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Once a school, Jefferson Square apartments has history

DCN reporter

The Jefferson Square apartment building has shaped a lot of lives over the last 100 years. Thousands of people walked the halls and stairways of the building as students for nearly a century.

The 2nd Street view of the historical Jefferson Square apartment building. (All photos courtesy of Northeast Minnesota Historical Center.)
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A view of the old Jefferson building.
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The building at 916 E 3rd Street had been a school in the hillside for nearly a hundred years before being renovated into an apartment complex in the 1980’s. It was first constructed in 1893 to be used as part of the Duluth village school system and had an original cost of over $100,000, according to a Duluth News Tribune article from Nov. 6, 1949, “From these Roots.?

In 1901, Jefferson School officially opened with an enrollment of 885 first through seventh graders, according to a Duluth News Tribune & Herald article from October 4, 1983 entitled “Then & Now.?

For the next 50 years the school was one of the largest elementary schools in the Duluth area. In 1952 the building received a $10,000 addition to accommodate increasing numbers of baby-boomer children.

By 1970 the school’s enrollment was down to under 350 students and a few years later the building would be void of children and teachers when the school was shut down in 1982 due to budget cuts and a restructuring of the Duluth school system.

Only a few of the building’s current residents remember the building as a school.

“I only ever knew this place as an apartment building,? Leah Schaefer said. “I’ve lived here for over a year and I just found out this used to be a school a few months ago.?

Just when it seemed the building would become a useless eyesore in the hillside, the building received a second chance. St. Luke’s hospital bought the building in 1983 with the plan of using it for a nursing school and a home care agency, according to the “Then & Now? article.

In May of 1985 the building received a Duluth Preservation Alliance Award for the work done to remodel and convert the 100-year old building to modern practical uses.

Currently, the building boasts large, open apartments with anywhere from one to four bedrooms. Most of the apartments have at least 10-foot ceilings and large living rooms.

Chris Johnson has lived at Jefferson Square with his girlfriend for over two years.

“I personally like the high ceilings,? said Johnson. “All the rooms are very open and inviting. It’s a great place to live and it gives my girlfriend a lot of space to decorate?

Many of the tenants are grateful that the city found a way to save and restore the old building rather than tear it down. Other old school buildings have been torn down in order to make room for new structures.

“This building has been here as long as I can remember,? said Duluth native Scott Guthrie. “There have been a lot of schools closed in this town and it’s good to see at least one of them still standing.?

The building is one of the oldest in the central hillside and if it can continue to offer itself for good uses, hopefully it can last another 100 years.

“There is a great deal of history in this part of town and not all of it is good history,? Guthrie said. “This building has nothing but good history in it.?