Sargent House

The 1870 Sargent House, date and photographer unknown. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

4500 London Road | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1872 | Lost: ca. 1915

In 1858 George B. Sargent, a native of Gloucester, Massachusetts, gave a lecture in Boston about the “New West.” Sargent was then serving as surveyor general of the United States and attempting to gather others to invest in a new city in the Northwest that would one day rival Chicago. To convince his listeners, he told them that “the undeveloped wealth of the Lake Superior region offers reward beyond calculation to those who have the energy and enterprise to secure it.” Before Sargent or any investors had a chance to secure anything, the Panic of 1857 delayed that promise. Sargent spent the Civil War working for Jay Cooke, selling bonds to wealthy Europeans to finance the Union Army. Cooke sent Sargent to Duluth in 1869 to look over his investments and build a city around his railroad terminus. Sargent is credited as being the prime driving force behind Duluth’s early commercial success. He opened Duluth’s first bank, drove the construction of its first hotels, and helped finance its first church.

Sargent’s wife Mary and their three children soon joined him in Duluth, settling into a modest home on Minnesota Point. In 1872 he purchased the town of New London from his fellow Cooke associate and former U.S. treasury secretary Hugh McCul-loch. McCulloch had platted his town between Fortieth and Fifty-Fourth Avenues East from the lakeshore to Summit Street (today’s Colorado Avenue). Sargent and Edward McNair, who was married to the Sargents’ daughter Amelia, developed the area as the London Addition, saving a lot at 4500 London Avenue (London Road today) for a grand house for George and Mary. The Sargent house was a three-story Second Empire French building the Duluth Minnesotian jokingly called “Onarock Villa.” It contained all the trappings of a Second Empire building, including a square footprint, mansard roof, dormer windows, patterned brick chimneys, and wide eaves supported by corbels. The estate also contained a large greenhouse and carriage house.

When the Sargents—whom the newspaper described as “the General and his estimable lady and family”—held a party there in 1873, over two hundred people attended. The newspaper reported that groups arrived at “the tasteful grounds of the mansion, which are beautiful with lawns, croquet grounds, and serpentine walks [and were] ushered into a residence as palatial and gorgeous in the decorations and appurtenances as can be found in the eastern cities.” As one of the first homes east of Tischer’s Creek, it was a landmark during its early days and the Sargents customarily kept a light burning all night during stormy weather as a beacon for vessels approaching the Duluth harbor. In June 1876, twenty-seven steamers became stuck in the ice off the Lester River. Many crew members and passengers came ashore by jumping from ice floe to ice floe, and supposedly Mrs. Sargent served over three hundred cups of coffee to those who took refuge in her home. The house also provided a welcome respite for woodsmen returning late to Duluth from lumber camps along the North Shore.

George Sargent continued to travel to Europe on Cooke’s behalf, dying unexpectedly in Germany in 1876. Mary Sargent stayed in their home until her death in 1896. Hotel owner W. A. McKay purchased the structure in 1915 and razed it to make room for another house, which still stands. Meanwhile the Sargents’ son William and his friends turned New London into Lakeside.