St. James Orphanage

St. James Orphanage photographed ca. 1910 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

4321 Allendale Avenue | Architect: A. Werner Lignell | Built: 1910 | Extant

When the Benedictine nuns operating St. Mary’s Hospital moved into a new facility in 1898, their West End facility became Duluth’s Catholic orphanage. About ten years later Bishop James McGolrick donated forty acres of land at the end of the Woodland Streetcar Line he had purchased in 1890, and the diocese bought six more adjacent acres for a new “orphan asylum” to be called St. James Orphanage. The bishop convinced the Duluth Street Railway Company to haul building materials to the site for free, and by mid-September 1909 a cornerstone had been laid. The diocese hired A. Werner Lignell to design a four-story facility the Duluth News Tribune described as “modeled on the Elizabethan style of architecture,” but its decorative elements indicate
a strong Classical Revival influence, including two-story Doric columns that originally supported a large ground-floor veranda and porches on the second and third floors. Its orange brick is strikingly contrasted with white Bedford limestone trim, including heavy quoins and keystones above each rectangular window. Half-circle windows adorn each gable end, gabled dormers peak out from the third floor, and a row of dentils adorns the bottom of the cornice.

The ground floor contained committee rooms, a chaplain’s apartment, a large dining room, and classrooms. The girls’ dormitory, sewing room, bishop’s suite, and nuns’ cells were on the second floor, while the boys’ dormitory, infants’ playroom, and refectory occupied the third. One hundred orphans moved from the West End to Woodland when the facility opened in August 1910. There was room for another one hundred of them, and nine more nuns as well. Besides housing, the facility offered industrial and “scientific farm” training for boys, and initially twenty acres of land surrounding the facility were farmed. Meanwhile, girls were taught “domestic sciences.” St. James also provided space for a kindergarten for students of nearby St. John’s School, where the residents of St. James attended classes. Some of the school’s students were orphaned while others were those of single parents who could not afford to take care of them.

In 1971 St. James became Woodland Hills, a residential youth treatment center later renamed the Hills Youth and Family Services. In 2021 the organization unexpectedly announced the closure of the facility’s outpatient mental health services at the 1910 building. Later that year Stella Maris Academy, formerly Holy Rosary School, purchased the former orphanage with plans to convert it for use as a high school. It is now called Stella Maris St. John’s Campus.