Pilgrim Congregational Church

Pilgrim Congregational Church, date and photographer unknown. [Image: Pilgrim Congregational Church]

2310 East 4th Street | Architects Frederick German & Leif Jenssen | b. 1917 | Extant

When Reverend Charles N. Thorp took charge of Duluth’s Pilgrim Congregational Church in 1912, he set the congregation on a new course. After recognizing that its geographic center had shifted eastward, he argued that a new building was essential to the congregation’s survival: “The easy thing would be to stay downtown and hold the fort until the ammunition is exhausted. The heroic thing is to occupy higher ground and win in the end larger things.” So the congregation decided to move to the city’s East End, where many of its wealthy congregants had relocated.

They purchased lots on the southeast corner of Fourth Street at Twenty-Third Avenue East and hired architects Frederick German and Leif Jenssen to draw plans for an English Gothic Revival church that the Duluth News Tribune called “one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the state.” Faced with red tapestry brick and trimmed with Indiana limestone, the building is actually two connected structures, a church and a parish house, separated by a spacious foyer. The two wings form an L-shape, with the church running along Fourth Street and the parish house perpendicular to the church. A tall, square crenelated bell tower sits tucked into the crook of the L, with a large arched entry vestibule at its base. Its Gothic windows feature heavy tracery, and tower buttresses separate the piers.

The first-floor sanctuary, with seating for 750 worshippers, saw its first service on December 23, 1917. More could be seated in second-floor galleries. The Sunday School auditorium occupied the first floor of the parish house, with classrooms on the second. The parish house basement, or ground floor, contained a kitchen and dining room that sat three hundred. Besides the bell, the tower held rooms for the congregation’s men’s group and a study for the pastor.

The building holds many memories from the congregation’s first two buildings. It sits on a foundation of brownstone salvaged from the 1888 church, and part of the roof is shingled with slate from the Second Street church as well.

The cornerstone of the congregation’s old Lake Avenue church was placed in the northwest corner of the new church’s nave. Two stained-glass windows from the old churches were also moved to the new building—one in memory of congregation founder Roger Munger from the 1871 church and another, in memory of Reverend Jonathan Edwards Woodbridge, from the 1888 church. At least ten other stained-glass windows adorn the building, most commissioned in memory of people associated with the congregation and installed between 1918 and 1979, five made by Tiffany & Company.


Pilgrim Congregational Church photographed by Dennis O’Hara in 2009. (Image: Northern Images)