Franklin Elementary

Franklin Elementary School photographed ca. 1914 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

411 East 7th Street | Architect: Palmer & Hall | Built: 1888 | Lost: 1979

As Duluth’s population swelled in the late 1880s, its school board couldn’t build schools fast enough. By 1886, Washington Elementary had become overcrowded with students from immigrant families whose new homes were filling in the streets above downtown, so the school board built a modest, wood-frame building along the 400 block of East Seventh Street. Named for Benjamin Franklin, the school had two rooms designed to accommodate eighty-five students, with wood-burning stoves for heat and no ventilation. Seventy students were enrolled in January 1887; 102 the following September. A year after Franklin Elementary first opened, Duluth needed a new Franklin Elementary.

In February 1888 the school board reviewed plans submitted by a dozen architectural firms from five states, selecting plans by locals Emmett Palmer and Lucien Hall, who would soon become the school board’s architects of choice. Their plans called for a two-and-a-half-story Romanesque Revival school with twelve rooms designed for 660 students. Red brick faced the building, while a lighter colored sandstone trimmed the windows and doorways and was also employed in the arches that capped the entrances and second-floor windows. A square central tower with castellations and a pyramidal cap looked out over the hillside along the Fourth Street façade. Small “pepper pot” turrets adorned the top corners of the tower and the building itself.

After Franklin Elementary opened to students in 1889, the 1886 school was moved to Minnesota Point, renamed Cleveland Elementary, and served until it was replaced in 1897. In August 1907 fire severely damaged Franklin, and the city had it rebuilt. William Hunt, whose first job in Duluth was as a draftsman for Palmer & Hall, was called on to draw plans for the reconstruction of the building designed by his former employers. Sadly, eighteen-year-old construction worker Joseph Poverick died after falling off the newly repaired roof. A new wing was added to Franklin in 1939, when it began serving as a junior high school. Duluth Junior College held classes in the building from 1946 to 1950. The Duluth School Board’s 1972 decision to close Franklin brought strong opposition from parents of Franklin students, who fought to have the school converted to an “open school” model popular at the time. The parents won, but the Duluth Open School closed in 1977 due to lack of enrollment. Two years later the building came down; the lot it occupied is now used as the Hillside Sports Court.