MStP&SSM (Soo Line) Passenger Station

The soo Line Passenger Station photographed ca. 1965 by Clarence F. Sager. [Image: Dale Johnson]

602 West Superior Street | Architects: Bell, Tyrie & Chapmen, Architects | Built: 1910 | Lost: 1972

First formed in 1888, the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railroad (MStP&SSM) arrived in Duluth in 1910 in grand style. The railroad—known as the Soo Line—built a large passenger depot designed by Charles E. Bell, William M. Tyrie, and Cecil B. Chapman along the lower 600 block of West Superior Street. The Classical Revival building, faced in red brick with stone and terra-cotta trim, stood one-and-a-half stories tall along Superior Street and dropped two stories in back to reach Michigan Street. Design elements included Doric columns along the Superior Street entrance portico, pedimental window hoods buttressed by corbels, and modillions and dentils running beneath an ornate cornice outfitted with stone balustrades.

The Soo Line paid dearly—$2.5 million, worth over $70 million today—for its final mile of track into the city. By the time the railroad came to Duluth, much of the city’s railroad right-of-way was in use, leaving little room for a new rail line. To provide a path without disrupting street traffic, the railroad created space beneath Michigan Street. Work on a tunnel began in 1908 by the Wisconsin Central Railroad. A small army of men used dynamite and rock drills to cut through the Point of Rocks. When completed, the tunnel ran sixteen feet below the Superior Street grade and measured sixteen feet high and twenty-seven feet wide. While the tunnel was under construction, the Soo Line absorbed Wisconsin Central.

Passenger service began in October 1910, offering travelers a variety of routes to destinations throughout the Midwest including the Laker, which ran an overnight service between the Twin Ports and Chicago’s Grand Central Station. The Soo Line also maintained two freight stations in Duluth, one at the foot of Ramsey Street and another at the foot of Tenth Avenue West. In 1960 the Soo Line acquired the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway (DSS&A), a line first formed in 1888 to connect Duluth to Sault Ste. Marie at the eastern end of Lake Superior and on to the Eastern Seaboard. The purchase made sense: the DSS&A had been using the Soo Line’s track since they first opened, and both railroads were subsidiaries of Canadian Pacific. The relationship was short-lived, however; Duluth service ended in 1961. The Laker was discontinued completely on January 15, 1965.

Redevelopment plans called for the building to be renovated as the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center. Unfortunately, years of neglect resulted in a completely flooded basement, which undermined the building’s structural strength. The Soo Line Depot was demolished in 1972 as part of Duluth’s Gateway Urban Renewal Project. Gateway Towers, an apartment complex for seniors, now occupies the Soo Line Depot’s former location.