Olcott House

The Olcott House in 1948, photographer unknown. [Image: U of M Northwest Architectural Archives]

2316 E. First Street | Architects: Bray & Olsen | Built: 1904 | Extant

The formation of United States Steel in 1900 made a lot of Duluthians quite wealthy, not the least of whom was William J. Olcott, who in 1901 was named president of the steel giant’s Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway. Olcott was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1862 and raised in Marquette. He attended the University of Michigan, studying chemistry and mining while starring as the Wolverine football team’s “three-quarter back.” After graduating in 1883, he took a job as assistant engineer for the Chapin Mine on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before becoming a chemist and engineer for several other U.P. mining companies before going to work for John D. Rockefeller’s Penokee and Gogebic Consolidated Iron Mines in Bessemer. In February 1894, Rockefeller wrested control of the Mesabi Range mining and railroad assets of Duluth’s Merritt family and made Olcott superintendent of their Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mines. The railroad he took charge of in 1901 also first belonged to the Merritts before Rockefeller came along.

Olcott had married New Yorker Fannie Bailey in 1887, and when they arrived in Duluth in 1894 their family had grown to four with daughters Elizabeth and Dorothy. They purchased an existing home at 2316 East First Street. By 1904 Olcott had earned a fortune, so he and Fannie purchased several lots adjoining their own and hired William Bray and Peter Olsen to design a two-and-half-story red brick Georgian Revival home for the new lot. The old house stood until the new one was completed Thanksgiving week 1904. The new house’s most striking feature is its two-story round entrance pavilion, supported by four Ionic columns. The house’s gambrel roof, lined with modillions and dentils beneath the eaves, contains three gabled dormers along the First Street front facade; they carry fan-light Roman-arch windows, matching the main door surround on the first floor. Doric columns support a porch on the house’s west side and the porte cochère on the east. The Olcott’s daughter Dorothy recalled that the billiard room was placed on the house’s first floor because her father refused to “take [his] friends down to any basement or up to any attic.”

In 1909 Olcott became president of the Oliver Mining Company. He retired in 1928, the same year Fannie died unexpectedly, and passed away himself in 1935. Virginia, Minnesota’s Olcott Park, built on land Olcott donated, is named in his honor. He also donated property for the Fanny Bailey Olcott camp for Girl Scouts on Half Moon Lake, near Eveleth.

The house sat vacant after Fannie’s death until 1939. From 1940 to 1960 the house served as the Olcott Hall, the University of Minnesota Duluth’s music conservatory, after which the Golden Hour Evangelistic Association owned the house until 1989. Since then the house has been intermittently operated as a bed and breakfast.


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.