Adams Elementary

Adams Elementary. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

1721 West Superior Street | Architect: McMillen  & Stebbins | Built: 1885 | Lost: 1968

Duluth’s Adams School, built to serve students living in the West End between Tenth and Twentieth Avenues West, was perched on a granite hill overlooking Rice’s Point. The school was named for a President Adams, but records do not indicate if the namesake was John Adams or his son John Quincy Adams or both.

Designed by Charles McMillen and Edward Stebbins, the three-story brick school was executed with Classical Revival elements and featured a square tower, several arched windows and entrances, and several columns supporting a pediment above its main entrance, but was otherwise unadorned. Originally Adams had eight classrooms, four per floor, each intended to accommodate seventy-five students. When the school first opened in 1886, the second floor was unused due to a lack of students. Enrollment jumped from 187 in 1887 to 344 in 1888, the year newspapers reported that the building was being adapted to accommodate more students. Three years later the school board hired McMillen and his new partner, Edwin Radcliffe, to design an addition with six more classrooms.

The opening of the West End’s 1889 Lincoln Elementary School took a lot of pressure off Adams, but not for long. By 1896 the school board was calling on McMillen for another addition, and complaining that the school’s ventilation was “miserable and should be remedied.” This ever-inadequate building somehow managed to serve until halfway through the next century. When Adams School closed in 1951 its 280 students transferred to Lincoln School.

In 1962 excavation contractor Harvey Grew purchased the building from the school district for $100, planning to raze the building and create a parking lot. Three years later he regretted the purchase and offered the building and land for free if a new owner would use the property for a public purpose. There were no offers. In 1965 the Duluth Herald called the building “the city’s No. 1 eyesore.” Adams remained vacant until 1968 when it was demolished. Its rock retaining wall remains.