St. Mary’s Hospital (1888)

The 1888 St. Mary’s Hospital. (Image: Duluth Public Library)
2002 West 3rd Street | Architect: Father Gregory | Built: 1888 | Lost: 1958

Monks from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville built this structure next to St. Clement’s Catholic Church in the West End intending to use it as a boys’ school and seminary. When that plan did not materalize, they rented the building to Benedictine nuns who used the handsome four-story brick building with arched windows and a Mansard roof for a hospital they named St. Mary’s (right, date unknown). The hospital opened with one hundred beds but no running water or electricity. St. Scholastica’s Mother Alexia Kerst and six other nuns, along with surgeon Dr. William H. Magie, comprised the hospital’s staff.

St. Mary’s was innovative in its early years, when the timber industry reigned in northern Minnesota. Long before medical insurance, St. Mary’s own Sister Amata sold those who worked the lumber camps “lumberjack hospital tickets.” The cards cost seventy cents a month and guaranteed the jacks — who performed dangerous work and were rarely flush with money — medical care and a bed. It was one of the first plans of its kind in the nation and helped the young hospital stay financially afloat. (The program ended in 1913 with Minnesota’s Workman Compensation law.)

In 1892 Dr. John B. Murphy, in Duluth for a medical convention, performed the first appendectomy in Minnesota at St. Mary’s. Witnesses to the surgery that day included Drs. Charles and William Mayo, founders of the Mayo Clinic. Three years later St. Mary’s own Dr. Magie performed the state’s first gastroenterostomy.

By 1896 overcrowding forced the sisters to build a new facility at 404 East Third Street; the hospital moved there in 1898. The old hospital in Lincoln Park became the first St. James Catholic Orphanage, also run by the Benedictine nuns. In 1911 the building became the first St. Ann’s Home for the Aged. St. Ann’s moved to East Third Street in 1958 on the former site of the Clinton Markell House. That same year the West End building was demolished to make room for a parking lot serving a low-income high-rise apartment. The 1898 hospital has grown and more buildings have been added. St. Mary’s later merged with the former Duluth Clinic and Miller-Dwan Medical Center, and its buildings and parking lots sprawl over much of what was once Duluth’s Ashtabula Heights neighborhood. Today it is part of the Essentia Health system.