Duluth Federal Building (1892)

Duluth’s 1892 U.S. Federal Building photographed 1899 by William Henry Jackson. [Image: Library of Congress]

431 West 1st Street | Architect: H. G. Linderman | Built: 1894 | Lost: 1935

Duluth’s first post office was a simple one-story stick structure with a false second-story front built along Superior Street in 1857. In the 1870s and 1880s, the post office rented space in several Duluth buildings. These simple facilities served well until the 1890s, when the booming community’s ever-increasing population also dramatically increased the volume of mail that passed through the Zenith City. By the 1890s it needed a much larger facility.

Using plans by architect H. G. Linderman, the federal government built a three-story building faced with granite and Bedford limestone. When completed in October 1894, federal courts occupied the building’s third floor, the Customs House and Weather Department shared the second, and the post office filled the first. Duluthians referred to the building as “the post office.”

Linderman’s Romanesque Revival design featured a central square tower with turrets, Roman-arch second-floor windows, and terra-cotta trim on its windows and doors—all of which contributed to the building’s heavy, massive feel. On the second story of the western façade workers carved a federal eagle onto an eight-ton square piece of sandstone. The tower wasn’t just ornamental: the Weather Department used it for their instruments and weather signals. Inside, the post office’s lobby floor was made of polished marble, and its ceilings were trimmed with elaborately decorated cornices. Woodwork throughout the building was quarter-sawn white oak, with metal elements finished in nickel.

But the building turned out to be too small for the growing city. Calls for its replacement or expansion came as early as 1905. In 1916 land for a new, larger federal building was purchased as part of Duluth’s plans for a civic center, but lack of federal funding delayed that project until 1929. Soon after federal employees moved into the new facility in 1930, Duluthians began to consider the stately 1894 landmark—now sandwiched between the new, Neoclassical Federal Building and 1928 Duluth City Hall—an eyesore. Demolition began in December of 1934 and finished in August of 1935 after nine months of work. Officials hoped to relocate the eagle carving to the Naval Reserve Station on Minnesota Point, and it was safely removed from the second floor façade with a six-ton crane. Unfortunately the Navy had to reject the offer because the stone’s immense weight made it impossible to display.