Uncovering the History of Duluth's Historic City Hall
DULUTH - When Duluth's City Hall first opened, it was a sign of a new beginning -- that the city had recovered from economic collapse.
"This was their statement," Tony Dierckins, historian and publisher of ZenithCity.com, said. "We just became a city the year before, we had lost our city charter in the 1870's so we were in one of our biggest boom times and the city was acknowledging that by finally building a city hall."
What is the main level of the Tycoons Alehouse today, was once home to the city's health department, city clerk and chief of police.
"So this was for its first year all of Duluth city government took place in this building," Dierckins said. Dierckins says the building was home to some significant city discussions from 1889 to 1928.
Upstairs, arguments– such as the fight over lift bridge designs– played out in the city council chambers.
"The battle got heated in this room," Dierckins said. "They were yelling and screaming and finally Mayor Snively put down the gavel and walked out twice."
Those early twentieth century moments can almost be felt in rooms like these.
The owners of Tycoons have worked to keep much of the original designs intact.
"There are few differences but the floors and the woodwork the skylights, all of that is original," Tycoons Marketing Director Brad Nelson said. "People can come in and see what the city council chambers looked like; they can see what Mayor Snively's office looked like."
Tucked behind some of the doors are harder–to-find pieces of the past, including a door that led to the jail and police station through what could be considered the city's first skyway.
And while the upper level is exciting on its own, the most talked–about area is actually three levels down.
Dirt floors have been converted to concrete, turning the sub–basement into an old–fashioned bar where rumors of a scary past have continued to grow.
"Its notoriety that it’s gained lately as a jail and I've heard even prison I've heard all sorts of rumors about this space," Dierckins said. "No, it was a temporary holding cell for one year until that was built next door."
Some have heard this level was home to bootlegging and secret societies in the prohibition era. And while that makes an interesting story, it also is not true.
"Of course we have to remember that this building was the seat of city government until 1928," Dierckins said.
But that is not to say the basement and it's recent renovations are not fascinating on their own.
For people at Tycoons, the hope is that visitors can appreciate these surroundings. To learn the history and get a real sense of what's inside.
"It's just one of those things, its palpable even if you don't know the details of the stories," Nelson said. "Just the rich history, when you sit in here you can just feel it, it has a soul."
For more about Duluth's historic city hall, visit ZenithCity.com for a recently-published article on the building.