Bethany Lutheran Children’s Home (1922)

The Bethany Children’s Home photographed in 1922 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

4000 West 9th Street | Architect: German & Jenssen | Built: 1922 | Lost: 1974

In 1915 the Minnesota Conference of the Augusta Synod of the Swedish Lutheran Church of America organized an orphanage society in Duluth. The group considered four different locations before purchasing the 1892 home of Alfred and Jane Merritt at 4000 West Ninth Street. Alfred lead the famous 1889–1890 expedition to north of Duluth that lead to the discovery of the Mesabi Iron Range. The Merritt home sat on six acres just above the tracks of the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railroad, built by the Merritt family in the early 1890s. The house—which was owned by Emil Nyberg when the society purchased it—had sixteen large rooms which were converted to serve thirty-five children. Over three thousand Swedish-speaking Lutherans attended its dedication in June 1916. A few weeks later, the home had a dozen young residents. It reached full capacity a year later.

The facility’s doors opened May 1, 1916, but the building served just four years, destroyed by fire on October 10, 1920. Four hose companies of the Duluth Fire Department responded to the blaze, which started beneath one of the building’s porches at about noon. Strong winds hampered firefighting efforts, and the building was a total loss. The matron, Mrs. Ella Anderson, her seven assistants, and the fifty-three children they cared for all got out alive. While the society worked to construct a new facility, the orphans were temporary lodged in the houses of West End and West Duluth members of the city’s various Swedish Lutheran churches before a house at Fortieth Avenue West and Sixth Street was leased for them.

The society, led by director Reverend Carl O. Swan, asked local architects Frederick German and Leif Jenssen to design a new, simple yet substantial English Revival–influenced building on the Merritt house site. Faced in brick and trimmed with stone, the facility stood three-and-a-half stories high (including an elevated basement) with roof dormers and a cupola rising above its cross-gabled roof, large porches on the gable end, and a two-story recessed Roman-arch entryway supported by tower buttresses. Its cornerstone was laid on November 5, 1922, and construction was completed in early 1923. The building contained enough beds to house eighty-five children, including infants and newborns.

The building was later converted to a home for troubled teens; in 1965 it suffered major fire damage, but remained in use until it was demolished in 1974. A new facility built on the same site is now part of Northwood Children’s Services.