First Swedish Evangelical Lutheran (Gloria Dei)

First Swedish Evangelical Lutheran photographed ca. 1913 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

219 N. Sixth Ave. E | Architect: Carl Nystrom  | Built: 1906 | Extant

On June 16, 1869, two hundred immigrants from Sweden, including thirteen families, arrived in Duluth, recruited to help build the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad. It was a rather stunning event: until that time, fewer than two hundred Euro-Americans lived in Duluth. When Duluth became a city the following March, it had 3,130 citizens, 20 percent of them Swedish immigrants. The following November Reverend Peter A. Cedarstam of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the United States travelled to Duluth and found twenty-three charter members to help him organize the First Swedish Evangelical Lutheran congregation.
The group first worshipped in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church until they raised the funds needed to build a church at 131 West Second Street on property donated by Jay Cooke’s Western Land Association. Cedarstram travelled to Duluth once a month to hold servises in Swedish. The congregation didn’t have a permanent pastor until Reverend Charles Collin arrived in 1882.

In 1905 Reverend Carl Solomonson formed a building committee that hired Duluth architect and Swedish immigrant Carl Nystrom to design a brick church to sit on a foundation of Lake Superior brownstone at the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue East and Third Street. Nystrom drew up a classic example of Gothic architecture, complete with lancet windows and doorways, a pair of square corner towers, and tower buttresses. Both towers, adorned with castellations and pyramidal corners, originally served as an entrance vestibule, with matching stairways leading to recessed brick entries. When first built, the northeast tower was capped with a hexagonal steeple, itself topped with a cross. Solomonson led the dedication service on August 19, 1906.

Inside, the sanctuary originally sat six hundred worshippers. Above the altar along the building’s southern end hung The Ascension of our Lord, a painting by Duluth native David Ericson, who immigrated from Swedish as a child and found worldwide acclaim for his work.

By 1919, parishioners were calling for services in English, which were provided twice on Sunday afternoons. Ten years later there was a dramatic reduction of Swedish-speaking congregants, and Swedish services were eventually phased out. A 1995 book on the church’s history mentions the elimination of Swedish services as the reason the congregation changed its name to the Evangelical Lutheran Gloria Dei Church in 1933.

Besides the new name, the building underwent extensive remodeling efforts in 1946, 1993, and 2007; the latter included a refurbishing of the 1906 stained-glass windows. An education wing was constructed in 1959. Sadly, a fire in February 2016 gutted the building, destroying the windows, a pump organ, and the Ericson painting. Undaunted, the congregation carried out a three-
year restoration and renovation of the building, complete with brand-new stained-glass windows. The interior was reversed, so that the altar is along the north or Third Street end of the building facing south. The work was completed in 2019, and the next year the congregation celebrated its sesquicentennial.