A native of New Jersey, John B. Sutphin had arrived in Duluth in about 1868, when he was just twenty years old. He started out by trading beef along Lake Superior’s south shore and later opened a meat packing plant in the West End that was later taken over by Elliott’s Meats. In 1876 Sutphin was aboard the steamer St. Clair when fire broke out and passengers and crew panicked. Only three passengers survived, including Sutphin. He was elected as mayor of the Village of Duluth in 1886 and became Duluth’s mayor a year later, when the city regained its charter. (Duluth lost its city charter in 1877 and became a village at that time.) The Republican served as mayor until 1890 and therefore became the last mayor of the Village of Duluth and the first mayor of the re-born City of Duluth—and the first mayor to serve in this building. His term in office was described as “one during which the city enjoyed much prosperity.” Duluth’s Sutphin Street in the Canal Park Business District is named for him (Sutphin once owned a dock on nearby Minnesota Slip). After his term in office Sutphin became grain weighmaster for the state of Minnesota. He died in the home of his son Ralph at 318 Third Avenue West on July 15, 1908, after a long battle with kidney failure. The newspaper’s report of his death ended with this touching tribute:
Few men have enjoyed a wider circle of friends in Duluth than Mr. Sutphin, and his demise will cause much regret.