Duluth Normal School (“Old Main”)

This postcard of the campus of the Duluth Normal School was created between 1909 and 1915. (Image: Zenith City Press)
2200 Block of East 5th Street
Old Main | Architects: PalmerHall & Hunt | Built: 1898 | Lost: 1993
Washburn Hall Built: 1907 | Architect: Clarence Johnston | Extant
Torrance Hall Built: 1909 | Architect: Clarence Johnston | Extant
Model School Building: 1926 | Extant

Construction of the Duluth Normal School began in 1898, but a 1901 fire  gutted the unfinished building. Rebuilding and completion of the Renaissance Revival-style school was delayed until 1901 at a final cost of $80,000. The school, whose mission was to train local students to become teachers, opened in September 1902 with 91 students and ten faculty members. The original brick building was enhanced by two wing additions designed by William A. Hunt in 1909 and 1915. The Normal School became the Duluth State Teachers’ College in 1921 and, in 1947, the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Most classes were moved to the newly developing upper campus in the 1950s. “Old Main,” as the school had then come to be called, served as the university’s theater and was also used for office space. In 1985 the building closed and was vacated, awaiting renovation into apartments. On February 23, 1993, vandals broke into Old Main and set it on fire, completely gutting the building. Except for the three arches of its main entryway, the school was demolished. The arches are now part of Old Main Park.

The former campus’ other three buildings, Torrance Hall, Washburn Hall, and Model School Building remain. Torrance, built as a dormitory, is now an apartment building, and the Model School Building is a research lab.

The campus of the Duluth State Normal School is situated on East Fifth Street between 22nd and 23rd Avenues East and was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.  The Duluth State Normal School campus is significant as an example of a group of buildings associated with the growth and development of the system of State Normal Schools (later Teachers Colleges) in Minnesota.  The original campus consisted of four buildings: Main Building (1898-1901), Washburn Hall (1907), Torrance Hall (1909), Model School Building (1926).

The Main Building was erected between 1898 and 1901 and was designed by the prominent Duluth architectural firm Palmer, Hall, and Hunt. The Main Building originally housed all functions of the school including administrative offices, library, laboratories, classrooms, auditorium, and gymnasium.  Additions on the east and west section of the building were completed in 1909 and 1915 were designed by W. A. Hunt, successor to Palmer, Hall and Hunt.   In 1926 an auditorium/library was added to the rear of the building.  Vacant since 1985, the Main Building was destroyed by fire in February of 1993. The University of Minnesota-Duluth offered the land to the city of Duluth for use as a public park. The Duluth City Council passed a resolution of intent on April 5, 1993 to accept donation of the site from the University of Minnesota- Duluth. The original façade, end wall, etc. remains on site as a memorial to the history of the campus.

Washburn Hall was the second building erected on the Normal School campus.  Designed by state architect Clarence H. Johnston, Sr. and built in 1907, Washburn Hall is a three story brick building executed in the Georgian Revival Style.  Originally designed as a women’s dormitory. it provided residence for 48 students in double capacity rooms.  It was converted into a men’s residence and welfare building in 1938.

Torrance Hall was the third building erected on the Normal School campus.  Designed by state architect Clarence H. Johnson, Sr. and built in 1909, it is identical in detail and design to Washburn Hall.  Larger than Washburn Hall, it was designed as the second women’s dormitory on campus and provided residence for 90 students.

Model School Building was the fourth and last building erected on the Normal School campus. Designed by Clarence H. Johnson, Sr. and built in 1926, it is executed in the “H” plan and embodies the classical style.  It’s original design incorporated over 30 classrooms.  The building is now known as the Research Laboratory Building.


  • Koop, Michael. “National Register of Historic Places Registration for the Duluth Commercial Historic District.” Minnesota State Office of Historic Preservation, St. Paul: 2005.
  • Dierckins, Tony. Zenith: A Postcard Perspective of Historic Duluth. Zenith City Press (X-Communication), Duluth, Minnesota: 2006.