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Duluth History

Old Main Park

The Remnant of the Lower Campus

By: Rob Hedburg | August 27, 2018

Did you know Duluth has 129 different parks? Each one distinguishes itself with different features and quirks. This edition of our History Blog looks at a peculiar landmark in one of Duluth’s East Hillside parks. Old Main Park, located at 2305 East 5th Street, features the stone arches of a building once called the “Old Main.” The history of this relatively young Duluth park involves a case of arson and an effort to preserve architecture.

The three stone archways of Old Main Park marked the entrance of the Duluth Normal School, later called Duluth State Teacher’s College, and now known as the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Photo via the City of Duluth Parks and Recreation.

The building was constructed at the turn of the 20th century. The building saw regular use until its closure in 1985. Plans were in place by the University of Minnesota Duluth to renovate the vacant building into apartments; however, on February 23, 1993, three trespassers broke into the abandoned Old Main and set the structure ablaze. It took 31 firefighters, five pumper trucks, two ladder trucks, and two rescue units to combat the blaze. This large effort helped save the buildings surrounding the Old Main. Following the fire, the ruined building was razed except for the still-intact archways. Those archways received reinforcement and still stand to this day.

Following the fire, the grounds of the “Old Main” found new life as a Duluth city park. Because the park sits where a building once stood, the ground is flat. This makes an excellent spot for a picnic or an ideal play space for various games. The Oregon Creek flows down the hillside in a small, wooded area to the west of the park. Directly adjacent to the park is the Large Lakes Observatory, which is an active part of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Lower Campus.

Melissa Vanderstad succinctly describes Old Main Park in her blog for LakeVoice as “an oasis of calm in a busy city.” This serves as a perfectly apt description of one of Duluth’s younger public parks. Be sure to check out the Zenith City Online article on Old Main Park, along with this blog post from Melissa Vanderstad! On your next visit to Duluth, especially if you find yourself near the University of Minnesota Duluth campus, be sure to seek out one of Duluth’s hidden gems!

Happy travels!

Rob Hedburg
Administrative Assistant