Clark House Hotel

The Clark House Hotel photographed in 1870 by either William Caswell or William H. Davy. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

West 100 Block of Superior Street | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1870 | Lost: 1881

As Duluth’s first building boom began in 1869 in anticipation of Jay Cooke’s railroads, George Sargent—one of Cooke’s agents in Duluth—directed the construction of what the Duluth Minnesotian called the “Big Hotel.” Sargent eventually decided to name it for Enoch W. Clark, who owned the Philadelphia brokerage firm where Cooke began his career. Clark’s sons Edward and Clarence also invested in Cooke’s railroads and made financial contributions to nascent Duluth, including outfitting its Library Association with 250 books. The Clark House stood as the Zenith City’s finest hostelry when it first opened on July 4, 1870.

Built at the northwest corner of First Avenue East and Superior Street, the large Second Empire French hotel stood three stories tall and featured a mansard roof, a central cupola, and a wide porch/veranda spanning the entire Superior Street façade. A large central wing protruded from the rear of the building and stretched toward First Street. Its central core measured 50 by 100 feet, the wing 40 by 110 feet. The hotel was outfitted with a kitchen, dining hall, billiard room, and bar.

Under the direction of its first proprietor, Dr. Quincy Adams Scott of Pittsburgh, the Clark House became the site of Duluth’s important social events: The hotel was the only building in town with facilities to handle large gatherings. The Clark House also hosted annual fund-raising balls for the city’s volunteer fire department beginning in 1872. When Eastern and European capitalists came to Duluth to do business, they stayed at the Clark House. In its early years, Professor J. N. Rickey, “Champion Hair Cutter,” operated his O.K. Barber Shop from within the hotel.

Colonel J. J. Hull took over from Scott in 1873. Described as amiable, in 1877 he made improvements to the hotel and set up a large pen behind the building to contain his menagerie of animals, including a deer, rabbits, and an owl. Two years later Hull handed the reins of the Clark House to Thomas Cullyford, who operated the hotel until November 16, 1881, when a fire broke out in the building’s boiler room and quickly spread to all parts of the wooden structure. While the volunteer firefighters fought valiantly—against what was at that time the biggest fire the city had ever witnessed—they could not prevent the complete destruction of the hotel. They did manage to retrieve a great deal of furniture before the building was consumed. The Duluth Daily News also reported that “the large stock of liquors was saved and is stored at different places about town” to keep it safe from thieves.

The following year the Metropolitan Block replaced the Clark House; that building still stands, although it has been renovated repeatedly and would not be recognized today by those who built it.