Jones/Merrill House

The front of the Merrill House, photographed in 1926 by Hugh McKenzie. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

2626 Branch Street (2625 Greysolon Road) | Architect: Unknown | Built: ca. 1900 | Lost: 1938

Colonel Amos B. Jones and his wife Emma Smith came to Duluth from Charleston, West Virginia, in the late 1880s to get in on the city’s booming growth. The real estate man earned his rank fighting for the Union in the Civil War, and in Duluth he was an avid fan of horse racing. The Joneses moved around frequently, and in 1892 they hired architects Wangenstein & Baillie to build a grand estate house on a large parcel of land between Twenty-Sixth and Twenty-Seventh Avenues East that stretched from Jefferson Street past Dingwall and Branch Streets and up to Superior Street.

Photos taken by Hugh McKenzie in 1926 show the house as an eclectic mix of architectural styles that stood three stories high and was faced with ashlar courses of red brownstone quarried along the Wisconsin South Shore of Lake Superior. While its stone facing (including its chimneys) suggests Romanesque Revival, the house also featured Tudor Revival half-timbering in the third-floor gables and six gabled dormers whose presence suggests any number of styles. The western side of the house included a one-story round tower while the east was dominated by a square, three-story tower positioned at the center. Whether all of these elements were part of the architect’s original plans are unknown—the house may well have been modified between its construction and the time the photos were taken. However it happened, by 1926 the house was a wonderfully eclectic Picturesque design.

Inside, the home included a third-floor ballroom reached by a lift system thought to be the first electric elevator installed in a Duluth home. The walls of its opulent dining room were covered with brocaded silk and the entire house featured massive beams of white pine. The grounds once held both a carriage house and a greenhouse, and a tennis court covered the space between the house and the carriage house. Some of the stone walls that marked the property’s boundaries still stand along Superior and Jefferson Streets.

The rear of the Merrill House, photographed in 1926 by Hugh McKenzie. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

The Jonees didn’t stay in their opulent home long, selling it to Thomas D. and Elizabeth Merrill in 1893. Born in 1855, Merrill was the son of a Michigan lumberman who, like many lumber barons, had land holdings throughout today’s upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. In 1886 he and Clark Ring purchased the elder Merrill’s logging and milling operations in Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, and Canada and named their new firm Merrill & Ring. After exhausting their Michigan holdings, in 1891 Merrill & Ring began constructing a massive sawmill on Grassy Point in West Duluth. When the mill began operation in Duluth in 1892, Merrill moved from Saginaw to the Zenith City with his new bride, the former Elizabeth Musgrave. Elizabeth was the widow of Michigan governor Charles Croswell, twenty-five years her senior, whom she had married in 1880. Croswell died six years after they wed, three months before the birth of their daughter Sallie. Merrill and Elizabeth married in Michigan in October 1892, three months after they welcomed their daughter Marie, and less then a year later the family had moved to Duluth. Another daughter, Betty, came along in 1898.

When the Merrills first moved in, their house’s address was listed as 2626 Branch Street. In 1905 the city changed the name of Dingwall Street to Greysolon Road in honor of the city’s namesake, Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut, and the following year the house’s address became 2625 Greysolon Road.

The side of the Merrill House, photographed in 1926 by Hugh McKenzie. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

Merrill & Ring closed their Duluth operations in 1906, and thereafter the Merrills spent more time at their home in Seattle, but returned to the Zenith City to spend summers in their home on Greysolon Road. Elizabeth Merrill died in 1928; local newspapers called her one of Duluth’s “most representative and outstanding women.” She had worked with the Duluth chapter of the American Red Cross, the Duluth Women’s Club, and the Duluth Art Society and represented the Duluth Women’s Council on the city’s planning commission. She and her husband traveled extensively, and while she was on the road, she studied other cities and brought ideas back to see if they could be adapted to Duluth.

Merrill himself lived until 1932. He was buried in a coffin made of cedar from Vancouver that he had hand selected—he had originally intended to use the wood to panel over the silk walls of the home’s dining room. At his request, the casket was lined with “blossoming branches of Gooseberry River Dogwood” from the Minnesota North Shore of Lake Superior.

The Jones/Merrill house sat empty until Roy and Edythe Halvorson purchased it in 1938. While it was vacant it fell prey to curious neighbor kids, who played inside and caused some damage along the way, even cutting the cables of the elevator. That was fine with Roy and Edythe Halvorson, who demolished the house to make room for their remarkable Modernist home designed by Harold St. Clair Starin.

Thanks to Thom Halvorson, Audrey Fischer, and David Claypool for their help to Roger Hartley, who graciously provided Zenith City with much of the information contained in this story.