West Duluth’s Historic Hospitals

The Traphagen Block, home to Dr. Graham’s Hospital, ca. 1916. [Image: Zenith City Press]

During the first half of the twentieth century, four hospitals served the western half of Duluth. Recently a patron at the Duluth Public Library, where I volunteer, asked the reference staff if they knew anything about the Webber Hospital in West Duluth. I was surprised to learn there was more than one hospital serving the western half of Duluth in the first half of the twentieth century. Over the years, there were four.

Likely the first hospital to serve West Duluth was the Red Cross Hospital at 53rd Avenue West and Ramsey Streets, which operated from 1899 until 1908. Not much is known about this hospital, but it was likely put in place by the charity organization to fill a void: Back then, it would take a long time to bring an ill or injured person in West Duluth all the way to St. Luke’s or St. Mary’s east of downtown Duluth. (The Hearding Hospital, which opened in 1923, and the 1934 Miller Memorial Hospital would also choose sites near downtown.)

In 1903 Dr. David Graham saw the need for a hospital in West Duluth and opened the Graham Hospital on the second floor of the Traphagen Block at 301 North Central Avenue. Graham was a native of Florence, Ontario, who came to Duluth in 1893 after finishing his education at the Detroit College of Medicine.

Graham was very civic minded. He was elected as one of two representatives of the 49th District (serving West Duluth) to the state legislature in 1902, serving a two-year term. He did not run for reelection in 1904, but in 1908 and was pressured by friends and Republican community leaders to run again and, along with incumbent and fellow Republican Joseph Austin, took the seat.

In 1908 Graham also won the government contract to build a new post office building in West Duluth. The new post office, a modest 50 x 50 foot brick building, was built on Bristol Street near the corner of Central Avenue, described as “directly in the rear of Dr. Graham’s hospital.” It may actually have been attached to the hospital building.

On November 10, 1909, a fire thought to have started in two locations severely damaged most of the buildings on the 300 block of Central Avenue. The Traphagen Block, including the hospital, was completely gutted; the loss was estimated at $17,000, about $400,000 today. Graham had the hospital rebuilt quickly, with the post office operating in the rear of the building, and it reopened January 31, 1910, with a new name: Duluth Hospital.

Dr. Graham’s most notorious patient was 19-year-old Irene Tusken, who in 1920 falsely accused black circus workers of raping her, which set rioting and the lynching of three innocent men. Dr. Graham testified at trials in the wake of the tragedy, repeating an earlier statement he had made to the Duluth News Tribune that he “did not find physical evidence that a rape had actually been committed.”

Dr. Graham died in 1933 at the age of 74. His son Reginald, also a physician, took over the hospital, but he himself died less than two months after his father. The hospital officially closed in 1935. Today the building is home to Ganucci’s Italian Village.

Fortunately for residents of Duluth’s western environs, another hospital just a few blocks away was also serving West Duluth and Proctor residents. In 1927 Dr. Edward E. Webber opened the Webber Hospital at 5601 Grand Avenue, and you can read about it here.

Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.