The Kitchi Gammi Club

This Month's Grand Old Building

The Howe Building (later called the Glencoe Building) was the Kitchi Gammi Club’s home from 1892 until 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.

Kitchi Gammi Club member Jeb Washburn, who represented the wife of Kitchi Gammi Club president Luther Mendenhall in the couple’s messy, public divorce trial. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

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.

Bertam Goodhue, architect of the Kitchi Gammi Club, photographed after receiving his doctorate from Connecticut’s Trinity College, just a year before he took on four projects in Duluth. (Image: Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History)

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.

Hartley and the committee selected Bertram Goodhue as the building’s architect. Goodhue, a musician, writer, and architectural lecturer, had established solid architectural credentials, in part designing buildings for West Point in New York, including its famous chapel. The Kitchi Gammi Club was one of four buildings he was commissioned to design in Duluth that year, and the other three also had strong Hartley connections: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where the family worshiped, the Hartley Building at 740 East Superior Street, where the Hartley men conducted business, and Cavour Hartley’s home at 3800 Superior Street, across from Northland Country Club, which Cavour and Guilford helped establish.

Goodhue’s Jacobean chapel at West Point. (Image: Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History)

Impressed by his friend Chester Congdon’s Glensheen estate, Hartley had Goodhue design a Jacobean Revival building with an Arts & Crafts interior, much like Congdon’s mansion on London Road and similar in style to other clubs he had visited. Jacobean architecture reflects buildings constructed in England during the era of King James I, 1603–1625. Common exterior elements include brick and stone, large rectangular windows, bay windows, triangular gables, and steeply pitched roofs. These elements in the Kitchi Gammi Club are accented by the stone carvings of Duluth’s O. George Thrana.

Inside, Arts & Crafts elements can be seen in the woodwork, tiled fireplaces, and all sorts of built in cabinetry. The wood used throughout the interior is chestnut. At the time, a blight was wiping out chestnut trees throughout the American southwest, and the wood was inexpensive and plentiful.

Local architect Harold Starin oversaw the building’s construction, which was not without its problems. A Minneapolis firm won the plumbing and heating contract through a competitive bid process. This apparently displeased at least one local pipe fitter. A test of the plumbing system left the basement and first floor flooded. Investigators found a pick axe—its tip covered in lead—and holes in several of the lead pipes. The system had been sabotaged during the night.

Later club president Edward Congdon, son of Chester, received an anonymous letter claiming that not enough lead was used in the joints of some cast iron pipes. After an expensive inspection, all pipes were found to be safe—indeed, the amount of lead exceeded the requirements.

Despite the costly delays, building construction actually came in well under budget. The committee spent just $270,000 for the four-story building that takes up over half of a city block, just over $6.5 million in today’s dollars. That included not only construction, but furnishings for the more than 80 rooms that are housed within the building’s walls.

Click on “3” for the rest of the story….

This Month's Grand Old Building

9 Responses to The Kitchi Gammi Club

  1. What a wonderful history to cherish. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it with us!

  2. My father’s sister, Jeannette Reinhart Crawford, in her school days,
    was an organizer of a club of school girls, “the Black Kats@.

    They decided to have a party at the Kitchie club. The published ads & it became a city-wide party or ball.

    Wearing black was required, which Jeannette preferred for the rest of her life. Invitations were printed & black was prominent. I think a silhouette of a black cat eas included.

    She (Jeannette) was born in Duluth about 1908, so this party happened about 1924-1928 (?).

    Do you have any history about this.

  3. Like many clubs started by rich whites for themselves, KGC had other membership prohibitions, beyond women. I understand that blacks, Indians, and Jews were not exactly encouraged to member up. Slowly, membership requirements

    This is a small(?) stain current KGC members, board and management could choose to speak up about. Or they could keep that history under rugs, down in the kitchens, or on the thresholds of back and side entrances.

    I would discourage tax-supported public city county or state entities from renting their space.

  4. My grandfather was Bellboy there in the late teens according to his WW1 draft registration papers. Good story Zenith City

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  6. Reading this story reminds me of the storyline of books and movies that I’ve read/seen, when a couple has a fight and the man says “I’m going to my club” or “I’ll move into the club.” Sleeping rooms obviously were used for such events.

  7. My grandmother (Mina Abrahamson and Grandfather Paul Grin) met while working there. My grandmother was a Pastry Chef and grandfather was a Chef). I would love to know if any employment records are in the archives.

  8. In the 1960’s I worked as a secretary in Duluth and I went to a meeting at the Kitchi Gammi where I was to take notes for my boss. Being a woman, I was not allowed to enter the building via the front door; I had to be escorted in and out through the side entry. Thankfully, things have changed.

  9. The current Kitchi Gammi is such a beautiful building. In UMD’s fledgling days as a “branch” of the University of Minnesota in the late 1940s and early ’50s, all it had was Old Main and a couple of square buildings in the windblown field that eventually became today’s campus. For several years, in the early days, when students organized a homecoming parade downtown, it ran past the Kitchi Gammi. The school’s photographer, Ken Moran, would position himself across the street and photograph the parade with the Kitchi in the background, looking for all the world like one of the Ivy League schools.

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