Washburn Elementary

Washburn Elementary photographed ca. 1920 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

201 West St. Andrews Street | German & Lignell, Architects | Built: 1905 | Closed: 1993

The construction of Washburn Elementary in Hunter’s Park marked a new trend in selecting names for Duluth public schools: besides statesmen, literary figures, and neighborhoods, new schools would be named for prominent early Duluthians, most with connections to education. They included Edwin Cobb, longtime member of the board of education and superintendent of its buildings; Edmund Ely, who built a mission school in Fond du Lac in 1833; beloved jouvenile court judge John D. Ensign; pioneer Oneota teacher Jerome Merritt; and early school board members Roger Munger and Reverend Charles C. Salter. Another was named for town founder William Nettleton.

Jed Washburn, an attorney by trade, was a member of the Duluth Board of Education and a director of the Duluth State Teachers College—the school’s first dormitory was also named for Washburn. His business interests outside of his law firm were vast and varied, ranging from hotels to manufacturing concerns, and he also helped create Jay Cooke State Park. But the school could just as easily have been named for his wife, Alma, who had established a reputation as a prominent figure in education and charity work throughout the state before she met her husband in 1882. She also founded the Duluth Women’s Club and served as both state and national president of the Federation of Women’s Clubs. The school was originally going to be named Glen Avon Elementary for the four-room 1893 building it was replacing. The Washburns lived nearby—they donated the land the school sat on, once a pasture for their pony, as well as books for its library and equipment for its manual training department.

Architects Frederick German and Werner Lignell designed a whimsically eclectic building that borrows from several different architectural styles. Its main St. Andrews Street façade contains two entry doors flanking a central pier over which an ornamental arched dormer protrudes from the roof. The Neoclassical doorways contain double doors topped by Roman-arch windows and capped with flared triangular pediments. The school’s hipped roof originally featured five rounded Flemish gables reminiscent of Jacobean and Scandinavian architecture, each with a circular, bull’s-eye window at its center. The two-and-a-half-story edifice, faced in cream-colored brick and topped with a highly decorative cupola, originally contained five classrooms on the first floor and three classrooms, an office, and an assembly hall on the second. The basement contained a playroom for kindergarteners.

The building saw major additions in 1926 and 1957. The gable on the school’s western façade was removed during the 1926 renovation to accommodate a large wing, Despite this, the original school has retained much of its architectural charm. Washburn Elementary closed in 1990. Today it is home to Duluth Bible Church.

Washburn Elementary School. (Image: Zenith City Press)