Williams House

The western and southern exposures of the Williams house photographed ca. 1912 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

2601 East 2nd Street | Architect: Frederick W. Perkins | b. 1913 | Extant

Born in Wales in 1855, John G. Williams came to Duluth to practice law in 1884, four years after emigrating. He and his wife, Julia, married in 1890, and three years later they welcomed a daughter, Helen, before setting up house at 931 East Fourth Street. By 1911 the Williamses felt it was time to upgrade their residence, so they hired Frederick Perkins to design them an English Gothic manor house at the northeast corner of Twenty-Fourth Avenue East and Second Street.

Perkins’s plans called for a three-story home faced in red brick trimmed with limestone and topped with a cross-gabled roof with slate tiles. The building has a rather unique footprint, with the northeast portion of the house curved to follow the driveway. Two gables along its Second Street façade frame a two-story limestone pavilion topped with a balcony protected by a stone balustrade crowned with a pair of finials and accessed through French doors in one of the roof’s five segmental-arch dormers. Similar balconies are found on the house’s eastern and western façades, and the same style of balustrades define a first-floor terrace elevated above the exposed basement level that stretches across the entire southern facade. Other architectural elements include patterned brickwork, corner tower buttresses, and parapet endwalls that incorporate the house’s chimneys. Inside, the nearly nine-thousand-square-foot house’s thirty rooms include seven bedrooms and five bathrooms, while seven fireplaces help keep the big house cozy. The library and several other public rooms feature plaster tracery ceilings, and the basement still has its regulation bowling alley, complete with with a manual ball-return system.

The same year the Williamses moved into their house, John was elected president of the Minnesota State Bar Association and appointed to the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents, a position he held until his death in 1937. Julia had died two years earlier, so the house was sold to Dr. Edward E. Webber and his wife, Bonnie. When Dr. Webber, who founded Duluth’s Webber Hospital, died in 1944, Bonnie moved to Chicago and sold the house to its most famous owner, Minnesota novelist Sinclair Lewis, who lived in the house from May 1944 to January 1946 with his girlfriend and mother while writing the novel Kingsblood Royal. Bank of Commerce president Jay Markle and his wife Althea then lived in the house until 1951, when it became Our Lady of the Rosary Convent, home to an order of Dominican nuns, until 1994. The house has been a private residence since the sisters moved out.

The western and southern exposures of the Williams house photographed ca. 1912 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

The John and Julia Williams House, photographed by Dennis O’Hara in 2009. John Williams was an attorney; author Sinclair Lewis lived in this house between 1944 and 1946. (Image: Northern Images)

To see modern exterior and interior photographs of this house and learn more about its architecture, visit Twin Ports Past’s post about the house HERE.