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September 13, 1916 and 1917: The 1889 St. Louis County Jail declared obsolete

On this day in Duluth in both 1916 and 1917, officials were quoted in the Duluth News Tribune calling for the replacement of the St. Louis County Jail, built in 1889 at 614 East Third Street using an Oliver Traphagen design. The 1916 article quoted members of the “September Grand Jury” as saying that recommendations for the building’s repair were “jokes” and that the building’s condition was “shameful.” They found seven men confined to a single cel, insufficient exercise facilities, poor ventilation, and unsanitary conditions. It wasn’t the first time: the paper reported that the recommendation to replace the jail “has been made by the grand juries for several years.” A year later little had changed, and again the grand jury called for the building’s replacement, citing in part a fire hazard created by storing the paper records of 35,000 past prisoners. It wasn’t until 1923 that a new St. Louis County Jail was constructed as part of the Duluth Civic Center on a site chosen by the Civic Center’s original designer, renown architect Daniel Burnham. Duluth architects Abraham Holstead and William J. Sullivan planned the building following Burnham’s grand design. Despite its condition, the 1889 jail was not torn down but instead converted into Hearding Hospital, which served the County’s poor until 1947. It became a boarding house after that and was demolished in 1954. Read a complete history of the 1889 St. Louis County Jail here, and the 1923 St. Louis County Jail here.

The 1889 St. Louis County Jail. (Image: Duluth Public Library)