History & Architecture
The Dutch Colonial Revival, now known as the A.G. Thomson House, was originally built for William N. Ryerson in 1909, who was of Dutch descent, at a cost of approximately $17,000. It was designed by Minneapolis architect, Edwin H. Hewitt -a native of Red Wing, Minnesota, “whose impeccable credentials included an apprenticeship with Cass Gilbert and a diploma from the celebrated Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris” (Millett, Larry; Lost Twin Cities; 1992). Among Hewitt’s better known buildings in the Twin Cities are the Minneapolis Club, Blake School, Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church, the Charles A. Pillsbury House, the Northwestern Bell Telephone Building (presently Qwest), St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral (designed the same year as the A.G. Thomson House), and the Architects and Engineers Building.
A number of prominent Duluth families have owned the house since it was built nearly a century ago. The inn is named for second owner, Adam G. Thomson, who purchased the original structure in 1918 and soon added a two-story addition on the rear – with a large pantry and porch on the first floor, and bathroom and “sleeping porch” on the second floor. He also built the two-story carriage house with upper level four-room dwelling at a cost of $4,000, and a frame “tool house” for $1,000.
Adam G. Thomson was the only child of Alexander and Helen Thomson. A native of Scotland, Alexander (generally known as A.D. Thomson) was one of Duluth’s pioneer grain merchants, and eventually became one of the largest exporters of grain in America. He joined the Duluth Board of Trade in 1883, two years after it was organized, and served as one of its first presidents.
A.G. Thomson also was involved in several other local businesses, including the Kelley-How-Thomson wholesale hardware firm—which became well-known for its “Hickory Brand” line of top-quality hardware. He was a large stockholder in the Great Northern Railroad, American Steam Barge Company, and a number of early mining and railroad ventures on Minnesota’s Iron Range. The family also owned a 40,000-acre cattle ranch near Raton, New Mexico. A 1913 newspaper account referred to the senior Thomson as “one of the most prominent business men in the Northwest.”
Helen Thomson died in 1912, leaving an estate worth $461,500 – one of the largest ever by a resident of Saint Louis County up until that time. Two-thirds went to her 23-year-old son, Adam. A.G. Thomson soon followed in his father’s footsteps as a noted Twin Ports businessman. He joined the Duluth Board of Trade in 1914, and served as president of A.D. Thomson & Co. after his father’s death in 1921. The company operated the Great Northern grain elevators in Superior for many years until 1937. A.G. Thomson also chaired the board of Kelley-How-Thomson Co., and was president of the family ranch in New Mexico until he died in 1955.
Adam and his wife, Clara, lived here from 1918 until 1925 – along with three sons and a number of servants. The 5,700 square-foot, three-story structure (plus carriage house) essentially was their “starter home.” The Thomsons purchased it while in their late 20s, apparently after first living with his father just a few blocks away. Eventually, they built an even more palatial home at 3500 East Superior Street – on a lot that comprises an entire city block. It remained their primary Duluth residence for the rest of their lives. Along with that and their New Mexico ranch, the Thomsons also owned seasonal homes in Miami Beach, Florida and on the Brule River in northwest Wisconsin.
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