by Joseph A. Taylor
Tile Heritage Foundation
Photos by Karin Kraemer
When the founders of Duluth’s Kitchi Gammi Club first gathered in 1883, there is no doubt that even the more farsighted among the sixteen local businessmen could not have envisioned the architectural masterpiece that their future colleagues would be enjoying some 30 years hence. However, it is likely that Guilford Hartley had the foresight to recommend architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, New York City) to the club’s design committee following Goodhue’s appointment in 1910 to design St. Paul’s Church for the city’s Episcopalian congregation. Only today can we appreciate the tile treasures that this renowned architect brought to this lakeside metropolis.
The name, Kitchi Gammi, appropriately chosen for the club’s location, is derived from the Ojibwa (Algonquian) word gichigamii meaning “big lake” referring to Lake Superior, the largest in the chain of Great Lakes. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow popularized the name “Gitche Gumee” in his poem Hiawatha (1855).
In 1912 Bertram Goodhue decided upon a Jacobethan Revival design for the 3-story clubhouse on East Superior Street overlooking the lake. Established as a private gathering place for the town’s influential male members, the architect chose an exterior of brick and stone with a prominent multi-gabled roofline complementing a dramatic array of chimneys, one for each of the tiled fireplaces. The interior provides a comfortable, rich residential feel with dark woodwork adjoining the ornamental plaster, fitting perfectly to Arts and Crafts princip
les with the inclusion of Henry Mercer’s handcrafted Moravian tiles from Doylestown, Pennsylvania surrounding four fireplaces.
Goodhue was personally familiar with Moravian tiles having chosen them for use in his own New York townhouse in 1905-06. Throughout his career he included the tiles in many of his projects including St. Paul’s Church a year or two prior to their installation at the Kitchi Gammi Club. Up to this point in time, all of Mercer’s tiles were produced at Indian House as the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, as we know it today, was not in operation until late in 1912.
Both historically and architecturally the Kitchi Gammi Club remains one of Duluth’s most decorated landmarks, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Handmade Tile Association
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