Although it is the home of a private organization, where membership or invitation is required for entry, most Duluthians are quite familiar with the Kitchi Gammi Club, the Jacobean Revival building that has stood at 831 Superior Street for the past 100 years. What many Duluthians may not know is that the organization it houses has enjoyed a long, rich history before—and since—its doors first opened.
For its first 30 years the Kitchi Gammi Club rented space in three different structures, none of which were owned by the club. Organized in 1883 “for the purpose of social culture,” the club’s initial 16 members first met in the offices of Wright, Ray & Co., grain commissioners, located in the Metropolitan Block at 113–119 West Superior Street. The grain trade, which had reached Duluth in the late 1870s, was bringing wealth to Duluth and many of its citizens. By 1881, once-struggling Duluth—which was reduced to village status in 1877 because of losses suffered during the Financial Panic of 1873—had established its own Board of Trade and was just six years away from regaining its status as a city.
Indeed, some of the same men who founded the grain trade also founded the Kitchi Gammi Club, including M. J. Forbes, who was also president of Consolidated Elevator, as in grain elevator. Other founding club members included prominent figures in Duluth’s early history. F. W. Paine founded Duluth National Bank, served on Duluth’s first Parks Board and Board of Education, and founded St. Luke’s Hospital and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Charles D’Autremont served as St. Louis County Attorney and later mayor of Duluth. Charles Culver—son of the city of Duluth’s first mayor Colonel J. B. Culver—was also a pioneer member. J. B. was elected mayor of the Village of Duluth in 1883 and died in office as the club was being formed.
The Kitchi Gammi Club first took up residence in the 1883 Grand Opera House at 333 West Superior Street. It was the grandest building in Duluth at the time—indeed, some historians say it was the most architecturally adorned building to ever stand in the Zenith City. Besides its theatre, the building housed Gasser’s grocery store, the 1883 Duluth Chamber of Commerce, the Ladies Literary Society (a precursor to the Duluth Public Library), business offices, and sleeping rooms. The Kitchi Gammi Club occupied the building’s top floors.
During this period club membership grew to include other prominent pioneers, many of whom had arrived in 1869 along with the promise that Jay Cooke’s Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad would make Duluth a city of destiny. They include George Barnum, namesake of Barnum, Minnesota, and known as the “Grand Old Man” of the grain trade; Colonel H. C. Graves, another Board of Trade founder and mayor of the Village of Duluth in 1882 and 1884—and later U.S. Minister to Sweden under Teddy Roosevelt; real estate man Townshend Hoopes, who built Duluth’s first street railway system; and Travanion Hugo, who would be elected Duluth mayor three times and was one of the highest ranking Masons in the world when he died.
Other pioneer members included Luther Mendenhall, a Duluth pioneer first sent to the Zenith City by Jay Cooke to establish stations along Cooke’s railroad and stayed to establish Duluth’s first blast furnace, First Methodist Church, the Duluth National Bank, and the Duluth Street Railway Company and serve as president of the Library Association and Parks Board. Lumberman and mining investor Martin Pattison, three-time mayor of Superior and builder of Fairlawn mansion, was also a member, as was Hamilton Peyton, founder of the 1883 Duluth Chamber of Commerce, Northland Country Club, and the American Exchange Bank. William Sargent, developer of Lakeside and Lester Park and St. Louis County Sheriff in the 1890s, joined as well, as did George Spencer, twice president of the Board of Trade, organizer of Pilgrim Congregational Church, and president of Consolidated Elevator and Peyton’s American Exchange Bank.
Still other early members came to Duluth in the 1880s along with the grain and lumber booms. W. P. Heimbach, C. B. Woodruff, and Frank Brewer all came to Duluth to set up lumber mills. August Fitger arrived in 1882 to operate Mike Fink’s Lake Superior Brewery; six months later, he purchased the building and his friend Percy Anneke arrived in town to help operate the business. Charles Craig arrived in 1886 to practice law with future five-time Duluth mayor Samuel F. Snively and was later appointed Secretary of the U. S. St. Lawrence Commission by President Coolidge. Guilford Hartley came to town to expand his logging operation and turned to mining, farming, and ranching and invested in the Duluth News Tribune, and the Duluth Street Railway Company; he also established Northland Country Club, and built Duluth’s Orpheum Theatre. Frank Hibbing, timber cruiser, iron mine speculator, and namesake of Hibbing, Minnesota was a member, along with Dr. W. H. Magie, the first physician and surgeon at St. Mary’s Hospital, and William McGonagle, president of the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railroad.
Not all members of the Kitchi Gammi Club were upstanding citizens—at least not all of the time. E. P. Alexander was a prominent real estate man and son of the famous Confederate general of the same name. He owned the Temple Opera Block in 1902 when the Duluth Public Library moved out of the building and into the new library on Second Street. Duluth’s Minnehaha Window, commissioned to represent Duluth and St. Louis County in Chicago’s 1893 World Expedition, was removed and prepared to move to the new building—but instead Alexander took the window home with him and claimed it as his property. Luther Mendenhall and others pressured Alexander to do the right thing, but he never gave up his claim of ownership. Instead, he returned the window to the Library Association as his “gift” to the community.
Another early member, Alanzo J. Whiteman, came to Duluth in 1882 to look after his father’s logging interests,. Instead he was elected as “the handsome young senator from Duluth,” representing the Zenith City in the state legislature. Not only was he a member of the Kitchi Gammi Club, but he lived in the Grand Opera House one floor below the club’s chambers. Whiteman fell on tough times in the early 1890s, soon after he married Julia Nettleton, daughter of Duluth Township founder William Nettleton. Whiteman failed in an attempt to corner the Chicago wheat market and was then wiped out in the Panic of 1893. He took to gambling and his marriage fell apart; after being caught cheating at cards, he left Duluth and became a notorious forger known as “Jim the Penman.” Whiteman was later captured by Pinkertons as he climbed down a ladder from the third floor of his parents’ home in upstate New York and was sent to a penitentiary. Ironically, on January 29, 1889 he had climbed down a ladder from the third floor of the Grand Opera House to escape the fire that destroyed the opulent building.
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