Miles Block

The Miles Block. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

19 West Superior Street | Architect: George Wirth | Built: 1884 | Lost: ca. 1910

Inventor, real estate investor, and barber Alexander Miles moved to Duluth with his wife, Candace, in 1875; she set up a dressmaking business while he established himself as Duluth’s popular “enterprising and artistic tonsorial artist,” as described by the Duluth News Tribune. He was also one of the few African American men then living in the Zenith City.

In 1881 he moved his “constantly increasing” business into the brand new St. Louis Hotel and a “palatial” barber shop and bath house. In 1884 Miles began investing in real estate, hiring George Wirth to design a three-story Romanesque Revival business block faced with brick. Stonemason James Clark’s brownstone carvings—of faces, floral de­signs, columns, and the building’s name—decorated the second and third floors. The first floor was used as retail space, and the upper floors held offices. Miles then focused on rental homes, including a row of houses designed by Oliver Traphagen that still stand along the upper 300 block of West Fourth Street. Miles began developing his own hair tonics in the 1870s and in 1887 received a patent for a mechanism that allows elevator shaft doors to open automatically.

Candace died in 1905 and Alexander in 1918. In 2007 he was installed in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The Miles Block was demolished about 1910, and Kelly Furniture was built on the lot two years later in a design that duplicated the 1905 Stack Company Dry Goods building next door at 21 West Superior Street. In 1993 both of those buildings were joined visually with a new brick façade.