Munger House

Roger S. & Olive Munger House. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

405-407 Mesaba Avenue | Architect: Unknown | Built: ca. 1870 | Lost: ca. 1955

Roger S. and Olive Munger liked to say that theirs was the twelfth of “fourteen families huddled at the base of Minnesota Point”—the entire population of Duluth in 1868 when they moved to town. Munger was born into a highly creative family in North Madison, Connecticut, in 1830. In 1857, a year before he wed the former Olive Gray, Roger and his brothers Russell and William opened a music store in St. Paul, Minnesota, and performed as the Munger Brothers Orchestra. Munger’s brother Gilbert was a noted painter; his 1871 depiction of Duluth hangs in the Duluth Public Library’s North Shore Room and a copy of it, also painted by Munger, hangs in the Kitchi Gammi Club.

Roger Munger arrived in Duluth with money ready to invest in just about everything that Jay Cooke’s agents weren’t already financing. Partnering with other early Duluth capitalists—nicknamed “Sixty-Niners” for the year most of them arrived—Munger built one of the city’s first sawmills (and purchased Oneota’s pioneer sawmill), its first grain elevator, and its first coal dock while serving on the first school board and first city council. In the 1880s he financed the city’s first opera house, first flour mill, and helped organize the board of trade. He would later serve as president of Duluth’s Imperial Flour Mill and the Duluth Iron & Steel Company.

The Mungers were among the few early Duluthians with enough money to build themselves a grand home, and with free lumber from their own mills, they went with a highly adorned two-story Italianate design featuring a low-pitched roof with an overhanging eave and topped with a cupola, and tall and narrow Roman-arch windows along the second floor. Munger built an equally elaborate carriage house east of the house and a gazebo on the front lawn just above East Piedmont Avenue, which was renamed Mesaba Avenue in the 1890s. The Mungers enjoyed a commanding view of the lake, bay, and growing community below them.

In 1889 Oliver Traphagen remodeled the house, removing the cupola and extending the second floor front pediment. A porte cochère was added, as was an entire third floor. In 1909 architects Starin & Melander “modernized” the house by removing its porches, balconies, porte cochère, and gingerbread trim. Later converted into apartments, the house was razed in 1955, replaced by a parking lot for nearby Munger Terrace. Today’s widened Mesaba Avenue runs over the former gazebo location. At some point the carriage house was renovated as a single family residence and still stands, but the Mungers likely would not recognize it.