First Unitarian

1802 East 1st Street | Anthony Puck, Architect | Built: 1910 | Closed: 2000

In June 1887 the Duluth Weekly Tribune noted that Reverend O. Clute of the American Unitarian Association was in town from Boston to “hold some Unitarian meetings in our city.” That June, liberal-minded Duluthians including Judge Ozora P. Stearns and Melvin R. Baldwin organized the First Unitarian Church of Duluth. Baldwin, the congregation’s president, was also the president of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. Services were initially held by visiting Reverend James H. West in the Ingalls Block at 105–107 West Superior Street before moving to Odd Fellows Hall. In 1891 the congregation purchased the 1871 Pilgrim Congregational Church at 101 East Second Street under its first permanent pastor, Reverend T. Jefferson Valentine. Reverend F. C. Southworth replaced Valentine the next year, and three years later the congregation moved the church to 732 East First Street where Reverend George R. Gebauer took over from Southworth.

In 1909 GeBauer was still leading the congregation when they decided to build a new church at the southwest corner of Eighteenth Avenue East and First Street. (The former Pilgrim Church was demolished sometime before 1955.) Anthony Puck designed a church he described to newspaper as “late Tudor” and which some architectural historians have called “Craftsman Medieval Revival.” A building of humble size, First Unitarian is faced with ashlar courses of multi-colored native stone and features a square corner tower supported by tower buttresses and crowned with a short octagonal steeple. Stucco and half-timbering along the gable end, as well as corbels supporting the eaves and entrance portico, provide the Tudor Revival touches.

The 1910 church served Duluth’s Unitarians until the 1990s, when the congregation, under Minister Karen Gustafson, finally outgrew it. After putting dreams of a brand new building on hold, in 2002 the congregation decided to move and purchased the former Woodland United Methodist Church. The Quaker congregation Duluth-Superior Friends purchased the 1910 building, and today the Tudor Revival building serves as the Duluth-Superior Friends Meeting House. The First Unitarian congregation is now called the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth, which moved to 835 West College Street in 2006.

First Unitarian Church. (Image: Zenith City Press)