Cotton House

The Cotton House ca. 1910 , photographer unknown. [Image: Minnesota Historical Society]

2309 E. First Street | Architect: Kees & Colburn | Built: 1907 | Extant

Indiana native Joseph Bell Cotton came to Duluth in 1888, just twenty-three years old and fresh out of law school. By the time the stock market had crashed in May 1893, Cotton was working for Duluth’s Merritt family as the attorney for their Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad as well as their Mountain Iron, Missabe Mountain, and Biwabik Mountain Mining companies. But the Merritts relied on financing from John D. Rockefeller, who called in their debts following the panic. The Merritts eventually lost all of their holdings to Rockefeller, after which Cotton stayed on with Rockefeller as councel for the DM&N and Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mines. In 1895, Alfred Merritt sued Rockefeller for fraud over the creation of Lake Superior Consolidated Mines. Cotton served as Rockefeller’s lead attorney—and lost. Rockefeller appealed, and the case was eventually settled out of court. Cotton served as Rockefeller’s attorney until the robber baron’s death in 1937 while also working for others and investing heavily in mining. After the formation of United States Steel in 1900, Cotton stood with many Duluthians who had built a fortune through iron ore.

In 1900 Cotton married Michigan native Selina Louise Hubel, who went by her middle name; the pair went on to have three kids, Josephine, Mary, and John. In 1906 the Cottons decided to build themselves a grand home at the northeast corner of First Street and Twenty-Third Avenue East, hiring Minneapolis’s Kees & Cobourn to design a three-story Northern Italian Renaissance Revival mansion faced in yellow brick trimmed with buff-colored sandstone. Modillions extend from the eaves under its low, tile-covered roof, below which runs a row of dentils. The home’s front entrance portico is supported by six Ionic columns and brick piers at the corners, adorned at the top with cartouches. The portico supports a second floor balcony with an entrance capped by a triangular pediment supported by corbels; a stone balustrade surrounds the balcony. Heavy quoins define the house’s corners, which also contain stone carvings near the stone carvings also sit atop the portico and the solarium that extends from the house’s eastern facade.

Joseph Cotton died in 1940. After Cotton’s death, George Tweed purchased the house from Louise and donated it to the University of Minnesota Duluth as Tweed Hall, which housed UMD’s Art Department until 1960. It then became a private home and has operated as a bed-and-breakfast since 2000. Louise died in New York in 1972 at age ninety-four.

To see modern exterior and interior photographs of this house and learn more about its architecture, visit Twin Ports Past’s post about the house HERE.