Duluth Board of Trade (1885)

Duluth’s 1885 Board of Trade Building. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

302–304 West Superior Street | Architect: Wirth & Traphagen | Built: 1885 | Lost: 1894

Clinton Markell, George C. Stone, Owen Fargusson, and nine others organized the Duluth Board of Trade in 1881 to deal with the growing volume of wheat reaching Duluth for marketing and shipping. Members of the board met in other downtown buildings until January 1886, when they all moved into the new Board of Trade building, which held thirty-two offices for the use of grain commissioners, and other offices that were rented to various businesses, including insurance firms and Western Union Telegraph.

The building’s construction marked a milestone in Duluth’s history: Thanks a great deal to the grain trade, the Zenith City was finally pulling itself out of the financial hole dug by the Financial Panic of 1873. In 1880 Duluth had just 3,500 citizens and moved about 1.5 million bushels of wheat. Five years later it handled 15 million bushels of wheat and 18,000 people called the Zenith City home—200 of them members of the Board of Trade.
Constructed of pressed brick with Fond du Lac sandstone and terra-cotta trim, the four-story Romanesque Revival

Board of Trade Building was the first design from the newly formed architectural partnership of George Wirth and Oliver Traphagen. It included both Roman- and segmental-arch windows, grand arched entrances on both Third Avenue West and Superior Street, and square corner columns and towers. Atop the building along its Superior Street façade a triangular carved-sandstone pediment showed a freighter under full sail—symbolizing the shipping of grain from Duluth down the Great Lakes—with the 1885 date.

he 1885 building served the Board of Trade until February 11, 1894, when the building broke out in flames. When firefighters arrived they found the closest hydrants frozen and had to thaw them out before they could confront the blaze. The delay was disastrous and the fire spread fast, aided by a cold wind off Lake Superior. Firefighters battled the flames for nearly half a day. At eleven p.m. the building’s east wall collapsed, forcing firefighters and the large crowd that had gathered along Third Avenue West to flee a downpour of red-hot bricks. By two a.m., there was little left of the building. It was replaced by the Lonsdale Building in 1895, the same year a new Board of Trade building was constructed on First Street.

See Duluth’s Grain Trade under Historic Industry for a history of Duluth’s Board of Trade.