull to engines. More than thirty buildings, including machine shops, a boiler shop, paint shed, and sheet metal shops—as well as three piers—were active in ship production until the war ended.

McDougall-Duluth employed 3,500 laborers during and shortly after the war—and many of them lived right in Riverside (others lived nearby in Smithville). Like Morgan Park, the town of Riverside developed near the plant for the workers at the facility. The company built fifty cottages overlooking the river, with plans for over 75 more. The neighborhood included a hotel and a grocery and retail store whose upper floor served as a movie theatre and held club and “amusement” rooms. For the single men there was a dormitory that held 250 and a dining hall where they took their meals.

The McDougall-Duluth company’s 1917 plans for the “company town” of Riverside.

Riverside also offered recreation facilities and equipment, including a boat house that held canoes, rowboats and sailboats. A nearby bathing beach nearby was created by the dredging necessary to make the river deep enough for the ships that were to be built there.

Because of the dangerous work and the distance to the nearest health-care facility, McDougal-Duluth also built the community a hospital. The two-story building, just 40 x 70 feet,  was described as “fireproof” and “completely modern”—and it likely was, as its plans were approved by one of the Mayo brothers of the famed Rochester clinic. It included “two deep sun porches” that overlooked the river.

The hospital held four two-bed wards and three private rooms. It was located “in a fine grove of birch and pine on the main street leading to the yard…far enough from the ways of the shops to escape the noise and near enough for quick action in emergency cases.” There was also a waiting room, office, operating room, sterilizing room, kitchen, nurse’s quarters, and a suite of five rooms for the head physician, Dr. Frank Lyman, and his family .

Lyman, from Bar Harbor, Maine, left a private practice he had established in Duluth in 1895, when he first arrived in the Zenith City. In June of 1919 alone Lyman and his staff at Riverside’s hospital took care of over 700 employee patients, most of them suffering from non-life threatening injuries that occurred on the job.

Between 1918 and 1922 the facility produced thirty-six 265-foot freighters. (Five of them returned to Duluth as the “Poker Fleet.”) The yards produced ships until 1922, when the U. S. Government stopped buying them. McDougall then retired and the company became Barnes-Duluth with financier Julius Barnes as president—but the shipyards produced nothing. Riverside was no longer a company town, just another Duluth neighborhood.

The hospital closed along with the plant and was converted to apartments. Nothing was produced at Riverside for almost another 30 years. But as World War II began, Barnes-Duluth and several other dormant shipyards in Duluth and Superior sprang back to life. In the fall of 1941, workers fought through a “tangle of brush and grass” to get the neglected Riverside shipyards working again.

On May 3, 1942, Barnes-Duluth launched its first two ships. At one point they set a pace to deliver a ship every ten days. By July 1943 the yards had produced twelve coastal tankers and were at work on seven oil tankers, which would be at the time the largest ships built on the Great Lakes for ocean service.

That same year the facility was purchased by Superior’s Butler Ship Yards. During the war Barnes-Duluth and the other shipyards in Duluth and Superior employed over ten thousand men and women, averaging ten ships a month while producing a fleet of 230 vessels. Butler closed the facility when the war ended in 1945 and sold it to a firm that turned it into a marina. Most of what remained of the Riverside shipbuilding complex was destroyed in 1976.

The Garden House, the 1918 hospital with an addition of the front—and an additional floor above. (Image: Google Maps)
The Garden House, the 1918 hospital with an addition of the front—and an additional floor above. (Image: Google Maps)

The hospital at Riverside still stands, albeit a story taller than before. Over the years an addition was made to the front of the building and an entire third floor was added. The interior was completely gutted and refurbished. Today the building serves as Garden House Estates, an assisted-living facility for seniors.

So we’re certain the hospital’s building materials weren’t stolen from the company, because the company built the hospital. However, that same story is told about a building right next door to the hospital, once referred to as the “old Captain’s residence.” The building does not appear on McDougall-Duluth’s original plans for the community. It was built in 1942 as an apartment house, likely to shelter shipyard workers. It is entirely possible that this structure was built from materials found in the shipyard; it is also possible that it was not. In either case, since Barnes-Duluth owned the community, it is unlikely anyone complained about any “stolen” building materials.

This Month's "Ask the Historian"

17 Responses to Did Riverside Hospital ever have a hospital?

  1. I lived a few houses away from Ray Nelson at 54 Penton Blvd. Ray and Doug would always be the first ones to catch smelt down at the trussel. I remember skating down at the pond every winter and hopping trains to West Duluth and back. Chets grocery had the best candy variety. 🙂

  2. Hi Mary Lou, I used to deliver papers to your house. My Uncle Gordy owned it for several years. Remember going to Riverside Grade School and you were in my grade.

    Wish we had more history like this.

  3. This is great! I grew up in Riverside. My parents, Bill and Vivian Starkes, bought a house on Marine Court when I was 3. Had great times there. The store was open then, and we’d walk up and buy penny candy! It was a fun neighborhood, not too many people we didn’t know. My parents sold our big house in 1990 or 1991 after all us kids were grown up and gone. Thanks for acknowledging Riverside. I only found this website today while I was doing some geneology. I love it!!!

  4. I have some information on the old Riverside golf course and will include a chapter on it in a book I am writing about “lost” golf courses in Minnesota. (I’m a former Duluth News-Tribune sports editor and was an avid Duluth golfer for many years.) Some of the information is admittedly sketchy – for instance, one person says the course had sand greens; two say it had grass greens. I’d love to know more about the Riverside course, if anyone has details. bissenjoe@gmail.com

  5. I lived in Riverside 1951 to 1973, delivered papers to many of the homes on the map.

    Know that building well. My Uncle Gordy owned it for a while,

    My Uncle Tom, and his family had an apartment there later… One Halloween my uncle hid around the corner behind the stairs on the first floor (it had 3 apartments on each floor) and as we walked up he jumped out with his horrific mask and scared the bejesus out of us… Memories of Riverside indeed.

  6. Doesn’t sound like the skating “shack.” It was a wooden building approx 25 x 25 with a pot belly stove in the middle. It was in pretty bad shape by the middle 60’s. I think it was demolished or burnt down. Any additional info on the golf course? I’m pretty sure it was an official course in some way associated with the Riverside shipyard. Thanks.

  7. JRBrue: I still can’t tell you if the clubhouse later became the warming shack or was part of the golf course, but I did find its history in the July, 1918 Riverside Review. It was built as part of the dormitory system and was called the Dormitory Club. It featured a reading and writing room and had living quarters for the custodian. I’ll keep hunting for the final use of the clubhouse.

  8. JRBruc: Thanks for noticing the clubhouse on the 1918 map of Riverside. I don’t think the building is still there, since it does not appear on the 1954 fire insurance, map but we’ll check into it and let you know what we find.

  9. In the NE corner I see “clubhouse” and I’m wondering if this became the warming “shack” (and it truly was a shack)for the skating rink? Also, was the clubhouse connected in any way to the old golf course directly to the east? Every spring someone(?) would burn that area and we learned to play golf there. Some of the greens were/are still recognizable. Great place to grow up in the late 50s – 60s. Thanks for the info.

  10. In the NE corner I see “clubhouse” and I’m wondering if this became the warming “shack” (and it truly was a shack)for the skating rink? Also, was the clubhouse connected in any way to the old golf course directly to the east? Every spring someone(?) would burn that area and we learned to play golf there. Some of the greens were/are still recognizable. Great place to grow up in the late 50s – 60s. Thanks for the info.

  11. The marina that I remember after the shipyards closed was Drill’s Marina. The boiler/machine shop was the last bldg to be demolished in 1976. Until then it was used as storage for boats etc. for the marina. When Drill’s closed he opened another marina in the slip where the William A. Irvin is now. I don’t know if Drill still owns it or not. My other grandfather (dad’s side) worked at Barnes-Duluth and Butler starting in 1943 as a pipefitter and later at Globe until the shipyards closed. He then went to work and retired from the Northern Pacific Railroad. I will e-mail other info I found about the tracks and trestle I was telling you about on/near my gr-grandfather’s property at 25 S. 58th Ave W. It will be interesting for you. I just recently discovered this info since I talked to you (Tony) on the phone. You’ll be very interested. Thanks again for a GREAT website. Tim

  12. Thank you for this post. It should also be noted that Riverside also had it’s own central steam heating plant that was in operation until at least the late 1960’s as that is when my grandparent’s had to buy their own hot water boiler as the steam plant stopped operation. The captain’s residence may be what my grandfather was talking about. I have many memories of Riverside, the store where grandpa bought me popsicals and candy. I remember when the last shipyard building was demolished, I have pictures of it being torn down. The office building for the shipyard at the corner of Spring and England Ave later was a warehouse for Wherley/Mayflower movers. I also remember the ore trains rumbling slowly past the crossing on Spring St. My grandparents house (6 Penton Blvd) would actually shake when it went through. Thanks, Tim Howe

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