Bethany Lutheran

Bethany Lutheran Church photographed ca. 1917 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

2302 W. Third St. | Architects: Unknown  | Built: 1903 | Extant

Swedish immigrants living in the West End, who found it inconvenient to travel to downtown Duluth for services at First Swedish Evangelical Church, organized Bethany Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1886. (Bethany, which means “house of figs,” is a town near Jerusalem at the foot of the Mount of Olives where several events related to Christ’s life, including the resurrection of Lazarus, took place.) By 1889 the congregation had grown to 180 members under its first pastor, Reverend Carl O. Cassel, and had built a modest church at 2001 West Third Street.

Cassel passed away in 1898, replaced by Reverend A. F. Elmquist, who by 1903 oversaw a congregation of nine hundred that was growing at a rate of over one hundred parishioners a year. That summer the congregation built a new church at the southwest corner of Twenty-Third Avenue West and Third Street. Duluth Mayor Trevanion Hugo spoke at cornerstone laying on July 13 about the importance of churches to a city: “One church built in the city is worth ten policemen in its ability to promote peace and good behavior among the people…. The more churches a city has, the better is its appearance and the better impression it makes on strangers who visit it.”

The two-and-a-half-story church is a simple yet elegant Gothic Revival edifice faced in red brick trimmed with Fond du Lac brownstone and adorned with the usual architectural elements, including a cross-gabled roof, lancet windows and entryways, and a square tower topped with a hexagonal steeple. The foundation is also made of Fond du Lac brownstone. Research has yet to reveal the architect who designed it.

In 1912 some parishioners started calling for services in English. Reverend Carl G. Olson, who had replaced Elmquist, helped them organize a church of their own that would hold services in their newly adopted language. With the help of Reverend F. O. Hanson of Galeburg, Illinois, they formed Trinity English Lutheran Church. In 1914 the congregation laid a cornerstone for a new church at 2701 West Third Street Street. Services were held in the basement until a church was built atop it in 1923.

As the decades passed, fewer and fewer Bethany parishioners spoke Swedish. Attendance at Bethany Lutheran, Holy Trinity Lutheran, and Zion Lutheran had dropped to about fifty people each by 2010, when the three parishes merged to form Spirit of God Lutheran Church. The new congregation meets at the former Zion church. At this writing in 2022, the 1903 Bethany Lutheran Church is owned by Redemption Ministry Fellowship.