Pilgrim Congregational Church (1888)

The 1888 Pilgrim Congregational Church. (Image: Duluth Public Library)
2 East 2nd Street | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1888| Lost: 1915

Reverend Charles C. Salter came to Duluth from Minneapolis to serve as minister of Duluth’s Pilgrim Congregational Church, which had been established by Duluth pioneers, including George Spencer and Roger Munger, on January 18, 1871. A wood-frame church was built on the corner of Second Street and First Avenue East that same year and served until 1888 when this Gothic structure was built at Lake Avenue and Second Street at a cost of $55,828 (about $1.3 million in today’s dollars). The sandstone church — its body was gray and its trim pink — could seat 750 parishioners on the main floor and 250 more in the balcony. The church (right, ca. 1891) featured a tall corner tower, a large rose window on the Second Street façade, and many Gothic-style windows. By 1914 most of its wealthy congregation had moved farther east in the city. In 1916 the church’s  building committee purchased lots at 2310 East Fourth Street where they built a new church designed by Frederick German and Leif Jennsen. The 1888 church was demolished in 1915 and some of its slate and stone was used in the new church. Ward Ames and Julius Barnes, who financed the city’s early Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. buildings, built the Ames-Barnes Building on the site of the 1888 church. That building was used as the Boys Department of the YMCA; today it is home to Minnesota Teen Challenge, which helps young adults struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.


Pilgrim Congregational Church

The 1871 Pilgrim Congregation Church, which stood at Second Street and First Avenue East. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

The Congregational Church Society first took definite entity in Duluth in 1870, and mainly through the endeavors of Maj. Luman H. Tenney and his wife, who felt that there were at that time sufficient persons of Congregational affiliation in Duluth to make it possible to organize a comparatively strong church society. A “formal gathering” was held “in the rooms of the Young Men’s Christian Association over the office then occupied by C. H. Graves & Co., at 110 West Superior Street,” on November 27, 1870. The meeting was “called to order by L. H. Tenney,” and “formally organized by the election of William S. Woodbridge as chairman and George Spencer as secretary.” On motion of Mr. Tenney, seconded by Thomas Dowse, the meeting proceeded “at once to organize a Congregational Church.” To “draw up a church constitution and confession of faith and covenant” a committee, consisting of L. H. Tenney, O. K. Patterson, J. Kimball, William S. Woodbridge, and R. S. Munger, was formed, and, to take “other necessary steps to perfect the organization,” another committee, consisting of Thomas Dowse, E. L. Smith, George Spencer, R. C. Mitchell, and O. K. Patterson, was organized. By a unanimous vote, that “preliminary meeting” extended a call to Rev. Charles Cotton Salter, of Brookfield, Missouri, to take effect “as soon as the church becomes permanently organized.” The church was “formally organized by council” on January 18, 1871, and then named “The Pilgrim Congregational Church, of Duluth, Minnesota.” The council consisted of: Rev. J. L. White, pastor of Plymouth Church, St. Paul; Rev. H. A. Stimson, pastor, and D. B. Barber, delegate, of Plymouth Church, Minneapolis; C. S. Bardwell and W. H. Hatch, delegates from Vine Street Church, Minneapolis; and Rev. Richard Hall, of St. Paul, state superintendent of home missions. That organizing meeting was held in the Pendleton block, “on the southwest corner of Superior Street and First Avenue, West.” The meeting-place was described as “a storeroom 20 by 60 feet, the use of which … was given by the owner, Ira W. Pendleton.” It was used for all meetings of the Congregational friends during the next six months.

The charter members of the Duluth church were: Thomas C. Cain, Catherine Cochran (later Mrs. J. P. Johnson), Thomas Dowse, Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Kimball, Mrs. R. S. Munger, Mr. and Mrs. O. K. Patterson, Rev. and Mrs. Charles C. Salter, Mr. and Mrs. Ezra L. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. William S. Woodbridge, and J. P. Johnson, all by letter excepting the last-named, who made confession of faith.

The first election of officers took place on January 26, when J. Kimball and O. K. Patterson were elected deacons, George Spencer clerk, and O. K. Patterson, treasurer. Mr. Patterson declined to serve as deacon and William S. Woodbridge was elected in his place on February 2nd. The first board of trustees, elected January 31, consisted of L. H. Tenney, R. S. Munger, O. K. Patterson, J. D. Ensign, and E. L. Smith.

A Sunday school, of thirty-two members, only eight of whom were chlidren, was started “at the close of the first Sunday morning service.” It has been stated that “one of the first to organize and place Pilgrim Sunday School on a permanent basis” was the late Lucien J. Barnes, uncle of Julius H. Barnes.

Movement to provide a church building was almost at once begun, and on February 21, 1871, “at a meeting of the church” it was voted to secure “the two lots on the northeast corner of Second Street and First Avenue East, valued at $2,700, as a building site.” On April 1, 1871, “plans for a chapel” were adopted, and a building committee, with R. S. Munger as chairman, appointed. And the ways instituted to provide means to cover the building liability were many. Notable among them was a social held in June, and referred to by W. S. Woodbridge thus: “Early in June the building was so far advanced that a social and flower-sale was held amid much enthusiasm, which was greatly needed to counteract the chill from the damp plaster, and the cold northeaster which prevailed that night. Net results of that evening were about $300 and some serious colds.” It was probably the same gathering as that to which Mrs. W. S. Woodbridge referred to when she said:

“I shall never forget the first affair given in the first church building erected in 1871. It was a sale and supper. There were a great many young men here at the time, attracted by the opportunities of the young city, and it did one’s heart good to see the way they enjoyed the home-made things we gave them to eat. The sale included a number of potted plants and they brought the most extravagant prices. You know at that time Duluth had no grass … and these plants were like an oasis in a desert. People would pay almost any price to get one. The plaster in the church was not dry when we gave the supper, and I recall now — when we took the tablecloths off the improvised tables — they were wet from the dampness of the plaster.”

On July 16, 1871, the chapel was dedicated, and for seventeen years thereafter was the home of the Congregationalists of Duluth.

The church cost $2,800, but the financial condition of the society was good almost from the date of dedication, people in the East contributing heavily to the cost, “Jay Cooke and other friends” in Philadelphia contributing $1,000. An organ was presented by “friends in Boston.” Another substantial helper was Dr. Charles L. Ives, brother-in-law of Rev. C. C. Salter; he purchased from the church, for $500, a lot presented to them by the Western Land Association, and paid $100 for a chandelier, as well as, a little later, providing “a bell, which weighed, with the mountings, twelve hundred pounds, and cost, including freight charges, $365.” The bell was rung for the first time on September 25, 1872; in 1889 it was given to Plymouth Church, West Duluth.

By December of 1872, the Pilgrim Church was such a strong organization that it was decided to “cut loose” from the American Home Missionary Society, and undertake to pay the whole of their minister’s salary, which the trustees then increased to $1,700, from $1,500.

In 1873, “clouds were gathering on the financial horizon, and by early fall they had overspread the whole sky … panic reigned supreme,” wrote W. S. Woodbridge, adding:

“From 1873 to 1878 was a time that tried men’s souls in Duluth and tested the strength of the churches. Who, now, would imagine that the great First Methodist Church had ever considered for a moment the question of uniting with the Congregational Church? But such a suggestion was made, and actually favored by some, but nothing ever came of it … Such was the stress of the times that the Baptist Church was obliged to give up its services for years, and Pilgrim Church united for nearly three years with our nearest Congregational neighbor, the church at Brainerd, 115 miles distant, one pastor serving both churches. In September, 1874, our annual report to the State Conference showed our number of resident members to be fifty-one; number of children in Sunday school, 100; amount of benevolent contributions for the year, $125.”

Mr. Salter remained as pastor until 1876, being succeeded by Rev. C. A. Conant, of Amherst, Massachusetts. Mr. Salter returned on May 1, 1881, “a day long to be remembered, for there were tears of joy on many faces,” Mr. Salter being universally esteemed as a pastor. He was not, however, destined to remain long in the Duluth charge; his health “gave way” and on November 28, 1881, “under the imperative orders of his physician,” he resigned his charge. He recovered his health sufficiently to participate in the work of the Duluth Bethel Society, but did not live long. When death came, Mrs. Woodbridge wrote, regarding the funeral, as follows:

“When he passed it was the largest funeral Duluth had ever seen. The services were held in the First Methodist Church. It was the largest building in the city, and, at that, the number of people who failed to gain admission reached back from the church two blocks. The saloon-keepers closed their places of business during the funeral hour, and everyone, it seemed, attended.

And, oh, the tears that were shed.

It was a fine tribute to an earnest worker, one who labored as zealously in poor times as in good.”


  • Dierckins, Tony and Maryanne C. Norton. Lost Duluth: Landmarks, Industries, Buildings, Homes, and the Neighborhoods in Which They Stood. Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota: 2012.
  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.