Marvin House

The Marvin House shown in an 1891 photo etching by lithographer F. B. Schuchardt. [Image: Duluth Public Library]

123 W. Third St. | Architect: Unknown| Built: ca. 1887 | Extant

Luke A. Marvin was five years old in 1861 when his father, also named Luke, brought his family to Duluth from St. Paul over the Military Road despite this warning from Reverend Edmund Ely: “If you love your family, do not attempt to bring them over the old military road from St. Paul, Mrs. Marvin and the children could never make the trip.” Why take such a trip? The elder Marvin had purchased interest in Oneota, founded by Ely and others, and had moved north to oversee his investment. Shortly thereafter he was appointed registrar of the U.S. Land Office and served as St. Louis County auditor. In 1871 he represented northeastern Minnesota in the state legislature and four years later became Duluth’s postmaster. Meanwhile, in the 1860s young Marvin moved between Duluth and St. Paul with his mother to attend school. The entire family made Duluth their permanent home in 1869.

When the elder Marvin passed in 1880, his job as postmaster was handed over to Luke A., a decision the Lake Superior News said “gives very general satisfaction.” The job apparently gave Marvin little satisfaction, as he resigned two years later to run a book and stationery store and switched jobs again just a year later, becoming assistant superintendent of the Lake Superior & Union Improvement Elevator Co., which built and operated grain elevators. In 1885 he married Francis Lois Rice and the couple rented rooms at 424 West Superior Street.

In 1888 the Marvins were living at 123 West Third Street. County records state the house was built in 1883. According to city directories the Marvins did not live at that address until 1887, and street maps of Duluth prior to 1888 do not include it. If the house was built prior to 1887, then its original owner—like its architect—has been lost to history, although it is likely that the county records are simply incorrect, as they often are. Whoever built and designed the house left Duluth with a beautiful example of early Victorian Shingle–style architecture, often referred to simply as Shingle Style. Anchored by a hexagonal corner tower, the stick structure features a grand porch with oval lattice work and a gable end pediment marking the entrance; the ornamental stick work is echoed on the third-story balcony’s circular openings.

In the 1890s Marvin began his career as deputy county auditor, and in 1915 he and Francis moved to 206 South Twenty-First Avenue East. By then he had been spending much of his time teaching Sunday School at the Duluth Bethel, which he had supported since becoming a board member in the 1880s, and was considered Bethel founder Reverend C. C. Salter’s chief advisor. Marvin died in September 1924. The following year the Bethel constructed a new building at 23 Mesaba Avenue and named it the Luke A. Marvin Memorial Building.