First Methodist (1870, 1893)

The 1870 First Methodist Church. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

3rd Avenue West & 2nd Street (NW corner) | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1870 | Moved ca. 1893

215 North 3rd Avenue West | Architects: Weary & Kramer | Built: 1893 | Lost: 1968

The Reverend Harvey Webb arrived in Duluth in October 1869 and began conducting Methodist church services at the town of Portland’s schoolhouse. In 1870 his congregation—officially Duluth’s First Methodist Episcopal Church—accepted a loan from Jay Cooke’s Western Land Association and built their first church building, a wood-frame structure with Gothic details, at the northwest corner of Third Avenue West and Second Street. The Financial Panic of 1873, caused by Cooke’s own monetary collapse, took a heavy toll on both Duluth and the church: Many of its members ran businesses financed by Cooke, and his failure meant theirs as well. In 1882, the church had just eighty-six parishioners.

But Duluth boomed back in the mid-1880s, and so did the First Methodist congregation. They purchased lots directly behind their church in 1886, and in 1893 the congregation moved straight up from the old church to a new and very large Gothic edifice designed by Weary & Kramer of Akron, Ohio, with Duluth architects McMillen & Radcliffe overseeing the construction. (Meanwhile, the 1890 church was dismantled, moved to Virginia, Minnesota, and reassembled as that city’s First Methodist Church.)

Duluth’s second First Methodist Church ca. 1890s, photographer unknown. [Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Special Collections & Archives]

Faced with ashlar courses of brownstone, the imposing structure featured a tall square corner tower with a belfry topped by a Gothic spire and a shorter tower along the avenue capped with a pyramidal roof. A large lancet window divided by tracery faced Third Avenue and a rose window graced the Third Street façade, where vestibules on either end of the building lead to its sanctuary, which included a horseshoe-shaped gallery and seating for 1,600 worshippers. The southern end of the building was intentionally bowed, as if its wall was bulging outward, and along the roofline the gable contained a stained-glass half dome capped with a hexagonal cupola. Beneath the dome the Sunday School’s seventeen rooms occupied nearly as much space as the sanctuary.

Brothers Thomas and George Martin, who owned a railway supply company, gifted chimes to the church in 1921 in memory of their mother, Sara Jane Martin. Forged of Lake Superior copper, the chimes’ ten bells weighed from 200 to 1,800 pounds each. They could be heard a mile away and rang every Sunday for services, each day at noon, and on national holidays—but never for funerals, as the Martins had stipulated. The chimes fell silent in 1966 when the congregation moved to a new First United Methodist Church. The parish then sold the chimes and the 1893 church. In 1969 the building was demolished to make room for a parking lot for St. Mary’s Hospital.

The back of the 1893 First Methodist Church, date unknown. (Image: Zenith City Press)