Zion Evangelical Lutheran

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, date and photographer unknown. [Image: Dale Johnson]

2431 W. Third St. | Architect: Oliver Traphagen  | Built: 1890 | Lost: 1952

During Duluth’s population explosion in the 1880s and 1890s, the West End became home to many immigrants who found jobs as unskilled laborers at nearby grain elevators, flour and lumber mills, and docks on Rice’s Point and along the St. Louis River. Many churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, were organized by nationality, as few early congregants could speak or understand English. Consequently, the West End became a neighborhood of churches.

The neighborhood’s First Norwegian Danish Lutheran Evangelical Congregation organized in 1888, initially holding services at Swedish Lutheran Church on Rice’s Point before Michigan House hotel owner Robert Kennedy allowed them to use his hall at Twenty-Third Avenue West and Superior Street for free until they built a church of their own.

They used part of their building fund to hire architect Oliver Traphagen to design a church that would stand on the northeast corner of Twenty-Fourth Avenue West and Third Street. The wooden structure sat on a foundation of red granite and featured elements Traphagen used in his heavy, brick-and-sandstone Romanesque Revival façades, including a turret capped with a conical roof, a square tower topped by an octagonal spire, and Roman-arch windows. A rosette window looked out over the Third Street entrance portico while a Palladian window graced its Twenty-Fourth Avenue West façade. The Duluth News Tribune called it “easily the most tasteful and imposing building of its class at the head of the lakes.”

Inside, the sanctuary held pews to seat 400 worshipers, with room for 250 to 300 more in the gallery—about 700 in all. That wasn’t enough to seat everyone who attended the dedication service on March 30, 1890, which was also Palm Sunday. The News Tribune reported that over 1,000 crammed into the church that day, “the largest audience that perhaps ever gathered in that part of Duluth for religious purposes.” The next year the church’s name was changed to Zion Evangelical Lutheran. Zion began offering services in English in 1925, and “Evangelical” was dropped from its name in 1932. The church stood until 1951, when it was demolished to make room for its replacement—itself a grand, imposing Gothic-inspired edifice faced in stone. In 2017 the congregations of nearby Bethany Lutheran Church and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church joined with Zion Lutheran to become Spirit of God Lutheran Church. The combined congregation worships at the 1951 Zion building.