First Presbyterian (1891)

300 East 2nd Street | Architects: Traphagen & Fitzpatrick | Built: 1891 | Extant

I n 1889 parishioners of Duluth’s First Presbyterian decided to build a new church on a lot diagonally across the street from its 1870 edifice. By then the corner of Third Avenue East and Second Street was part of Ashtabula Heights, a tony neighborhood of opulent Victorian and Romanesque Revival homes built by wealthy families, many of whom attended the church. The new building fit right in with the opulent homes nearby.

The Duluth Herald first described the Romanesque Revival church as “a natural expression of the rugged hillside from which it emerges.” Indeed, faced with ashlar courses of Lake Superior brownstone quarried in Wisconsin, its 120-foot corner bell tower seems to have erupted from somewhere below Second Street. The tower itself is dressed with corner turrets and topped with an elaborate Neo-Gothic spire, below which its belfry’s resident rings out through arched openings. The Second Street façade features a triple-arched entryway leading to the sanctuary, above which sit several arched, stained-glass windows. Along Third Avenue East, a large rosette window fills the western gable and a pediment-topped portico supported by Corinthian columns carved by George Thrana leads to the basement, outfitted as the church’s Sunday School and library.

Inside, the work of another great Duluth artisan adorns the sanctuary. Ann Weston, a stained-glass designer for Tiffany & Company, produced nine memorial windows for the church, five in the sanctuary and four others along the building’s southern end. Weston also designed a window triptych titled Ships at Sea, installed in 1920 to honor the memory of Annie Laurie Adams, the wife of mining executive John Boswell Adams. The window shows three ships with the Latin names Spes, Amor, and Felicitas (Hope, Love, and Faith).

The church’s sanctuary includes a pitched gallery, held up by unobtrusive columns ,that brings the room’s capacity to over one thousand. The basement included a school with classrooms and an assembly room that seated four hundred. In 1913, a three-story addition to the rear of the building, designed by architects by Holstead & Sullivan, created a new Sunday School and two “memorial” rooms entirely in keeping with the original design and materials. Three years later, the congregation installed a pipe organ designed by Ernest Skinner.

While Duluth’s wealthy began moving east a few years after the building was constructed, the church thrived for decades. But as lifelong parishioner Kathy Peterson explained to the Duluth News Tribune in 2019, attendance in the 1950s was about 300 to 400 worshippers a week, but that by the congregation’s 150th anniversary it had dropped to 35. As of December 2021, the congregation survives.


The 1891 First Presbyterian Church, photographed in 2009 by Dennis O’Hara. (Image: Northern Images)