Fargusson Blocks

The Fargusson Blocks, photographed in 1887. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

406–408 West Superior Street | Architect: H. R. P. Hamilton | Built: 1883 | Lost: 1892

402–404 West Superior Street | Architect: Oliver Traphagen | Built: 1886 | Lost: 1892

As one of the 1881 incorporators of the Duluth Board of Trade, Owen Fargusson made a fortune as a grain trader and served as the board’s president for two years. In 1883, with grain money lining his pockets, Fargusson hired George Wirth’s firm to design a business block. The Duluth News Tribune announced in July 1883 that architect H. R. P. Hamilton of Wirth’s St. Paul office was hard at work drawing plans for a four-story building to be faced with white Lamont marble and topped with an elaborate iron cornice, squat towers above the cornice, and classical detailing on the façade including corbels and dentils and the Fargusson name carved in stone. Hamilton may have drawn plans for other 1882 and 1883 Duluth buildings credited to Wirth.

The building’s first floor held two retail stores and the upper floors each contained eight offices. Many tenants occupied offices throughout its short life, including several lawyers, real estate firms, and Greenwood’s Hardware store. Architect Charles McMillen of McMillen & Stebbins also rented offices in the building beginning in 1884, while his partner Edward Stebbins remained in St. Paul.

In 1886 Fargusson added a second building at the southwest corner of Superior Street and Fourth Avenue West, immediately east of the 1883 structure. Designed by Wirth’s former construction superintendent, Oliver Traphagen, the second Fargusson Building looked very different than its older neighbor. A three-story Romanesque Revival building
of brick and brownstone, the new building’s northeast corner was rounded and decorative pillars rose above the roof’s patterned brick cornice. Fargusson sold both buildings to the Massachusetts Realty Company in July 1892 and later moved to Chicago.

Six months after the buildings sold, an explosion of unknown origin in the basement of the 1883 building—occupied by Chapin-Wells Hardware—set off a fire that gutted both structures. Firefighting efforts were hampered by low water pressure and more explosion as the fire reached barrels of oil and gunpowder. The realty company announced it would construct a ten-story building to replace both Fargusson blocks. Instead, a two-story building also called the Fargusson was constructed over the footprint of both buildings. In 1946 it was replaced by another two-story building called the Stanley Center, which continues to occupy the site today.