Bethesda Norwegian Lutheran

Bethesda Norwegian Lutheran Church photographed ca. 1920 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections]

531 East 5th Street | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1913 | Lost: 1977

Norwegians were part of Duluth’s first major wave of immigrants beginning in 1869, with over 250 of them living in Duluth in 1870 when its population first exceeded 3,000. In October 1871, fifty Duluthians organized the First Norwegian Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation. Their first building, constructed at Fourth Avenue East and Tenth Street in 1872, blew down during a gale in 1874. They then purchased the former Swedish Methodist church at Fourth Avenue West and Fourth Street, staying until they built a new church on the northwest corner of First Avenue East and Third Street in 1887.

In 1892 a handful of families that made up fewer than twenty parishioners decided they had enough of the church—not the building so much as their fellow parishioners. They walked away that October and organized the Bethesda Norwegian Lutheran Church, later constructing a modest house of worship on the corner of Sixth Avenue East and Fifth Street

In 1913, under Pastor Theodore Ousted, the building was replaced with a new brick Gothic Revival church. Building records for the church no longer exist, and newspaper research has yet to reveal its architect. Whoever designed the simple yet elegant Bethesda Lutheran employed Gothic elements such as tower buttresses, recessed entries, and tracery within the windows, and added a Tudor touch by dressing its window portals with Tudor arches. The building faced Fifth Street, and its front façade included a square central tower with castellations, small pyramidal corner spires, and an octagonal steeple crowned with a cross.

In 1945 Bethesda Norwegian merged with First Norwegian Danish Evangelical Lutheran—the very church its founders walked away from in 1892. First Evangelical’s 1887 edifice had been destroyed by fire in 1895, replaced on the same foundation by a clapboard-sided two-and-a-half-story church with a Gothic steeple. In 1950 the reunited congregation, now called simply First Lutheran, built a new church at 1000 East Superior Street. (Christ Temple Church occupied the 1895 church until 1970; it was razed in 1972.)

After the former Bethesda Norwegian congregation moved to the new Superior Street church, the congregation of St. Matthew’s American Lutheran Church purchased the 1902 church and worshipped there until 1967, after which the Church of God of Prophecy moved in. That congregation left in 1974. The building was demolished in 1977, and today the lot it occupied contains an auto
repair shop.