Duluth Public Library Cornerstone

Construction of the new Duluth Public Library building at 101 West Second Street began in April of 1901. At the time, the library was housed on the second floor of the Temple Opera Block, 201-205 East Superior Street.

The building went up pretty quickly and by the summer of 1901 the city was ready to lay the cornerstone on top of the first level wall on the northeast corner of the building (that’s the east side fronting on Second Street). The laying of the cornerstone was delayed so it could be held during that year’s Fourth of July celebration.

Duluth’s celebration began with a huge parade. The Duluth Evening Herald of June 29, 1901, predicted the size of the parade:

This will be the greatest ever seen in Duluth and thousands of people will be in line. There will be five bands, the greatest aggregation of music ever seen in Duluth at one time. The labor unions, fraternal societies, school children and in fact all of the people of the city have entered into the plans for the parade with good spirit and its success is certain.

Unfortunately, the Fourth in Duluth that year was rainy and cold.


The laying of the cornerstone, July 4, 1901. From Minnesota Reflections.

Because of the weather, many of the planned events–horse races, some games, and fireworks–had to be cancelled or postponed. But the parade went on, starting at 10:00 a.m. at First Street and Third Avenue East and led by a group of forty police officers who were followed by numerous military bands and drum and bugle corps. Made up of six sections, the parade was some twenty blocks long, and according to the next day’s Duluth News Tribune, thousands of spectators lined the parade route.

The parade began by traveling down Third Avenue East to Superior Street, then turned west on Superior Street and passed by what was then Duluth’s City Hall at 132 East Superior Street. The mayor and other city officials then joined the parade, which moved to the south side of the street and proceeded to Eighth Avenue West, where it performed a countermarch (or turned around) and marched to the east on the north side of Superior Street. The parade proceeded to Lake Avenue where it turned left up the hill to Second Street, then turned left again and marched for one block to the site of the new library.

A large crowd had gathered around the building, which had been constructed only up to the first level. A riser was set up on the top where people could sit and observe the proceedings, but most people stood on the ground around the building. The ceremony, as was usual for cornerstone laying on public buildings and churches, was overseen by members of the local chapter of Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Those officials had been at the end of the parade, so they proceeded to the building site and climbed the scaffolding to get up to the first level. They were followed by the Mayor Trevanion W. Hugo, city council members, and other city officers.


Close-up of Minnesota Reflections photos.

The ceremony was preceded by a reading of the Declaration of Independence by local attorney L.C. Harris and the singing of America by a choir of 100, made up of male and female singers from Central High School and the choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and directed by Arthur M.F. Custance. Then Scottish Rite Grandmaster Gideon S. Ives took charge of the ceremony. Ives had been the mayor of St. Peter, Minnesota; a state senator; and from 1891 to 1893 the Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota.

Then the actual laying of the cornerstone began. The Duluth News Tribune of the next day described it:

The ceremony was a very formal and impressive one, in which each of the Grand Lodge officers participated, and the Scottish Rite quartet sang, while in accordance with a Masonic custom the stone was consecrated with corn, oil and wine. The Grand Master then laid the cornerstone in its proper place.

Beneath the cornerstone was placed a sealed copper box, or time capsule, containing a number of items: a photograph of Andrew Carnegie; a copy of the Duluth City Charter; a list of city officials; information on the Duluth Public Library; a copy of the Central High School yearbook, the Zenith, for 1901; a copy of J.D. Ensign’s History of the Duluth Harbor; several Duluth daily newspapers; a copy of Proctor Knott’s speech on Duluth; a souvenir of Duluth from the Duluth Improvement Association; and information on local chapters of the Palestine Lodge, the Ionic Lodge, and Clan Stewart.

The cornerstone itself was three feet long and 20 inches wide with the following inscription carved in raised letters:

By the


July 4, A. L. 5901.

G. S. IVES, M. W. G. M.

A.L. stands for the Latin Anno Lucis, or “In the year of light,” a date used by ancient Masons; 5901 is the year used in Masonic rituals and is equivalent to the Gregorian year plus 4000, hence 1901; and M.W.G.M. following Ives’ name stands for “Most Worshipful Grand Master.”

The ceremony was followed with a speech by Robert G. Evans, the U.S. District Attorney in Minneapolis. In the speech, Evans congratulated the citizens of Duluth on their new library building, and said:

Set upon the hillside, this building will not be, as night closes in, a dark and unseen pile of masonry, but the light which shines within; the spirit of the books will make of it a blazing beacon throwing its rays throughout your entire community to bless and brighten wherever they may come. The professional man may here find stimulus and aid, which his working library does not afford. The man of business cares may here enjoy rest and recreation. The humblest working man in your midst can here spend an hour daily, which will lighten the burden of his labor and aid him in pointing his children the way to a higher and better education and a higher and better life. I thank God that we live in a country the spirit of which fosters such institutions as this.

Library 10-25-01 (002)

Library under construction, October 25, 1901. From Minnesota Reflections.

The ceremony ended with a chaplain reading a benediction. Many of the people gathered then went to other sections of downtown to take part in the Fourth of July activities that hadn’t been cancelled or postponed because of the inclement weather.

Construction of the new library continued until it was completed in April of 1902. The total cost of the building was $75,000, all of which came in a donation from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The grand opening was held on Saturday, April 19, 1902. According to the Duluth Evening Herald, several thousand people toured the new library that day. Following a dedicatory ceremony that evening, the library board turned the building over to the city, and then the city turned it back to the library board.

A Duluth newspaper reporter described entering the building from Second Street and facing a wide marble stairway:

The stairway leads into the magnificent rotunda under the dome, which constitutes the larger part of the main floor of the building. From the rotunda to the left and right open the reading and reference rooms. On the right, just back of the reading room, is the juvenile room. . .The stack room has two stories of shelves, with a glass floor between. This makes the room fireproof and facilitates the passage of light to the lower part. . .The library today contains about 35,000 volumes.

In 1927, an expansion of the library added, among other things, additional rooms to the back of the building on both the east and west ends. Part of a $48,000 project, the room on the western side made space for the cataloging department. The room on the eastern side created more room for the business office and the library director’s office. The children’s room was moved downstairs to the east side of the main entrance, almost doubling its space.

The library building served the citizens of Duluth until November of 1980, when the new library opened at 520 West Superior Street.


“At the Library Building,” Duluth Evening Herald, June 29, 1901, p.2.

“Grand Old Fourth,” Duluth News Tribune, May 2, 1901, p.8.

“Moisture Mars a Merry Fourth,” Duluth News Tribune, July 5, 1901, p.8.

“New Public Library Building,” Duluth Evening Herald, April 21, 1902, p.7.

Nylander, Enid. A History of the Duluth Public Library. Duluth, MN, E. Nylander, 1962.

Image Credits:

Images from Minnesota Reflections, contributed by University of Minnesota, Duluth. Kathryn A Martin Library. Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s