United Protestant Church

Morgan Park United Protestant Church ca. 1919, photographer unknown. [Image: Library of Congress]

830 88th Ave. W. | Architects: German & Jenssen | Built: 1922 | Extant

In 1916, seventy residents of Morgan Park and neighboring Smithville led by Reverend A. H. Mutschler organized a Presbyterian congregation and planned to build a church within Morgan Park. But there were many different types of Protestants living in Morgan Park, and the community could not possibly include a church building for every denomination. According to Arnold Alanen, in 1916 more than 1,100 Protestants lived in Morgan Park, including Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and “eight smaller groups.” The following year the Morgan Park Company and Minnesota Steel Company announced they supported another idea: build one church to serve all Protestant denominations, “thus doing away with the need for a number of inadequately supported congregations,” as the Duluth News Tribune explained.

The companies even offered to donate a building site and finance the church’s construction. Reverend Charles W. Ramshaw accepted the call to serve as the congregation’s first pastor, but the cornerstone wasn’t laid until September 11, 1921. He held services in the auditoriums of the Lake View Store and Morgan Park School until the church was complete. The Morgan Park Company selected a site in the community’s eastern neighborhood, near its main entrance, and hired architects German & Jenssen to design it, a fact contradicted by a 1922 Duluth News Tribune article stating that “plans were drawn by Harry Wills of the Oliver Iron Mining Co.”

The design called for a concrete Gothic Revival building in a cruciform shape. Its dominant feature is a three-story square bell tower with a crenelated cornice and open lancet arches. The recessed main entry also features a Gothic arch, and tower buttresses support the building’s corners. The church’s sanctuary sat 350 people, with room for 75 more in the balcony and another 25 in the choir loft; the first floor also contained a pastor’s study. The basement contained club rooms for church societies and a Sunday School that could accommodate 500 as well as a kitchen and a “holler room” where parents could bring their crying children during services. Ramshaw led its dedication service on April 2, 1922.

The congregation rented the church and two houses in Morgan Park until 1945, when it purchased the buildings. But maintaining an all-concrete building comes with water issues: over time, concrete become porous. So in 2002 the congregation spent $400,000 to rebuild the church’s signature tower. The building still serves Protestants in western Duluth today.