Miller Memorial Hospital

Miller Memorial Hospital photographed ca. 1938 by Perry Gallagher Sr.. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

502–510 E. Second St. | Architects: Ellerbe & Co. | Built: 1934 | Extant

When early Duluth lumberman, brownstone quarry owner, and former Village of Duluth president Andreas M. Miller—a native of Denmark—built the city’s Lyceum Theater, he intentionally omitted private boxes: Miller wanted everyone, regardless of class, to enjoy a good view of the stage. When Miller retired he moved to New York and set up a $600,000 trust to finance his retirement and, after his death, several charities. In 1917 he changed the trust, replacing the charities with instructions to “transfer and pay over said securities in property to the City of Duluth, Minnesota, for the establishment of a free and public hospital and dispensary, in a cheerful and convenient location within the city for secular use and benefit of worthy sick and helpless poor, without distinction of sex, color, creed, or nationality….” Duluth then had two major hospitals, Catholic St. Mary’s and Protestant St. Luke’s, and while they both welcomed people of all creeds, Miller wanted a public hospital unaffiliated with any religion.

Miller died later that year, but due to legal entanglements (civic leaders questioned Miller’s intentions and wanted a facility that accepted those with contagious diseases) it took Duluth seventeen years to build his hospital. Its original board members included Kate Barnes, whose efforts driving the project forward were instrumental to its completion.

Designed by Ellerbe & Co., a St. Paul firm founded by Franklin Ellerbe (who designed the 1914 Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota), Miller Memorial is one of Duluth’s few Art Deco buildings. It stands five stories tall, with the top floor originally covering only half of the building’s footprint to leave room for a rooftop garden. The Duluth News Tribune described it as “entirely devoid of ornamentation, depending for architectural affect on pleasing proportions and an effective color scheme.” That scheme was provided by contrasting cream-colored brick trimmed with Kasota limestone quarried in Mankato, Minne-sota. Vertical piers run from the building’s foundation to its roof, and alternating courses of stone and brick above and below each window added further visual interest.

The ground floor contained offices, a clinic, outpatient department, laboratories, exam rooms, and an x-ray room. Operating and sterilization rooms, as well as living quarters for nurses and staff, occupied the second floor. The third floor was home to the obstetric and pediatric departments as well as four four-bed wards and a solarium, and the fourth floor also contained a solarium and patient rooms. A kitchen, employee dining room, laundry, store rooms, and a modern morgue were found in the basement. The hospital received its first patient on May 15, 1934.

In 1971 builders completed a major expansion of the building, financed with a large donation from philanthropist Mary C. Dwan, prompting the facility’s name change to Miller-Dwan. A radiation treatment center was added in 1981. Following several mergers, the facility is today part of the Essentia Health Duluth campus.