Cook House (“House of Rock”)

The Cook House ca. 1936, photographer unknown. [Image: Minnesota Historical Society]

501 West Skyline Parkway | Architect: I. Vernon Hill | Built: 1900 | Extant

Most Duluthians know the Cook house as the “House of Rock” both for the rocky lot it sits on and the incorporation of the same stone by architect I. Vernon Hill. Built along what is now Skyline Parkway, providing it with a remarkable views of the Duluth-Superior harbor, the Picturesque Style home became truly picturesque: at one time it was considered the most photographed house in Duluth, and in 1931 it was featured in an advertisement for the Duluth Builders’ Exchange touting Duluth as a “metropolis serving the great Northwest Empire and its Atlantic Gateway.” True to its Picturesque roots, it is difficult to tell where the landscaping ends and the house begins. Above the stone the house contains elements of Shingle and Tudor Revival styles, such as the Tudor-inspired diamond-patterned windows.

Ohio native Arthur Purdon Cook came to Duluth in 1886, a year before he married his wife Ella. Cook went to work as a druggist at Max Wirth’s pharmacy and dabbled in real estate until 1894, when St. Louis County created the role of Poor Commissioner and appointed Cook to the position. From 1894 to 1934, Cook ran the Coutn Poor Farm and oversaw its development and expansion. He took four years leave between 1910 and 1914 to serve as Duluth’s postmaster. In 1934 the St. Louis County Poor Farm was renamed the Cook Home in honor Cook, who retired that year. A Duluth Herald article commemorating Cook’s retirement described the position he held for forty years as requiring “patience, understanding, fairness, and both softness and hardness at times of depression, unemployment and epidemics. Terrific pressure is brought to bear on the Clerk of the County Poor Commission and it is no job for a weakling.” Cook certainly excelled at his job, but his overall character is questionable to modern sensibilities: his name appears on the 1925 and 1926 membership rosters of Duluth’s actively anti-Catholic chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, along with many other elected and appointed public officials, educators, ministers, police officers, and firefighters.

The Arthur P. Cook House photographed by Dennis O’Hara in 2009. (Image: Northern Images)