Duluth High School (1886)

Duluth High School photographed in 1887. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

226 North 1st Avenue East  |  Architect: Charles M. McMillen  |  Built: 1886 | Lost: 1976

Duluth offered classes to high school students as early as 1872, taught by principal Reverend H. J. Christ in a simple wood-frame structure along First Avenue East between Second and Third Streets. Professor William H. Hatch replaced Christ the following fall, but the simple building served Duluth until 1882. The high school did not hold a formal commencement exercise until June 3, 1881, with the graduation of Barbara Schroeder, Elizabeth Taylor, Litelia Webber, and Frank Huse. The city’s high school students moved into the first Washington Elementary in 1882 and the new Washington in 1883, after which Sacred Heart Church leased the old high school building for use as a Catholic school.

The city constructed a dedicated high school building designed by Charles McMillen in 1886. When it first opened in January 1887, Duluth’s new high school stood three stories high along First Avenue East between Second and Third Streets. A mix of Neoclassical and Romanesque Revival styles, the building was faced with red brick made in Brainerd, Minnesota, and topped with a square tower which rose above the arched entrance on the front façade. Eight classrooms occupied the first and second floors while the third—with a high-domed ceiling—housed a combined gymnasium and auditorium. Annis M. Kilgore, who served as it first principal and taught Greek, oversaw the education of sixty-two students during its first year.

As the city boomed through the 1880s, the new high school soon became inadequate for the city’s growing population. It was replaced in 1893 with the Romanesque Revival masterpiece known today as Old Central. Twenty-six students graduated from the 1886 school in 1892, at the time the largest graduating class in the city’s history.

After Washington School was razed to make room for the new high school, the 1886 high school building was renamed Washington Elementary School. When Washington Junior High opened in 1911 at 315 Lake Avenue North, Duluth had two schools named for George Washington. In 1919 another building was constructed just behind Washington Elementary and named Liberty Elementary.
Washington Elementary, formerly the 1886 Duluth High School, closed in 1921, after which it was used as the home of Duluth’s board of education. Liberty closed in 1930, reopening briefly from 1944 to 1946 before becoming the Board of Education Annex.

Both buildings served the school board until 1975 when its offices moved into the newly vacated 1892 Central High School, whose students had relocated to a brand new Central High School in Duluth Heights. The 1886 high school was demolished in 1976; a parking lot now occupies the space.