Longfellow Elementary

Longfellow Elementary School photographed ca. 1892, photographer unknown [Image: Dale Johnson]

6015 Elinor Street | Architect: Palmer & Hall | Built: 1891 | Lost: 1959

Until the 1890s, Duluth’s school board named its buildings either for early American presidents and statesmen or the neighborhoods they served. That changed in the 1890s when Zenith City school edifices began bearing the names of American literary figures including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was built in 1891 along West Eight Street West at the convergence of North Sixtieth Avenue West and Elinor Street. The school served West Duluth students living between Fifty-Third Avenue West and Bay View Heights as well as those west of Sixty-First Avenue West.

Palmer and Hall designed a two-and-a-half-story Italianate building faced with brick trimmed with contrasting brownstone and featuring many architectural details indicative of the style, including Roman-arch windows, corners dressed with quoins, Doric columns supporting its main entry portico, and several elaborate carvings. Due to an epidemic of scarlet fever, Longfellow Elementary didn’t open until April 1892. Its twelve classrooms originally contained grades from kindergarten to ninth until a junior high was constructed in 1915. (The independent school boards of Duluth, the Village of West Duluth, and the Village of Lakeside consolidated in 1891.)

The building’s most distinctive feature was its tower, which held no bell nor clock. Private sources raised the $3,000 needed to add the tower, which served as a landmark in West Duluth and could be seen from across the bay in Superior. In 1949, when structural engineers were calling for the tower to be removed (it was unstable and hampered renovation efforts), the Duluth News Tribune said it was “to West Duluth what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris” and reported that West Duluth mothers would tell their children, “if you ever get lost, just walk to the tower and all will be well.” When sixth graders graduated, they were allowed a tour of the tower and got to enjoy the amazing view of the harbor.

Longfellow Elementary closed in 1956; the empty building was often vandalized until April 22, 1959, when it was destroyed by an arsonist.