Northern Pacific Immigrant Houses

The NP Immigrant House at 5th Avenue East and Railroad Street. (Image: Duluth Public Library)
5th Avenue South & Railroad Street | 6th Avenue South and Michigan Street
Architect: Unknown | Built: ca. 1871 | Lost: ca. 1880s & 1890s

Beginning in 1871, the year after its lines first reached Duluth, the Northern Pacific Railroad began encouraging immigrants, mainly from northern Europe, to settle in Minnesota and what would become North and South Dakota. Northern Pacific conducted recruiting campaigns in Europe, including Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, Norway, and Denmark. To house these recruits upon arrival, the railroad built “reception houses” in Minnesota at Duluth, Brainerd, and near Moorhead. At one time Duluth had several immigrant houses which mainly catered to single men. Unmarried immigrants stayed in individual bedrooms and had access to furnished kitchens and parlors. But these large boarding houses, in which residents stayed rent free until they found homes or moved on, could also house entire families. Both of Duluth’s immigrant houses were located within half a block of the original Union Station, where they would have gotten off the train as they first entered Duluth.

One of these immigrant houses, built on Fifth Avenue South alongside the railroad tracks, was known as the “Colonists’ Reception House.” A simple white frame building  erected  in 1871, the establishment was run by Allen M. Longstreet for the Northern Pacific. It reportedly housed up to seven hundred men per day. By 1885 the Fifth Avenue building had become the Bartlett Hotel; three years later the hotel changed its name to the New Commercial Hotel. It was demolished in the early 1890s. The first immigrant house’s lot is currently occupied by a parking ramp.

In either 1871 or 1872 (records are not clear) Northern Pacific Railroad built a second immigrant house in Duluth. The building sat along Sixth Avenue South at Michigan Street and featured a handsome corner tower offering splendid views of the bay. It was not used for long and  disappeared from Duluth maps by 1880. Today the building’s site is a parking lot.

The NP Immigrant House at 6th Avenue East and. Michigan Street. (Image: Duluth Public Library)