Pilgrim Congregational Church (1888)

The 1888 Pilgrim Congregational Church photographed ca. 1910 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Special Collections & Archives]

2 East 2nd Street | Architect: William Wilcox & Clarence Johnston | Built: 1888| Lost: 1915

Newcomers Luman and Francis Tenney lobbied to create the Pilgrim Congregational Church when they first arrived in Duluth in 1870, pulling in prominent citizens like grain-trade pioneer Roger Munger and St. Louis County judge John D. Ensign as trustees. The Tenneys left Duluth in the wake of the Panic of 1873, but not until they had brought Reverend Charles C. Salter to town to serve as the church’s first minister. They had also helped build the first Pilgrim Congregational Church, a simple wood-frame building featuring a Gothic spire constructed on the northeast corner of Second Street and First Avenue East. That church served Duluth’s Congregationalists until it was replaced in 1888. In 1891 it was purchased by Duluth’s First Unitarian Church and moved to 732 East First Street in 1895.

The 1871 building’s replacement, built on the southwest corner of Lake Avenue and Second Street, was designed by William Wilcox and a young Clarence Johnston, who later designed Glensheen, the Zenith City’s—and Minnesota’s—most famous home, as well as three buildings on the original Duluth Normal School campus. The Gothic Revival edifice sat on a granite foundation and was faced in rough-hewn blocks of grey stone from Mantorville, Minnesota, trimmed with red Fond du Lac brownstone. The church featured a square corner tower capped with an octagonal spire that rose 140 feet above the ground, lancet windows, and a large rose window looked out from under the gable of the Second Street façade. Slate tile covered its roof. (A sketch of the building appears on page 73.)
Inside, the church’s inclined sanctuary held pews for 750 parishioners, and 250 more could find seating in the balcony.

The basement—home to the Sabbath School, which the Duluth Daily News called the “nursery of the church”—contained a lecture hall, classrooms, parlors, a library, and a large kitchen. The building’s cornerstone was laid on August 22, 1887, and it was nearing completion in late November when a catastrophic fire nearly destroyed the entire structure, reducing it to just four walls. The rose window, according to the Daily News, “burst from its place with the sound of a cannon shot.” A frozen fire hydrant hampered firefighting efforts. Reconstruction began the following April, but it took until February of the next year before the building was dedicated and congregants attended the first recital of its organ, built by Steere & Turner of Massachusetts, which the Daily News described as “a magnificent new instrument.”

By 1914 most of the church’s wealthy congregation had moved farther east, and two years later the congregation moved into a new building at 2310 East Fourth Street. The 1888 Pilgrim Congregational was demolished in 1915, and workers incorporated some of its slate and stone in the new church. The 1916 Barnes-Ames building now occupies the lot where the church stood.